Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Bad Karma’

“Behind a gun I’ll make my final stand”

Alex de Campi is BACK with Bad Karma, a big thick book drawn by Ryan Howe and colored by Dee Cunniffe. It’s another original graphic novel from Image, which is still freaking me out!

As you might recall from a few days ago, I enjoyed Parasocial, de Campi’s story of a fan’s obsession with an actor, because de Campi is a good writer. So I figured I’d like Bad Karma as well, and I did. In fact, it’s better than Parasocial, as de Campi manages to keep a lot of balls in the air in this book and she sticks a pretty good landing. So that’s fun!

We meet two of the three protagonists early, as Ethan and Sully visit a man in prison who’s about to be executed (the final execution in Virginia’s history, and it has to be done before the end of the year, and it’s Christmas time, so time is short!) and tell him that they killed the dude that he’s in prison for having killed, and they’re going to make it right. It turns out that after they got out of the service, they did some shady work for shady government agencies (I know – are there any other kind?), and the dude in prison – Aaron Carter – was convicted for one of their jobs. They didn’t know about that, and now it’s years later (the book is set in the present, and they killed the dude in 2010), and they realize they have to try to get the dude pardoned. However … what they don’t know is that Carter was framed because the shady government agency didn’t want anyone poking around into the murder, so when they start poking around into it, sinister forces are unleashed against them! Things get violent, with the third protagonist, Ethan’s ex-wife Cheryl, along for the ride. They have to figure out a way to stay alive and get Aaron out of jail. Which will not be easy.

This is a very well-done thriller, as de Campi plots it out really well so that everything comes together nicely at the end. The bad guys are bad guys, but de Campi makes them human, so there’s some humorous moments mixed in with the violence, because the bad guys aren’t just robotic killing machines. Plus, Cheryl doesn’t realize at first how serious things are, and she is done with Ethan’s shit, so that brings up some humor as she tries to get them out of a predicament they’re in (not the big predicament, which comes later). More than the humor, though, is just the way de Campi writes the characters. Ethan and Sully are both veterans, obviously, but more importantly, they’re disabled veterans. Ethan lost a leg overseas, and Sully has a brain injury, and while veterans with PTSD in fiction isn’t exactly new, adding physical disabilities on top of the PTSD is a good choice, because it shows both how these two men are having trouble coping with the “real” world mentally as well as physically. De Campi does some fun stuff with the pabulum that vets get when they get home – more than one character says “Thank you for your service” to both the heroes and the villains, and it’s clear that those five words grate on all of them same way, whether they’re the good guys or bad. Cheryl’s family, on the other hand, has no respect for him, and that grates on Ethan. Ethan and Sully are also not above using their disabilities to their advantage, which they absolutely would do. In an extremely inspired … twist, I guess, both Ethan and Sully, despite their major problems with the “real” world, are extremely good at their jobs, so Sully, who has to take meds and often forgets to do so, has a lot of memory loss, and drinks too much, becomes very efficient when you put a weapon in his hands. It’s a nice subtle way for de Campi to show why so many of these dudes join private security forces – they just can’t do anything else. Without making a big deal about it, de Campi also introduces some good racial and sexist undertones – Aaron is black, which helps explain why no one cares too much about his fate, while the guys’ contact inside the government is a black woman, and she has to deal with some crap at her job. Meanwhile, Cheryl is a soldier’s wife, so she knows all about the shit the two are going through, and she also wants to protect her kids, who are, of course, menaced during the course of the book (de Campi can’t resist that cliché!). It’s a nice, long book (about 300 pages), so while the plot is intricate, de Campi also has time to create these really interesting characters, and the book is far deeper than you might expect because of that.

Howe doesn’t get to do too much that’s spectacular, so he doesn’t get to show off too much, but the art is still very good. The double-page spread where a drone crashes is superb, but other than that, Howe just has to keep everything grounded, and his solid line work does that. There’s a lot of emoting in this book, and Howe does a good job with Cheryl’s jaggedness, Sully’s confusion, and Ethan’s despair, while he also does nice work with the lighter moments, as his style is the slightest bit cartoony, allowing for more extreme facial expressions when things get a bit wacky (they don’t too often, but when they do, Howe is up to it). There are a lot of characters in the book, but Howe keeps them visually unique, so even if they’ve been out of the book for a while, when they return we remember who they are. The action scenes are choreographed well, which is good because generally there are a lot of people involved in them. This is just a nicely drawn book, which is always nice to see.

Bad Karma is a very good comic – de Campi gives us fascinating characters, through which she can comment on a number of topics about our country without being too obnoxiously obvious about it, and it’s a good thriller with a good heart, as well. It’s one of the better comics I’ve read this year!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆

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