Pullbox Reviews: The World My Arena (issues 1-3)

A low self-esteem teenager who is despised by nearly everyone in his life, Nathan struggles to find his place and purpose in the world. A world filled with mockery, dissing, abuse and misery that seemingly drives him to the brink of death. Life has other plans for him though, as the chanced encounter with martial arts begins the unexpected upturn in his life. But in a world that has been unkind to him, his morals will be challenged at every turn.

And now for something completely different…

The World My Arena is what some might call a niche comic, one that’s a little tougher to categorize then most. On the one hand, it’s got some very serious undertones that touch on the darker side of high school bullies. On the other, it approaches these serious themes from a different angle. Rather than reading like an after school special, the story takes a big dip from the wuxia & manga styles of storytelling. Fans of the old Shaw Brothers flicks will understand exactly what I’m talking about.

Having read my review copies of the first three issues, I can say that this title is going to both benefit & suffer from cultural differences. It’s going to appeal to anyone who’s read manga, as well as readers who’ve spent time imitating the sound effects and choreography from movies like The Five Deadly Venoms. People who have a tough time working their heads around the Eastern themes will find themselves scratching their heads at unfamiliar story beats. If you go into it with those thoughts in mind, you really could come away with something kinda cool.

Kang Jing is telling the story of Nathan, an overweight, socially awkward high schooler who sweats a LOT. His only real fan is a precocious kid sister who refers to herself in the third person & left me wondering about who exactly was taking care of whom (parents have yet to make an appearance). Nathan’s days at school are spent in fear of being noticed/targeted, every step marked by ridicule and very often abuse. The one student who seemed to be more evolved than the rest of Nathan’s classmates was Joel… but as it turns out even the Trinity School golden boy has ulterior motives for his random acts of kindness. All of this is revealed to the reader as Nathan’s life takes a spiraling nosedive, and it’s just as he’s contemplating the tragic act of suicide that The World My Arena switches things up.

Just as his writing style is occasionally tough to get a handle on, Kang Jing’s illustrations take a different approach. Kang doesn’t try to make Nathan appealing in any way, shape, or form. His appearance reminds of me of the earliest appearance of Jack Kirby’s Mole Man, with a heavy dose of slovenly added to the previously mentioned excessive perspiration. Joel, on the other hand, is drawn with an eye toward that high school uber mensch ideal that’s only attainable through Herculean effort and disgustingly good genetics. Everyone else in the books fall somewhere in the middle… that is, until the mild mannered janitor Gideon arrives. Then all bets are off.

The World My Arena is basically a blend of styles that come together to address the traumas of extreme high school bullying. As it moves along, Kang Jing takes readers on a trip through his head, which I have to believe is wrapped in a strong love for the martial arts culture and its movies… Tragic protagonist is oppressed by a stronger foe, is discovered by a sifu (teacher) who agrees to train him, and then finds the strength within to fight back against the bullies. But don’t think that means the story is familiar… I finished the third issue with a muttered, “well now where the hell is it going?”

May not be for everyone, but it’s a step away from the norm. If you want something that’s stepped out of the box, kicked the box, & then set the box on fire, maybe this is something for you.

Final Score: 8

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