(w) Alex de Campi (a) Ryan Howe (c) Dee Cunniffe
Superhero stories are very much the backbone of the comic industry, but oftentimes the best stories come from other genres. While it may be early to declare it as one of the best, Bad Karma #1 is certainly a new (yes, new) series worth checking out from Panel Syndicate. Written by Alex de Campi and brought to life by artists Ryan Howe and Dee Cunniffe, Bad Karma tells the story of two friends and their attempt at adjusting to life after traumatizing experiences in the military.
In the issue’s backmatter, de Campi notes that she drew off real-life accounts from friends and family who served in order to shape the characterizations of her lead characters, Sully and Ethan, as well as the supporting cast of characters. The result is an authenticity to the dialogue and mannerisms that transports the reader into the working-class neighborhoods of South Boston. De Campi’s dialogue is as raw and unfiltered as one can expect around a kitchen table in Southie. Whether the characters are angry with each other (which is often) or palling around, the dialogue provides an immersive experience for readers, which pays off when the issue hits certain emotional beats.
As army veterans, Sully and Ethan deal with a significant degree of trauma, both emotional and physical. These are lightly touched on, though the physical disability of one of the two is quite overt, and hopefully the creators develop this in future issues. It may go a long way to demonstrate to readers the difficulty that veterans face on a daily basis. However, one thing that is given visibility is their reactions to background characters thanking them for their service, and the expressions given to them by Howe’s art.
It’s a fairly accepted part of American culture to thank those active and veteran members of the military for volunteering their lives in service of the country. It doesn’t matter what role a person had or what they did – gratitude must be expressed. While that may be a touch hyperbolic, it brings us to the part of Bad Karma that – controversial as it may be – will serve as the meat of the series going forward: what if a “thank you” should not be expressed, and what if it’s not even wanted? There aren’t answers to be found in this issue, but these questions make for fantastic hooks that hopefully leads to a resolution. But for readers, it may cause them to second guess how to treat those who have served.
de Campi is drawing on real-world accounts, and for some the constant praise may weigh heavy, especially if they had to do something while on active duty they are morally opposed to or simply not proud of. It’s an approach that challenges established cultural norms and mores, and is sure to ruffle some feathers – especially from those who don’t like their beliefs challenged. But for those willing to be challenged, Bad Karma #1 is a rewarding experience. The amount of thinking and reflection on my own interactions with veterans is a testament to this issue’s potential impact on readers.