Super Boxers – A Marvel Graphic Novel

By Ron Wilson, with John Byrne & Armando Gil (Marvel)
ISBN: 0- 939766-77-9

It’s been a long while since Marvel published an all-original graphic novel as opposed to a reprint collection, but not too long ago they were the market leader in the field with an entire range of “big stories” told on larger than normal pages (285 x 220mm rather than the now customary 258 x 168mm) featuring not only proprietary characters but also licensed assets like Conan and even creator-owned properties.

They also took chances on unusual and cross-genre tales such as this little oddity which falls squarely into the category of a “guilty pleasure”.

In the near future Corporations have assumed control of Earth, with the result that the rich have gotten richer – and more bored – whilst an underclass excluded from all rights and privileges scuttles to survive in the dirt beneath their lavish skyscrapers. As the poor daily trade their freedoms and dignity for another meal, in the world of the mega-rich and their wholly-owned contributing citizens, survival is just as harsh and all-pervasive.

Businesses survive and grow by consuming each other and everything is produced to facilitate that overweening drive: product, entertainment, people.  The Corporations are in a perpetual state of Cold War, ostensibly working together but always looking for an edge and a hostile takeover. Delcos is one such business: CEO Marilyn Hart has never been one of the boys, and now her one-time colleagues, sensing weakness, are closing in for the kill…

In the world below Max Turner is a star. A scrapper to his core, he works as a prize-fighter: an old fashioned palooka using his fists (augmented by cybernetic gloves, boots and body armour) to get by in a brutal arena of social Darwinism, providing dangerous entertainment for his daily bread. The Corporations also have Super Boxers: pampered, gussied up, genetic thoroughbreds with their entire lives geared to those explosive moments when they unleash their pedigreed savagery in high-tech arenas for the pleasure and profit of their owners. The greatest of these sporting warriors is the godlike Roman Alexis.

But every society has its malcontents and gadflies: when a slumming talent scout for Marilyn Hart “discovers” Max, the dumb but honest gladiator becomes a pawn in a power play that threatens to tear the corporate world to tatters – but would that really be such a bad thing…?

None of that matters to Max or Roman. For them it’s about personal honour. Tech doesn’t matter, rewards don’t matter, freedom doesn’t matter. Only being the best…

Ron Wilson is probably nobody’s favourite artist, but he is a workmanlike illustrator with a good line in brooding brutes, and Armando Gil’s fluid inks do a lot to sharpen the static, lumpen scenarios, as do the varied tones of colourists Bob Sharen, Steve Oliff, John Tartaglione, Joe D’Esposito and Mark Bright. The letters are provided by Mike Higgens.

Scripted by John Byrne from Wilson’s plot, this is a harsh, nasty, working-class tale reminiscent of such boxing movies as Michael Curtiz’s epic 1937 classic Kid Galahad by way of the Rocky movies, with socio-political undertones that would have been far more comfortable in a European comic like Metal Hurlant or 2000AD.

Ugly, uncompromising, brutal, this is the kind of book to show anybody who thinks that comics are for sissy-boys…
© 1983 Ronald Wilson. All Rights Reserved.