Pullbox Reviews: Renegade Rule – Friends, Flirtations, & Firefights…

The Manhattan Mist have beaten the odds to land themselves in the national championships for Renegade Rule, one of the hottest virtual reality games in existence. But they’re in for competition fiercer than they ever imagined, and one team member’s entire future could be at stake. Four queer female friends will have to play harder than ever against self-doubt, infighting, romantic distraction, and a slew of other world-class teams if they hope to become champions.

From Ignatz-nominated writer Ben Kahn, debut author Rachel Silverstein, and artist Sam Beck is a celebration of friendship, competition, queer identity, and the insane things we do for the things and people we love.

Writers Ben “the Bee” Kahn & Rachel Silverstein have brought their powers together like a pair of Super Saiyan Wonder Twins, and Renegade Rule is the result. I’ve been a fan of Kahn’s for a while, since their series Heavenly Blues (issue 1 reviewed here) came out for Scout Comics back in 2017. I can’t say that I’m as familiar with Silverstein, but given the fun I had reading this collaboration between the two I might have to remedy that. Since character development does take such a prominent place in this book, let’s look at the group of ne’er-do-wells making up Manhattan Mist.

Named after the cloud from team sniper Jessie Nakamura’s vape pen, this close knit group of friends are finding their groove as they move up the Renegade Rule rankings. More than the creative genius behind the squad’s name- also behind the high powered rifle- Jessie is their chewy zen center, is in a constant state of “the munchies”, and has a habit of napping in the middle of a match. Sasha Zimmerman is the team healer, proof positive that you don’t have to really like your job in order to be good at your job. As fast with a razor sharp remark as she is with the heals, Sasha is that friend that you end up apologizing for quite a bit. Taking on the tanking & heavy weapons duties is Tonya LeFleur, “spraying metal” at her foes in game and trying desperately to get a handle on the art of flirtation in the real world. Finally, team captain Amanda Cassidy is in the game to win it all, charging ahead with grit & determination to defeat everyone in front of her. After a victory, she’s the least likely to be involved in a celebration as she’s the primary care-giver for her ailing mother… a glimpse into her true motivations found on a table covered in medical bill envelopes marked “URGENT”.

This information is played out for the reader over the first chapter of the story, told through well-written conversations & laid out in the action on the page. It’s a fantastic example of “show, don’t tell” and earns an enthusiastic thumbs up for Kahn & Silverstein. Writers aren’t always able to give up the kind of control it takes to let readers get to know their readers through observation rather than exposition. I’ve always preferred being able to learn about the people & their stories along the way, getting to know the key players more naturally. By giving their characters unique and more importantly interesting, often hillarious personalities, Kahn & Silverstein were able to draw me into the kind of story I might not always choose to read on my own. I do like superheroics & Michael Bay spectacle in my comics, but solid and enjoyable characters take center stage here.

That’s not to say that there isn’t some great action in Renegade Rule, just that it isn’t the focus of the book. When it does kick into play, Sam Beck is there to pick up the ball. A Toronto-based illustrator & cartoonist, Beck captures the quirky spirit of the book while delivering some very satisfying video game violence. She’s got a great handle on the real world characters, bringing them to life in a very colorful style that shows hints of manga and animation at its core. In the quieter moments (relatively, cuz this really ain’t a “quiet” group of people), Beck’s character work is shown through facial expression & posture, a thing that is often missed in comics. All of this brings me back to the point of “show, don’t tell” when putting a comic together, and in this case Sam Beck was able to take up her part by telling a large chunk of the story in the visuals.

With all of this focus on a character driven story highlighted with sci fi action themes and the random explosion, it would be easy to lose track of the value of a good letterer. Jim Campbell helps to present a story that occasionally leans into the banter, never losing track of the layouts in the panels. Word balloons have to have a flow to make it easy for a reader to follow along, especially in panels where three or more people are talking, and Campbell nails it.

There’s no way to doubt anyone’s commitment to Renegade Rule, especially given some of the behind the scenes information found at the end of the book. Respect to Ben Kahn & Rachel Silverstein for being so dedicated to some degree of realism in their work that they physically dragged each other back and forth across the room to be sure that a character could do it in story (personally, I’d like to know who in that scenario was actually hung upside down…).

It all comes together in a tale of friendship and trust in the people you choose as yours. There are going to be readers who find the level of LGBTQ representation a little off-putting, and that’s a shame. Speaking as a middle-aged guy who pretty much defines “vanilla”, anyone giving this book a pass is missing out some really sharp storytelling in every aspect.

Renegade Rule is full great dialogue, engaging characters, & humorous situations. It’s also full of foul language and sexual references both subtle and not so… In all honesty, I’d say it could be okay for teens aged 16 and up, depending on how uptight your parents are (kids, please don’t tell your parents I said they were uptight). Whether adults like to admit it or not, kids swear… not always very well, but it happens. Parents, be assured that all of the foul language in this book has been used correctly in a sentence (and please don’t your kids that I snitched them out for swearing).

Final Score: 10.5/13

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