Celebrating the Unpopular Arts

Review time! with ‘Real Hero Shit’

“Flying away on a wing and a prayer”

Kendra Wells writes and draws Real Hero Shit (they colored it, too, with flats by Amanda Lafrenais), which is published by Iron Circus Comics. It’s for “adults only,” as if you can’t tell from the title. Let’s dive right in!

This feels like the kind of comic that a lot of people would like based on several factors. It’s not a superhero book, per se, but it does have people with extraordinary abilities. Kendra Wells – about whom I don’t know much – seems like the kind of person who would be out there promoting their work, and would have built up a decent fan base. The book features non-binary characters who fight against an Evil Old White Dude. There’s some sex (I’ll get to the sex). It’s drawn in that slightly manga/cartoony style that All The Kids Love™. If I sound grumpy, I’m not, really, I’m just pointing out that this book feels like a crowd-pleaser. I am not completely in that crowd, but I see the appeal.

“But why, Grumpy Old White Dude,” say you, “don’t you like it more?” Well, it’s enjoyable, I’ll give you that. Wells’s art is quite nice, as they do a very good job with the characters, which is very important in a book like this. It’s generally comedic, so their work with facial expressions and body language has to be on point, and it is. Eugene, the main character (as much as there is one, as the four characters on the cover are all important), is a pompous, somewhat entitled douche, but he’s also not a bad guy, just pretty ignorant of the reality of life, so Wells has to make him likable but also douchey, and they do that very well, mostly (but not entirely) through the art, as Eugene’s face changes noticeably when he’s confronted with something he had never considered before, and it works wonderfully. Furthermore, even with a “manga” style that emphasizes large and uncluttered facial features, it does help to know how and when to hatch, and Wells does very good work there, too. They put the slightest lines on Michel’s face to show that he’s had a hard time in life; they use really nice subtle hatching to show when the characters are embarrassed and are trying to hide it; and the Evil Old White Dude’s face is lined a bit more to show that he’s old but also cranky. The colors are wonderful, too – nice and bright without being garish, and excellent use of shading. I know the style isn’t for everyone, but it’s still very well done.

Eugene is a prince with a shady background – his mother, the widowed queen, prayed for a son and got him, but he’s purple and horned, so the rumors about his father are rampant in the kingdom (a fact of which he is blissfully aware until the beginning of the book, which pisses him off). He decides to join a quest (I do like that in the Kingdom of Marble, people put up flyers advertising a quest), and he meets Michel (the leader), Ani, and Hocus. He proves his worth, and they’re off on a quest. Wells does a nice job giving each character a decent personality, and the little touches are nice, too – for instance, Michel is not on a willy-nilly quest, but a job, because they have to make money somehow. So they go on the quest, Eugene learns some things, and all’s well that ends well.

… And that’s kind of the problem. There’s not a whole heck of a lot of drama here. Eugene is the focal point, sure, but each character gets some development, although only Michel’s story feels a bit deeper. Wells takes two pages to discuss Hocus’s pronouns, which seems … excessive? It feels like a primer for readers, but anyone who’s going to read this is fine with non-binary characters already, I would think, so it’s a bit weird. Then there’s the sex. Ani fucks Eugene … because he won’t stop talking. Seriously. I get annoyed with the amount of sex in popular culture anyway, but this is ridiculous even for people who like the sex. It feels dumb, honestly. Do people do this? Has Wells ever fucked someone just to shut them up? I seriously doubt it, so why do characters in fiction do it? Ani never really warms up to Eugene, although they’re still banging at the end (it’s implied that Eugene is very good at the sex), and it just feels like Wells wanted characters to fuck, so they made them fuck. It’s annoying. Finally, the quest and its conclusion are handled pretty well, but the reason behind what’s going on seems a bit weak. The Evil Old White Dude is doing heinous things, but it also feels like it’s not heinous enough? His reasoning – I know, looking for reasons for hatred are always dicey – seems very weak, and even what he’s doing is … again, bad, but not pure evil? It’s tough to explain because I don’t want to give anything away, but let’s just say no one dies as a result of what he’s doing. I know that’s a spoiler, but I hope it’s not a bad one. It just feels like Wells wanted to make the Evil Old White Dude a bad guy, but they didn’t want to go to a logical point with the evil. It feels like Wells pulled back, perhaps because the tone is fairly light, but if you’re going to make the tone that light, you probably shouldn’t even imply what’s happening to the victims of the Evil Old White Dude. I don’t know – it’s tough to articulate, but it feels as if the book wants to be a lot darker, but Wells reins it in, and we get a bit of a wishy-washy resolution. Hocus is a religious person, so their struggles with what’s happening in the world is fairly interesting, especially as religion is important to the story, but again, it feels like Wells couldn’t quite reach a point in the story where it clearly wants to go. It’s a bit frustrating.

That’s how I feel about Real Hero Shit as a whole: frustrated. It circles around being a great comic, with weird and fascinating characters who come from different places in the world and have things to teach each other about society (well, maybe Eugene doesn’t have much to teach people, but you get the gist) and a society itself that is stratified in a way that relates to our world but also feels somewhat fresh. But Wells doesn’t quite reach the great story at the center of this, and too much is left unexamined (why is Eugene a horned purple dude anyway?). Perhaps it could have been longer, but maybe that wouldn’t have helped. It’s a charming comic, to be sure, and it’s fun to read (for the most part), but it left me feeling a bit unsatisfied. Maybe you’ll like it more than I do!

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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