Unleash (#1 – 4) – Jennifer Van Gessel, El Torres

1 out of 5

There’s sloppy writing, and then there’s bad writing.  There’s the exploitation genre, and then there’s flat out ignorance.  I’m a proud supporter of the Amigo imprint and will continue to be, as their growing cache of quirky horror and fantasy titles have this weird blend of non-localized instincts (being a foreign imprint producing English language books) and a willingness to think outside of the subject matter / content lines in which they dawdle.  Mainly via head honcho El Torres, they’ve dropped their share of great books, but even amongst their more average releases there’s generally some unique element of interest.  But, on occasion, they drop a bomb.

Prior to Unleash, this has been a ‘comes with the territory’ thing: the language barrier; the experimental story direction; Amigo is charmingly DIY (with a modern comic gloss), and you can sort of smile at their misfires.

The Sidney Hammer one-shots have been the low bar thus far – Metallic Silence was bad, but as an adapted rock opera has some Z-grade appeal – however, creator Massacre at least tries to embrace schlock, with his huge-chested, hammer-wielding, horror-destroying heroine, but Unleash does the discourtesy of trying to inject commentary and emotion into its tasteless story, which just ends up making it more tasteless.  Doubling down on the lack of writing competency are the blind-alley “twists” that we can only suppose are intended to have impact based on how other characters respond to them.  In addition, there are giant story chunks that seemingly just get assumed, making the cast this appealing blend (he said sarcastically) of genius and ineptness.  At four issues’ end, high points include: grabbing covers and title design, and effectively moody colors from Sonia Moruno.  Nacho Tenorio and Sergio Mora’s art works, but it isn’t weighty enough for the subject matter, adding levity to conversations (via the character models) that maybe shouldn’t be there.

So here’s what Unleash is about: Several years ago, Emmie was sexually assaulted.  Her path to recovery has her dressing up as a sword wielding vigilante, bringing eye-for-an-eye style comeuppances upon those who have perpetrated such assaults.  How does she achieve this punishment?  Via her apparent gimp / slave whom she totes around by collared chain, subtly named Rape Machine.  The first issue introduces all of this with the typical Amigo clumsiness (I say that lovingly), and y’know, there’s no subtext to this idea whatsoever, but it’s so over-the-top that that issue works, in a Spit On Your Grave sleaze way.

Unfortunately, it goes waaay downhill from there.  Part of this might be because Unleash was apparently a film treatment; it’s possible we’re getting something more in line with an adaptation here, in which case certain character subplots and certain plot aspects, on screen, would maybe make more filler sense.  On page, though, it’s a mess, jumping from moment to moment with zero build up or emotional justification, and foregoing its exploitation roots, by, it seemed, trying to make some real statements on male aggression and trauma.  It takes a careful hand to play both cards (trashy and intelligent), and whether it’s Van Gessel or Torres holding said cards, it’s not happening here: rape gets tossed around casually at the same time as being presented as the ultimate punishment, and then there’s a whole mixed up bag of incest and pedophilia and gangster-redemption.  It’s like an angry high schooler’s take on the subject matter in response to a cheating boyfriend, mixed in with a similar-aged writer’s meet cute with a sexy 2pac gangster-gone-good.  The resulting mash-up isn’t gutsy enough, or smart enough, or sleazy enough, each underbaked aspect tainting the other such that it becomes sinfully boring, given its gonzo outre potential.

The conclusion makes me think even more that this really suffers from being a compressed screenplay, as it hardly makes contextual sense in the comic and the last shot is particularly filmic, with a music sting.

Amigo failures have thus far been pretty limited to one-shots; it sucks that an appealing opening issue produced their first bummer mini-series, but then again, I can’t really imagine anyone but Amigo giving the material even a shot, so some (unscored) credit for trying, and I’m certainly not at all dissuaded from seeing what’s up next from the imprint.