Pullbox Reviews: Pound For Pound – Sets ’em up, knocks ’em down… Grindhouse style

Underground MMA fighter Dani Libra fears nothing… except for the recurring blackouts that spark memories of a bloody past. When her sister is kidnapped, Dani must shine a light on the darkness in her own mind, but how long can she keep her own demons at bay?

Did you ever see something… read a book, watch a movie, whatever… and ask yourself, “Holy crap, what the hell is happening?” That simple sentence pretty well sums up Pound For Pound (TKO Studios) for me. It starts out as a pretty straight forward action title, featuring Dani Libra, MMA fighter and owner of the “fastest hands in the Southwest”. The first issue is all about Dani trying to get out from under the thumb of local crime boss Gonzalo, who goes all medieval when she refuses to throw a fight. The second issue gets into some serious mayhem after Gonzalo has Dani’s little sister Espie kidnapped, & Dani goes into full urban assault mode to get her back (complete with tactical vest and luchador mask), with the help of ex-boxer Sal and local cop/Dani’s boyfriend Reynoso.

Then things start to get… a little weird.

Grindhouse is an art form that doesn’t always get the respect it deserves. It’s a film making style that goes in with the intent of embracing its own insanity and offending the faint of heart. It may look like it’s all just shocking violence &… adult situations… for their own sake, but with a steady hand at the helm Grindhouse can be a wonder to behold.

Starting with the efforts of film makers like Quentin Tarantino(Kill Bill 1 & 2), there’s been a bit of a resurgence in the Grindhouse genre over the last few years. Recently, Netflix caught my attention with their outstanding animated series, Seis Manos (hey, I reviewed that!), and now TKO jumps into the mix with Pound For Pound, a title in their second round of releases.

If you’re familiar at all with the Grindhouse style, you already know that one of the hallmarks is the glee with which it embraces over the top violence & occasionally gratuitous sex (kids, talk to your folks, this one is solidly in the mature readers column). As such, there may be some notion among the less woke (ie: “dumb”) that it’s the kind of thing best left in the hands of manly film makers and writers. Well, you’d be wrong, cuz Natalie Chaidez has managed to hit every mark in her story of family, revenge, & redemption.

Chaidez has created a wild ride of a story, putting Dani through the ringer over the course of Pound For Pound‘s six issue run. Like I said before, it starts out simply enough… a little blood, a little violence, a booty call for Danni… but then the third chapter takes a bit of a turn. Not gonna give anything way, but “off the rails” doesn’t quite cover it… however that isn’t saying that anything is out of control. Chaidez has a handle on her story, and she’s really doing more than just ticking off benchmarks (blood and gore, check… drug fueled cartel sex party, check… crazed redneck meth heads, check). Danni’s trip through this book is one of revelation as she’s faced with flashes of suppressed childhood memory, and the odd brain trauma induced blackout. When it’s all said and done (relax, I’m not spoiling anything so read on), Natalie Chaidez deserves all the accolades for her unflinching dive into a generally male dominated genre. She didn’t just do a great job for a female writer… I’m sayin that she delivered one brutal action-fest and I would like to honor her with the very highest of fives.

Image result for the very highest of fives

Hang on… there’s something I’m forgetting. Right! Comicbook review! That means art…

Pound For Pound has art, and one of the main things I was looking at, based on the story’s backdrop of underground MMA, was the fight scenes. Illustrated by Andy Belanger, with colors by Daniela Miwa, this title delivers some seriously brutal action and the fights are filled with ruptured organs, busted bones, spraying blood aplenty. The action really delivered, but oddly enough some of the characters looked a little stiff when they were just standing around. The layouts give a front row seat to the insanity, and feature some really cool and very non-traditional panel arrangements to move the eye and let the action flow (nod of respect to Jeff Powell, credited for book design). On her end, Miwa puts in the finishing touches with a generally straight forward color palette, but uses some very grindhousey touches to keep it all on point. During some particularly horrific reveals, the panels are all colored in shades of red. Dani’s flashbacks are tinted according to mood, which is an especially great tactic as the comic medium lacks a musical score to set the tone of a scene. When their powers combine, Belanger & Miwa have put together a visually outstanding piece of work here.

For the lettering on Pound For Pound, I have to point out the work of Serge Lapointe. While there isn’t really much flair given to the dialogue and text boxes- not at all a bad thing as some letterers try to get a little too cute with their work and can actually distract from the story- it looks like Lapointe really tried to have a little fun with sound effects. Wanna know what a knock down drag out fist fight sounds like? Read this book. Or tune in to the next fight night on cable (check your local listings), I guess. But definitely read this book.

I’ve been on board with TKO Publishing since day one. They hit the ground with a great gimmick, backing their product by allowing readers to read all of their first issues for free at their website, and releasing their titles in full story arcs as single issue box sets and trade paperbacks (I do kinda miss their downloadable electronic copies in this second round of books, but I’ll get over it). In Pound For Pound, they continue their path to greatness, embracing all areas of storytelling and creative ideas. Head on over to their site right now, pick a title and give it a try.

But definitely, read this book. The pace is fast, and some of the plot twists hit with the impact of a flying knee to the chin.

Final Score: 10+

My favorite from the collected edition’s cover gallery… it just screams 80’s Grindhouse action to me
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