Review time! with <i>That Bulletproof Kid</i> #1-5

"I looked in the mirror what did I see? a nine stone weakling with knobbly knees; I did my knees bend, press ups, touch my toes, I had another sneeze and I blew my nose; I looked in the mirror at my pigeon chest, I had to put on my clothes because it made me depressed"

Matt Kyme recently sent me the five issues of his comic, That Bulletproof Kid, and as you know, if someone sends me something for free, I'm going to review it! That Bulletproof Kid is five issues, and I'm not sure how much it costs - the price is five dollars per issue, but I'm fairly sure that's in Australian money, so who knows how much it would be if you used real money, like the kind we have in the States (U!S!A!).

Kyme wrote it and drew it except for the first issue, which is drawn by Arthur Strickland. In issue #1, Brendan Halyday is the letterer, but no letterer is credited in the other issues. Kyme draws the rest of the series, but the layouts are by Luke Salmond, and the colors are by Gat Melvyn. It's all edited by Andrez Bergen, the Grand Poobah of If? Comix, which published it.

Kyme wants to create a good old-fashioned superhero comic, and so he does. That Bulletproof Kid is very much beholden to Peter Parker and his dilemma, although Kyme throws in some Invincible influences as well (and given that Invincible is very much influenced by Spider-Man, Kyme is really doubling down). The hero, Anthony (who is called "Anth," which is very odd to me, as I've never heard that nickname before, but maybe it's an Aussie thing?), is a sidekick (one of two, actually) to Crusader, who is either an actual music tutor or just pretending to teach Anth how to play the drums. Kyme does some nice things with the story to distinguish it - Crusader is part of a large group of heroes that defend not only Earth but the galaxy (I guess it's like the Legion of Super-Heroes?), and Anth and the other sidekick, Wormhole, are auditioning to be accepted into the group. Interestingly enough, Anth received his powers from another hero, who was dying and somehow bequeathed them to Anth, and the "Tribunal" - the ruling oligarchy of the larger superhero group - can somehow take them away if he does not prove himself worthy.

It's a neat twist, especially as the hero Anth received his powers from, Mr. Tremendous, had apparently gone rogue. We see in a flashback in issue #1 that it was more complicated than that, but the Tribunal - and other heroes - believe that Anth can easily go bad because he's walking around with a villain's power set. The idea of free will doesn't hold a lot of water with these people, I guess. Of course, Anth has his secrets from the Tribunal, as well, which means that Kyme is setting something up where their distrust of him is justified. We believe, as Anth is the main character, that he's a good guy, but Kyme places just a tiny kernel of doubt in our heads so that it might come back to bite everyone.

There's plenty of action in the book, as Kyme focuses both on the Bulletproof Kid, Wormhole, and Crusader fighting bad guys as well as the bigger galactic struggle going on that will presumably have an impact on Anth down the line (as it involves the person who gave him powers, at least indirectly), and Kyme does a decent job with that. Given that Anth is a teenager in school, however, the meat of the book is really about his double life. Kyme makes an odd, somewhat forced choice with regard to Anth's social circle - Crusader tells him that he has to keep everyone at arm's length because once he's accepted by the Tribunal, he'll have to go off and defend the galaxy somewhere far away and he won't have time for friends, so why make them in high school?

But that's what people do all the time when they get out of high school - they go to college or move away (true, they usually stay on this planet), and even though we can stay in touch through social media, it's not the same as being in close physical contact with friends. I haven't lived where I grew up for over 20 years, but does that mean I shouldn't have had friends in high school? That's what makes high school so charged with emotion - on a basic level, we know it doesn't last, so the relationships we have tend to be more intense because we know they're doomed (to a degree - I don't want to be too melodramatic about it). Anth wants to be involved - he likes a girl but doesn't date her, he plays in a band but never makes it to practice - but Kyme puts up a barrier to that tension between his social life and his superhero life with the rule that he can't be involved. It makes a certain amount of sense for the Tribunal to lay down rules like that, but it makes the scenes with Anth and his so-called friends, which should be a bit more rife with tension, a bit less so, because Anth never completely engages with them. Kyme does have Anth have a chat with a cute superheroine at one point, and perhaps he'll go somewhere with that, but it's strange that he'd neuter what could be the best part of the comic. Anth is almost inert around his friends, who are fascinating - there's the girl who refuses to be bullied by actively seeking out the bully and taking him down some pegs by mocking him; there's the boy who is so desperate for female companionship but is so terrified to make a move; there are the two girls who want Anth to be in the band; there's one of those girls, who has some self-esteem problems; there's the bully himself, who doesn't seem too awful and might be masking a lot of his own issues.

All of these people are far more interesting than Crusader and the other superheroes, and while the large plot about the galactic invasion and the source of Anth's powers is interesting, it's just a superhero plot. They're needed to drive the comic, but they're not why you read. Anth's interaction with his high school peers is much more fascinating, and I hope Kyme lets Anth break the rules in that regard.

The art is not great, but it's fairly solid. Strickland's pencils in issue #1 are a bit rougher, as he uses hatching a bit more confidently and is able to add nuance to the faces and a bit of realism to the surroundings. His inking is pretty good, as he spots blacks well when two adversaries are fighting but keeps his line cleaner when he's dealing with Anth and his friends. No colorist is credited on issue #1, so I assume Strickland did it himself, and he does a good job shifting from brighter colors when Anth is hanging out with his school friends to a bit darker colors (not too dark, just a bit) when the superheroes are in the book. Kyme's art in the next four issues is less successful - his storytelling and layouts are fine, and he gives us a lot of interesting character designs (he tweaks Strickland's looks for the kids just a bit) that show a diverse set of people, which is what you'll find in any high school. He's not great at action, though, as his characters are just too stiff, and occasionally it appears that his proportions and anatomy are a bit off. As the strongest parts of the story are when Anth is in school, it's not surprising that the kids' body language is very well done, as Kyme gets the awkwardness, false bravado, and joy of living that you often get in teenagers. The art is a bit too slick for me, as Kyme doesn't use enough hatching and Melvyn's coloring is a bit over-rendered, but it's not too bad, and the stiffness of the figures is, as I've noted before, often the hardest thing to master if you're working in superhero comics.

Kyme tells the story perfectly well with his artwork, and that's not a bad thing.

You can download these comics at the If? Comix web site, but I'm not sure where you can get them in print if you're interested. The five issues don't really form a complete story, but Kyme is continuing it, so that's not too big a concern. He gives us many plots to follow, and while I do like the high school stuff more than the superhero stuff, it's nice that he's looking at an epic scope for the superhero stuff - "epic" is always a good thing to shoot for. That Bulletproof Kid is an intriguing comic, and I appreciate Kyme sending it to me.

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆

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