A “palooka” is defined as an inept fighter or otherwise un-special individual. In the case of MMA-oriented comic book Joe Palooka, the two-issue introductory series does not live up to the main character’s last name, being much more than simply average. Created by longtime fight announcer Joe Antonacci, Joe Palooka was released in digital form last year and is on the cusp of getting the full-fledged hardback treatment in the coming months. I was lucky enough to get my hands on a set of them and, as both a fan of comic books and Mixed Martial Arts, tore through them both in less than twenty minutes.
Before getting to the review aspect of this article here are the basics. The story centers on Nick Davis, a fighter with potential who gets mixed up in a situation leaving him on the run from law enforcement. On top of the general investigation a detective is also personally invested in the case for reasons revealed early on. Davis explains his circumstances to his girlfriend, Nina, and heads to Mexico to try and disappear while she works on clearing his name. While there he adopts the moniker “Joe Palooka” after entering an area event in Tijuana, chokes out their toughest guy, and accidentally causes enough ripples to have word get back to police. The first issue ends with Davis on a storage ship headed off into the sunset.
Issue two picks up with his adventures on the ship where – surprise – there’s an underground fight club featuring the crew. Davis, as you may have already assumed, is involved by the end where he’s again triumphed against a fearsome foe. However, unbeknownst to him, Nina has been located by the cop with the vendetta and is being held at gunpoint as things fade out.
The positives in the pair of pieces definitely outweigh any negatives. Davis is a layered character who stands up to the bad guys, as basic a definition for a superhero as can be offered. However, he’s no saint, and his anger puts him in some bad situations giving him the hint of diversity needed in any interesting protagonist. The artwork is vivid and detailed with fight scenes grounded in reality rather than over the top, i.e. comic-bookish. It tells the tale of MMA in a unique way and is beautifully illustrated in certain instances.
My complaints are minor in nature, as both issues were somewhat short and left me wanting to see more going on between the covers. I’m also hopeful Antonacci branches out in terms of the overall story, as it could feel repetitive to readers if every comic is structured the exact same way. There are only so many “bad asses” Davis can beat on the underground circuit. He needs a rival; someone he can’t beat with his current skill-set who also happens to be a terrible person in real life. What is Batman without The Joker or Superman without Lex Luthor? Introduce a foil and let their feud blossom. Finally, call me a hooligan if you must, but I noticed a distinct lack of profanity. If there is blood and a gun there needs to be curse words. It is MMA and I suspect guys who are sailors by day, fighters by night use the occasional four-letter word that isn’t “poop” or “deck”.
Overall I enjoyed reading Joe Palooka and would recommend people give it a look, especially if they are into both comics/MMA. You can get the digital copy for $1.99 at Palooka.com, truly hard to beat in that format, and I imagine the print versions won’t be much more when bundled together as an introduction to the potential-laden series. It’s also a great way to support a cause that has sponsored guys like Jimy Hettes, Johny Hendricks, Brendan Schaub, and Dan Miller. I was actually hoping one of them would show up but such was not to be. However, I’m under the impression something along those lines is planned for a future issue. Bottom line – don’t be a palooka, buy a Palooka. Or two of them for that matter.
PHOTO CREDIT – JOE PALOOKA