I don’t usually review batches of comics. The goal around here is to give every issue its fair shake, but sometimes it makes for a better review to bunch them all together. That’s the case with Drunken Cat Comics’ Ruffians as reviewing nine issues back to back would leave me saying roughly the same thing over and over. You don’t want to read the same review over and over and I sure as hell don’t want to write the same review over and over. The easy part of all this is that it’s really good. I have the same amount of praise for each issue. Which again makes this really easy to talk about collectively rather than hear, “it’s still really good” across several reviews.
With all that said let’s dive into Ruffians from Brian Canini. The story is actually super easy to sum up which won’t explain any of the charm, but let’s do it. It’s about a three-foot tall blue bear that goes by the name Scar, he wears boxing gloves and a cape. Someone has killed his best friend Black Jack and now he’s seeking vengeance. I’m okay telling you that because the very first panel shows Scar standing over Black Jack’s body. Scar narrates to us about a sandwich and at first we don’t really know the circumstances. Did Scar kill Black Jack and if not then who? The narration is wonderful because it humanizes both characters.
From there Scar heads to his usual watering hole and a guy at the bar basically sets him up to unload. We get a flashback of Scar and Black Jack the night before and this launches us into the rest of the story. A lowlife criminal comes in and begins hounding Scar and making fun of Black Jack and this leads both men into the bathroom where Scar begins cutting up the lowlife until he gives him the name of Black Jack’s killer.
The next two issues are an intense showdown between the killer and Scar. Scar actually knows the guy having crossed paths with him before. They’re very different, whereas Scar (who is a hitman I should mention) has fallen into this life, Black Jack’s killer loves killing. In fact he’s more of a serial killer that happens to be paid for it. He’s also really smart as he pins the murder of his latest victim on Scar and gets him sent to prison.
That’s where we jump to next for several issues as Scar is now technically wrongfully imprisoned for a murder he didn’t commit and runs into old friends. There’s a plan to break him out though, but now Scar wants revenge on Black Jack’s killer and also the man that called for the hit, his very own crime boss.
The prison stuff is great because there’s some typical stuff, but not so typical. He doesn’t just come in and rule the place and Canini shows that there are consequences to Scars actions by doing a call back to a scene from the first issue.
And then I got to issue six. Issue six shows Scar in the real world, that is to say our world. He’s drawn on top of actual photos and in it he meets his creator Brian Canini. At first I absolutely hated it. Sure it’s meta and that can be great at times, but more and more it comes across as lazy storytelling. But not here.
In fact this issue became my favorite of the series because Canini actually has a point of doing it and it works within the context of the story. I won’t spoil it, but by the end I was like, “Holy shit that was pretty fucking great.” The payoff comes on the final page and when you read it… chills. Chills.
While the overall concept is simple: man seeking revenge, the execution is what’s really sharp here. The dialogue from the characters is captivating and really helps create interesting characters. Part of you wonders why Scar cares so much, but as the series rolls on you’ll start to care as well. Obviously there’s no way this story can end on a high note, but I’m curious as to how it will end. Scar’s narration also plays a pretty big role in the story as well and over the course of the nine issues you can see Canini improving. It gets better and better and climaxes at that sixth issue, but continues to be strong afterwards.
The art is enjoyable. I mean it’s about a three-foot tall bear so it’s a little on the cartoony side, but it’s very detailed and there’s a lot of great violence and fight sequences. That’s what works about it, seeing this bear with boxing gloves pull out a knife and just cut someone. How’s he holding the knife? Why is he always wearing boxing gloves? Who cares, it’s entertaining and not even remotely the point of the story.
The artwork also improves over the course of the nine issues, but there’s a consistency to it. Canini just refines his style as it goes on. Also it’s worth noting that it’s in black & white which is always something I personally enjoy. Canini understands the balance of creating something in all black and white and produces some wonderful imagery.
So who’s this story for? It helps if you like hitmen stories because this obviously falls into that genre first, but really if you enjoy strong character stories then you should check out Ruffians. Overall it’s really entertaining and has a little of everything from violence, witty dialogue and characters that feel unique and relatable.
Score: 4/5 (For each issue)
Ruffians #1-9 Writer/Artist/Creator: Brian Canini Publisher: Drunken Cat Comics Price: $1.50 to $3.00 (Depending on the issue) Format: Ongoing; Print Website