"Head Smash" Graphic Novel Review
Written by James Ferguson
Published by Arcana Studio
Story by Vlad Yudin
Written by Erik Hendrix
Illustrated by Dwayne Harris
2013, 162 Pages
Graphic Novel published on July 31st, 2013
There's something about a dystopian world that really opens the options for storytelling. When you've lost everything as a society, what else is there to fight for? In the city of Ares, there is only the Horde. It's like the mafia but far more deadly. It rules everything. You either work for them or you're on the run from them. That is the case for Smash, a young man plucked from an orphanage at a young age by Maurice, the man in charge of the day-to-day operations of the Horde. Everything was going well until Smash was ready to get out of the game and run away with his pregnant girlfriend. That's when everyone turned on him and when things get interesting in Head Smash.
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If that was the basis of the story alone, it would be your run-of-the-mill revenge arc. Smash would narrowly survive a certain death only to fight his way back through the Horde, saving his lady and seeking vengeance against the people that wronged him. Head Smash has all that, but there's an added element of a mysterious serum that the title character takes to provide him with great strength. It's like Underdog but in a gritty realistic setting...and you know...with people instead of animals. By doping up with this muscle juice, Smash gets crazy strong, but there are dire consequences. He begins having hallucinations and has trouble telling them apart from reality.
This all sounds pretty cool, but Head Smash feels like it's missing something. Writer Erik Hendrix throws a lot at the reader from Vlad Yudin's story, however there are parts that don't seem to line up exactly. I get why Smash wants revenge, but I don't really understand why the Horde turned on him to begin with. There's a convoluted reason in there involving an underground revolution, a professor, and another orphan, but it doesn't do the story justice.
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Dwayne Harris provides some very realistic looking artwork, but he comes very close to being too real. Remember how everyone was really creeped out by Robert Zemeckis' Polar Express because of how lifelike the CGI was? That's the uneasy feeling I got while reading Head Smash. There are many panels where it looks like Harris took actual photographs and altered them to fit within the comic. This is great from a posing and anatomy perspective, but it feels strange.
This is just the beginning for Head Smash. Vudin is already working on a version of it for the big screen and plans to release two more graphic novels, creating a trilogy for Smash. This is like a distorted version of Captain America and it works well. If the character was created today, he wouldn't be the flag-bearing hero of truth and justice that he's held to now. He'd be a working class stiff that gets his hands dirty with blood and grime. He'd be Smash.