3 out of 5
The impression as one floats around the review-sphere for Daniel Warren Johnson’s Do A Powerbomb, his new creator-owner series for Image, is that it is amazing. This isn’t firstly surprising for DWJ, who has earned a strong following since Extremity and other earlier efforts – and I really enjoy his work as well! – but it’s secondly even above and beyond that baseline reaction, since you likely had many in the same camp as me: DAPB focuses on wrestling, and maybe I’m ambivalent towards the sport?
Wrestling can have a polarizing effect of love or hate; it’s also one of those things that you seem to either “get” or don’t – that it clicks for you sometime and never lets go, and that seems to have been the case with Johnson as well. Bringing wrestling into comics isn’t brand new, of course, but having it “legitimized” via a creator who puts blood, sweat, and tears into his books, wringing emotionality from seemingly odd subject matters, is promising. One looks to DWJ’s Murder Falcon, which did the same thing for metal music.
In fact, you should look to Murder Falcon, since I’d say DAPB is very, very similar: a character fueled by tragedy pursues their art, and their adventures get run through a supernatural grinder that’s spiced with fan nods towards that art. Here, wrestler Lona has struggled to make a name for herself in the sport ever since losing her mother, also a wrestler, to a tragic incident in the ring; a necromancer wearing a leather jacket appears and tells her she can participate in a wrestling league in Hell if she wants a chance at resurrecting her mother…
It’s silly, but a simple “quest” plotline that’s carried in any given adventure novel or movie: travel far, slay the best, save the soul of a loved one. So that it’s draped up in wrestling skivvies isn’t so absurd, especially when DWJ leans into the soap opera storylines of wrestling, giving the other participants (often from other planets / universes) backgrounds that flesh them out beyond their roles as heavies or heels, and tossing in quite a few excellent twists along the way.
And Johnson has become more proficient as a writer, able to smooth out such a high stakes story in a way that reads without excess maudlin, and still with the intended emotional angle – we take Lona’s struggles seriously. The first two issues, which juggle storytelling with wrestling theatrics, are page-turners; the conclusion – though rushed, giving most of the page space over to a final bout – is also very satisfying, not suffering from the letdown one might expect when trying to find a reasonable way out of such a story.
Inbetween…? It’s a lot of wrestling.
The letters written in praised DWJ for his clear passion for the sport, depicting all the moves really well, and capturing the excitement; to a non-fan, this is where it maybe falls down, though, and DAPB’s midsection is all splash pages and training montages; it is amped up all the time, and thus lacking in the story ebb and flow of the opening issues. Plus – the moves ended up looking quite similar to me, and due to perhaps Johnson wanting to very much capture the accurate choreography, it interrupts some of his better visual storytelling instincts: without my personal connection to various piledrivers and whatnot, the sequences that were given focus just didn’t flow very well for me, becoming page after page of big sound effects and people making bug-eyes while getting slapped or etc. As, like, art book, it’s very fun to flip through, but as a comic, it felt lacking. This leads in to my problem with the series’ general ramp-up, which I felt like tossed the most visually wild and how-can-they-beat-them foes out right at the start, thus making all the remaining wrestling matches less striking.
DAPB is a solid book. It’s enjoyable. The setup is done excellently, and the story does, ultimately, follow through, but spreading it out to seven issues is where it becomes more of a wrestling tribute than anything, and if you’re not so connected to the sport – like me – the pacing and focus more clearly show the book’s flaws.