Pullbox Reviews: Punchline – Superheroes from a different point of view

  • Punchline
  • Lone Star Press
  • Written Bill Williams & Donavann Weldon
  • Art by Matthew Weldon & Gardenio Lima
  • Inks by Matthew Weldon
  • Additional art/colors by
    • Rodrigo Aviles
    • Tiago Barsa
    • Jose Lopez
    • Nester Redulla Jr
    • Roman Stevens
    • Alijosa Tomic
  • Issues 1-10 available now

Jessie McGrath is an average American girl who, despite some personal family tragedy in her past, is a relatively well-adjusted kid. She goes to school. She avoids her parents while hanging out with friends. She can fly, punch holes through steel, & survive a crash landing from orbit while fighting a pair of Soviet super-soldiers. Average.

Yeah, I know… backing up a bit.

Having just read the first ten issues of Punchline, I forget to account for the folks out there who maybe haven’t jumped onboard this little indie gem just yet. See, Jessie is descended from an ancient line of warrior women who are able to harness the magic they’re born with to do amazing things. Together, they are the Daughters of Hercules, all connected by blood through a shared lineage with none other than the famous demi-god himself.

Traditionally, the line continues as the power is passed on from a Daughter who’s past her prime, to the next candidate for super heroic abilities far beyond those of mortal beings. In Jessie’s case, she’s taking over for Mel, a bit of a rough around the edges example of Herc’s lineage & as tough an individual as you’ll ever find. Where Jessie is virtuous & well-meaning, Mel believes that the greater good is often served best from the shadows. Together, the two are ready to introduce a new superhero into the world…

Welcome, Versema! Hope you survive the experience.

Co-horts in the writing on this endeavor, Bill Williams & Donvann Weldon are doing some really solid work. Step one in writing a good story, at least in my book, is getting the hang of dialogue. Ask many authors and they’ll tell you, creating dialogue that flows naturally & sounds like how people actually talk is one of the most challenging aspects of the job. In Punchline, I’d say that the interplay between the characters, particularly Jessie & Mel, is one of the book’s highlights. There are some glitches along the way, places where some of the dialogue seemed to be out of place or in the wrong order, but even in those instances the writing itself was still fine. It just read a bit like people having two different conversations at once… which probably happens in real life more often than we’d like to admit.

Another thing that’s actually kinda cool in the way Williams & Weldon are telling their story is just in some of the observations made, particularly from Jessie. She’s new to the gig, still getting used to the ins & outs of being a superhero. Having powers is pretty great, she gets to do a lot of interesting things that she never thought she’d do (meet new & exciting people, kick the crap out of them), & every once in a while she points out something that maybe the reader hadn’t considered. For instance as Versema, Jessie is sent up to orbit to retrieve a couple old satellites. At one point during the mission, Mel asks her how things are going. Jessie replies, “Unless you’re buzzing close to something, flying long distances is actually pretty boring.” Have you ever driven through Utah or Wyoming? No offense at all to those states, but there are stretches of highway that are about as featureless as you’re ever gonna find. Through Jessie, the writers tap into that kind of experience & voice a thing that many might not have thought about. Flying is supposed to be one of the most amazing super powers there is, right? Now picture doing it in a straight line… for a long, long time, with nothing else to do & nothing to break up the monotony. There are a few observations like that throughout Punchline, and they serve to make the characters a little more relatable, the incredible situations more real.

The art in Punchline is served up by a team of talented individuals, all of whom deliver on every page & in every circumstance. Jessie getting yelled at by her mom. Jessie trying to save a sinking ferry boat, or fighting a super villain who looks like a giant shark man (not King Shark… totally different). Responsible for the overall look of the book, I believe the primary artistic team is that of Matthew Weldon & Gardenio Lima. If so, they deserve some kudos (maybe even a cookie) for the style & visual attitude of the title. In the majority of the book, there are hints of an anime influence, & the action moves across the page very well, never seeming clunky or awkward.

The only other critique I really have for Punchline is more of a comment toward the formatting of the collected trades. Like I said, I’ve now read issues 1-10 in the collected format & I would have liked to see more of a break in between issues/chapters. Some of the jumps from one plot point to the next were a little confusing, & I had to go back and double check that I hadn’t missed something from one page to the next. The simplest solution, the one I would have liked to see, would be to include the single issue covers, using them as markers or page breaks between chapters. Also, the cover art for the trades is pretty cool… I wouldn’t have minded seeing some more of it.

Speaking of the covers… The second volume’s cover boasts a cameo from another favorite indie character of mine, one Regina Ragowski in full “tactical onesie” combat kit. There’s also a picture on the wall in Jessie’s house showing Rags in her distinctive unicorn-horned hoodie. I had the chance to ask Bill Williams about it, and he explained that among the writers of various titles, all friends, they’d determined that this was their own shared universe. Whether or not that will be carried forward remains to be seen, but I for one thought even those little hints toward something else were kinda great.

Punchline is, in the end, a great read. The superhero genre takes a bit of a “slice of life” turn in this one. It’s a little reminiscent of books like Indestructible, where the super shenanigans occasionally take a back seat to more mundane things like grabbing some pancakes or gossiping about the other supers. It’s a more or less light-hearted spin on many of the tropes that fans love to poke fun at, while simultaneously devouring them with hunger & enthusiasm. It looks like availability might be limited to digital runs on ComiXology (issues 1-10) & DriveThroughComics (issues 1-6), but with Diamond falling through maybe that’s a good thing…

Final Score: 8

Issue 1
Issue 1
Issue 5
Volume 2 cover (hiya, Regina…)
Cover to Punchline issue 10
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