Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews — now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Bully Wars’ #1, out September 5 from Image Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘BULLY WARS’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Clyde Hall. Bullying is a serious problem in the modern school system, so how appropriate is making it the subject of an all-ages humor comic, one that’s certain to be read by kids on both sides of the juvenile expanse, dominators and dominated alike? The possibility of mishandling the topic for the sake of cheap laughs is assuredly present. But humor is also an effective weapon when leveled against status-quos in dire need of change, at times even more potent than scholarly examinations or damning commentary. Adult readers usually have the bonus of perspective, their days in an endless rabble of victims preyed on by the Skut Farkuses of the world long past and, in retrospect, something they can look back and laugh about. The acid test is how a series like Bully Wars plays to children soldiers still on those front lines. How the creative folks behind the effort approach it and present it, maybe even land a blow against the injustice, on this all depends.
Luckily writer Skottie Young knows how to apply satire with a trowel, the resulting layer too thick to share even the same genus as serious, and that’s precisely what the first issue of Bully Wars needed. How thick? Well, the story’s setting is the burg of Rottenville, so fetid that even an accurate population total is beyond municipal capability. Rodentia adorn their city seal and serve as sculpture subjects outside the halls of higher learning, like Library Lions primed to squeak rather than roar. Aaron Conley’s art adds to the one-step-removed-from-reality affect with a style appropriate to celebrating the lesser things of school days. His spitballs, acne patches, and lockers of sweaty gym socks are rendered with a prepubescent jubilance reminiscent of Ed ‘Big Daddy’ Roth. Together, Young and Conley merge their story into an exaggerated form as harmless as it is humorous.
Issue #1 introduces us to protagonist Spencer, a brainy and nerdy student headed to his first day as a High School freshman. He’s joined by twins Edith and Ernie, who’ve been companions since they all shared nap rugs in Kindergarten. They’re the Good Kids, Spencer with his optimistic attitude and supplement reference books he carries just for fun, Edith lugging her own supplemental reading in the form of comic books, and Ernie who’s none too bright nor prepared but gets by with a little help from his friends. They’re ready to ascend to the lofty status of 9th Graders and revel in the next four years of academic excellence, but for the persistent problem of Rufus. He’s also known the trio since Kindergarten and has proudly served as their bully all the years since. Rufus sees it as the natural order and views his ability to make Spencer & Co’s lives miserable something he’s gifted toward. Like them, he has a four-year plan to achieve greater things, namely expand his reign over a newer and larger herd of victims.
What his plan didn’t include was a bigger bully already in residence, a senior and past winner of the Rottenville High School annual Bully Wars three years running. Hock and his toadies Troy and Pug aren’t about to open their deriding fields to some middle school graduate fresh off the bus, either. Suddenly, Rufus’s world is turned upside down and he’s on the receiving end of woe. Just when the fractures in his ego are threatening to come apart, he gets an unforeseen helping hand.
Releases for Bully Wars described it as Freaks and Geeks meet The Hunger Games, only with no killing. This issue mostly embodies that narrative, depending on exactly what the mysterious Bully Games event entails. Young could have made this a series centered on overdue, comedic comeuppance, but the first act is more concerned with comedic wisdom through enforced empathy. Rufus must walk a mile in his victim’s wedgie and it messes with his head. Bunches. Some of the best segments come from the former ‘big bully in a small pond’ plotting ways to reinvigorate his confidence or to approach his Hock problem as a kindred spirit. It grants the character unexpected depth while still adding to the humor.
Conley’s art boosts the laughs in just the right places so that the events have a good balance during their unfolding. Readers can also identify with most of the characters populating this issue. Spencer and his armload of books might have been me as a freshman. We’ve all known kids like Ernie, not very motivated but skating along pleasantly for the ride. We’ve all wished we had a friend like Edith, ready to talk comics or lend you an extra pencil, as needed. Whether young and mature readers will find the tale entertaining enough to remain aboard for the entire ride is the question. As one of the very much latter, it didn’t grab me as securely as the blacker comedy of Young’s I Hate Fairyland. But he’s scribing much gentler fare here and doing it admirably. Plus, Spencer’s plan for dealing with bullies on a High School level (in addition to peppered clues about it) has my interest.
Bully Wars is an apt title to begin as schools resume fall classes. It should be appealing entertainment for students seeking escapist fun, one that brings smiles along with an affinity to their own weekly travails. It may also be a balm for parents struggling with new school year registrations and schedules. For any reader, it’s a witty display of character perspectives that plays to timeless roles from shared academic experiences. And that allows for a few lessons to be couched in the laughter.
Written by Skottie Young.
Art by Aaron Conley.
Colors by Jean-Francois Beaulieu.
Letters by Nate Piekos.
7.5 out of 10
‘Bully Wars’ #1 hits stores September 5.