Strongman

StrongmanEl Tigre is not the hero he used to be. It’s been thirty years since his heyday, and he is a shadow of the great fighter that he used to be. He has run from Mexico, the country he loved and swore to protect, to become an alcoholic punching bag for amateur wrestlers. El Tigre was going to blearily continue down this path, until news brought to him by a desperate young woman stirs him out of his stupor and back into action.

This comic has ever right to be amazing. It’s a redemption tale inter-cut with stories of the past, it has a unique premise, and great characters. But despite all of that, Strongman fell short of its promises. Take El Tigre, who doesn’t love a redemption tale? We’re ready for this man to remember the titan he was and stand up for the little man of the burrio again. As he finds his way toward that path, there is a great commitment to never allow Tigre to take off his luchador mask. Even as he’s wallowing in the middle of a trashed apartment, he is El Tigre. It’s a very striking image. However, when El Tigre takes to the streets, the comic goes easy on the reader. The most obvious problem is no one mentions that El Tigre is wearing a mask. People remark on his size, and poor state, but only two people in the comic seem to realize that the weirdest thing about El Tigre’s appearance is that in the middle of New York, this guy is walking around with a luchador’s mask on like it’s a baseball cap. I’m not holding a vendetta against masks, there are just no cues from the art or words as to whether or not the reader is supposed to feel this is intentional, or as misplaced as it feels.

Masks aside, El Tigre is no Sherlock. When it comes to tracking down the criminal who is trafficking human body parts, Tigre has to find one bar (which he is told) and ask two people. The first person he didn’t even have to threaten, and the second that’s all he did. I’m not an expert in illegal pushing, but if that is all I had to do to find the head of a criminal operation? I’d be rethinking my employees.

The story continues like that. El Tigre is overwrought in his sense of justice. Its as if he flipped on a switch he forgot he had over the past 3 decades. He doesn’t carry a sense of gray into battle, there is just what is right, and what is wrong. He is full of all of the bad one-liners you would expect from a pro-wrestler, and delivers right in the face of the bad guy. Speaking of him, he is so decidedly evil, it stops being fun at some point. The comic started with a promise of exploring a unique character in a realistic setting. But Tigre becomes the epitome of all things good, and the bad guy is so ludicrously evil the reader has no hope of empathizing with him.

All of this is completely unfair to the reader. As these revelations are disappointing, different story points keep coming up that make the narrative potentially compelling. I can’t specify what happens without throwing out the baby and bath water, but there are about three different instances in the comic where I felt driven to read more because the author had tossed in an authentically interesting twist.

Out of everything, I certainly can’t complain about the art. It is rendered in grayscale, line and tone, and is completely serviceable. The book is only eight or nine inches high, and most pages have six or more panels on them, which keeps the art pretty small. That said, it is still very legible. It’s a shame that the art isn’t given more room to breathe, but it does make the reading face paced.

Strongman had the potential to hit on so many levels, it is frustrating to see it fall short. It feels as if you could rub out a couple word balloons and cut out some of the extra cheesiness to the story, it hit you right in the emotional gut. As it stands, it falls squarely in the middle of success, a rank that does not befit a grand character such as El Tigre.

Strongman
by Charles Soule
Art by Allan Gladfelter
ISBN: 978-159362152
SLG, 2009
Publisher Age Rating: OT (16 )