Review: Oh, Killstrike

As soon as the core conceit of Oh, Killstrike is revealed it’s an invitation to the sort of story-telling that’s usually just a parade of snide references to another time within the medium’s own industry. A young father searches his mother’s attic to retrieve a once worthless, now highly valuable comic book from that chromium cover era in order to cash in on it. A pursuit that the character’s wife points out the inherent cynicism of before he leaves on his journey to wring some value out of a time in his life that we later learn held a great deal of angst for young Jared. With the titular character of Killstrike, a Liefeldian roided-up death machine that accessorizes in pouches and buck knives, serving as the guide for Jared’s quest that involves resolving issues with an absentee father. Oh yes, that’s right this hero’s journey could have boiled down to an exercise in one of the greatest tropes of all: a daddy issues book. Oh-Killstrike-TPB-1Jared serves a couple of functions for this story and they’re all pretty self-aware of each role. He’s a character on a hero’s journey which he even straight up says to his wife, Meryl, citing it from the Joseph Campbell mono-myth structure. But he’s also a character that drives the ‘inside baseball’ of Max Bemis’s references to the comic book industry--each path Jared can take in his life can stand in for Bemis struggling with reconciling what type of story he wants to tell and if can make it an original one while honoring various influences. At various points Jared can choose to forgo responsibility and crush his enemies and hear the lamentations of the women with his new buddy Killstrike. A regressive existence that screams of childhood fantasy escapism or he could go follow his father into what basically sounds like a ‘90s Vertigo book complete with mysticism and mature self-serious undertones--all in an attempt to avoid facing his reality of trying to be a good parent and husband for his family. To reference a song title from Max Bemis’s day job as the frontman of the band Say Anything, ‘It’s a metaphor fool’. Bemis fully admits within the story that he’s working his own shit out with this character and so the fantasy he’s writing becomes meta for his own life while Jared lives through an also meta examination of his own fictional existence in turn. It’s this kind of perspective that can result in an uphill battle for this story to come out without winding up its own ass in wink-nod references. As in there are literally moments where the reader is winked at from the page, but considering that it’s Killstrike who basically lives a Deadpool-like existence of self-awareness and fourth wall breaking, it’s not as irritating as it could be if all the characters made a regular habit of it.

Part of why this approach actually works has to do with just how damn charming Logan Faerber’s style is on this book. The character design alone of Killstrike is enough to grab anyone’s attention when they see this book on the shelves. People who lived through that time in pop culture know exactly what his insane proportions are a reference to without Jared having to utter a word about it. The color palette is bright without glaring neon like a mature version of the colors chosen for Killstrike’s adventures back home in his world. After his initial appearance in Jared’s mother’s attic the character’s image sticks out far less than it might have within the world of the book. Faerber could have chosen to really go all out with the veins and the bulging everything in a heavily inked style, yet this design choice for the character lives up to how you say the name of the comic out loud. Which is like a mildly put-upon character in a 90’s sitcom with hands on hips after a silly circumstance has occurred. The studio audience would probably do it too like a catchphrase of sorts. He’ll poke you with one of his many knives but it’s mostly out of a place of support and encouragement. He listens to audio tracks of violent acts on his ever-present Walkman for ambient noise to sleep to but he’s still just so damn cuddly almost because of such over the top character traits. It’s just his way and it’s the way of how this story is told, it comes from a place of parody because it truly cares about the medium and the future of its industry. They poke every version of the bear from the x-treme 90’s Image material to the hipster-laden world of self-published zine style books all because Bemis clearly loves this industry flaws and all. When the big boss battle goes down it’s just so Jared can admit to himself that he loves Killstrike’s era as much as the intellectual books and that’s okay. He can derive joy on his own terms and be self-actualized by this realization.

Bemis writes Jared as a man who fell into the easy routes of pessimism and cynicism. He has his moments of being jaded toward things that once made him happy, the very things that people later deemed without value and so his attitude changed with it despite that earlier purely felt joy. That’s something this book and Bemis’s band have in common--cynical song titles and angry lyrics that are all just part of the path toward a desire to find something meaningful and pure. In this case it’s truly rising above and being there for his new family which means living his story his way embracing former influences but not letting them become a crutch in how he decides to live his life. By the end of the volume, there’s enough heart poured into this story that following Jared on his path doesn’t seem like a slog of comic book industry commentary. I’d love to see Killstrike guide a different character on their own personal quests but it seems like for now we’ll just have to imagine what that could be like. It was a great choice to tie things up for the most part but leave those lingering possibilities because that’s how real life works. Jared could decide tomorrow he was wrong and go find his dad in the comic book dimension he put himself into but it’s up to him to resist the temptation and instead focus on the now and live within his paneled pages without ever needing to break that wall.

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Oh, Killstrike Writer: Max Bemis Artist: Logan Faerber Publisher: BOOM! Studios Price $14.99 Release Date: 3/23/16 Format: TPB; Print/Digital