Writer: Frankee White
Artist: Kat Baumann
Publisher: Source Point Press
WHAT IS IT?
Two rival gangs fight it out over three rounds during which the relationship of the gangs’ leaders is explored.
Imagine Fight Club meets West Side Story but rather than Tony and Bernando, the gangs are led by Anybodys and Maria who are in a problematic relationship with each other.
Issue #1 of the black & white version was previously reviewed by Jamie Greyson when it was self-published.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
The Big Jackets, led by Billie, and the No Names, led by Chel, are rival gangs that like to fight so long as everyone follows the rules: Five fighters per crew, no cops, and no deaths. There’s no rule about dating a member of a rival gang, but maybe there should be as the gangs witness the aftermath from Billie and Chel's relationship.
The tagline repeated in each issue is “This is a comic about Fist Fights and Bad Romance” and there was plenty of both as, through flashbacks, Billie is revealed to be, at best, controlling and at worst, emotionally (if not yet physically) abusive.
Will the underdog No Names be able to come out on top? What led to Billie and Chel’s falling out? And where do they go from here?
For a comic with so much fighting action, it’s White’s dialogue that really shines. Their characters sound believable with the right amount of bravado to give the comic a gritty edge, but the scenes between Billie and Chel are devastating as their burgeoning relationship turns toxic, then violent.
Baumann’s character designs are great, as it’s easy to distinguish between the two crews, but it’s her fight scenes that are exemplary as each punch and kick is carefully choreographed and each impact felt by the look on the characters’ faces.
I don’t mind a black-and-white comic, but it’s truly remarkable the depth Contreras’s colors add. The No Names tend to wear purple, like Chel’s purple high-top sneakers, which was the color used for the creative team’s names on the credits page, creating an association with the creative team, subtly pushing the reader to root for the No Names.
Hopkins is an exceedingly talented letterer and his font choice here looks pared down for the dialogue, which matches the bare-knuckled theme, but bolder and brasher for the SFX, which are so perfectly placed to complement each slap and hit.
It's effective that character introductions weren’t spoon-fed to the reader as it gave the story the feeling of being on the ground watching everything play out and trying to keep up.
There are a few small things that really stood out including referring to the fighting segments as rounds and having single panels for the separate team members with a hastily drawn red or black X to indicate when someone had been knocked out.
The fight scenes at night are eerily lit and add to the tone of the scenes, plus the red of the blood and yellows used to indicate movement add an exciting element.
The diner sequence in Issue #3 between Chel and Billie is a well-composed segment of the story showing, through facial expressions and body language, Chel is clearly having doubts about her relationship with Billie while Billie confidently steamrolls her, interrupts her, and tries to control her. White and Baumann are in sync and it’s one of the better sections of the three issues to show their toxic relationship.
There’s a particularly interesting panel in the diner scene in which Chel catches her reflection in the black coffee she’s drinking where she seems melancholic and conflicted that stands out.
Ferris Wheeler. When you read the comic, you will understand.
Chel is the most fully realized character. She started fighting because she saw it as the only way to get people to stop harassing her and she was good at it. She cares about her crew though and she seems to genuinely care about Billie, at least in the beginning. I found myself rooting for her in the end.
Billie cares more about respect than love and sees Chel as hers, which is a point White really drives home in a scene where Billie talks about watching Chel enjoying winning a fight and Billie says, “I wanted your happiness.” Chel takes it as a positive though and it's an important moment to show the confusion that comes from a toxic relationship.
The end is brutal and literally doesn’t pull any punches.
20 Fists raises questions about toxic, abusive relationships, in particular in the context of a relationship essentially founded in fighting. Can the fighting between the crews be separated from the relationship? Does that make some of the violence acceptable? Does it matter that it’s two women in the relationship? Ultimately, the answer is that toxicity and abuse, be it emotional or physical, has no place in a romantic relationship.
WHAT DOESN’T WORK?
Content Warning: The physical violence between Chel and Billie could be triggering for anyone that has experienced domestic violence or violence in an intimate relationship.
There could have been a bit more context about why the crews were fighting. Was this about turf? Was it out of boredom? Was this some fight club that was started as an extracurricular activity? It had a sort of The Warriors feel to it, which is fine, but a line of dialogue or two might have indicated some higher stakes for the combat.
Structurally, I don’t know that anything is gained from telling the story out of order chronologically using the flashbacks. The second time I read the story, that opening scene between Chel and Billie smoking was much more impactful.
I didn’t think the epilogue was necessary. It’s only 4 panels, but it lessens the impact of the ending.
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
If you like your comics with plenty of fighting, then you'll like 20 Fists because Kat Baumann has drawn some of the best fight scenes in recent memory. 20 Fists also pits 2 female-led gangs against each other with those two main characters in a relationship, which certainly feels genre-defying.
The diner scene and the end confrontation between Chel and Billie is reason enough to add this comic to your pull list.
This is a comic about two types of violence. A type of consensual violence bound by traditions and rules and the insidious abuse and violence inflicted upon a romantic partner. 20 Fists seems to be saying that the former is acceptable and the latter never is, but what happens when the line between the two is blurred is a question worth pondering.
WHAT DO I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Broken Bear, Vol. 1 by Frankee White & Adam Markiewicz
On A Sunbeam by Tillie Walden
Laura Dean Keeps Breaking Up with Me by Mariko Tamaki & Rosemary Valero-O’Connell
If you like the art:
Meridian: A Graphic Novella by Kat Baumann
Shanghai Red by Chris Sebela & Josh Hixson
The Wilds by Vita Ayala & Emily Pearson
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Frankee White (@frankee_white) – Writer
New Face: Frankee White's first graphic novel, Broken Bear, debuted in 2019 to much critical acclaim.
Made a webcomic with Melody Calderon and James Hohenstein, called "Wolf on Vacation".
On the Rise: Project: Starless Daydream, which they created with over 30 artists to tell a cohesive, comprehensive story, had a successful Kickstarter campaign and was recently announced it would be published by Dauntless Stories.
Multitalented: Is also a designer, storyboard artist, animator, & cake decorator.
As a comic artist she is heavily influenced by Japanese manga and South Korean manhwa.
On the Rise: Recently did art and lettering for The Golden Voice, a graphic novel set to be finished in the Fall of 2021 as well as illustrating the short comic Code of Honor for the Masked Prejudice anthology.
Gab Contreras (@GabContrerasR) – Colors
Outlander: She is a graphic designer, comic book colorist and illustrator from Lima, Peru.
Prolific: She has worked on various anthologies including All We Ever Wanted: Stories of a Better World and Dead Beats ( both from A Wave Blue World) along with Strange Tails written by Erica Schultz and artwork by Claire Connelly.
On the Rise: Contreras is the colorist for Vault Comics Witchblood by Matthew Erman and Lisa Sterle out March 17, 2021.
DC Hopkins (@dc_hopkins) – Letterer
Is a staff letterer for AndWorld design, the studio established by letterer, Deron Bennett.
Multitalented: Co-hosts the horror podcast, Eerie, International, and the comics/pop culture podcast, Hideous Energy.
Moniker: Their real first name is David, and they choose not to share their middle name.
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The image(s) used in this article are from a comic strip, webcomic or the cover or interior of a comic book. The copyright for this image(s) is likely owned by either the publisher of the comic, the writer(s) and/or artist(s) who produced the comic. It is believed that the use of this image(s) qualifies as fair use under the United States copyright law. The image is used in a limited fashion in an educational manner in order to illustrate the points of the author and not for the purpose of entertainment or substituting the original work. It is believed the use of this image has had no impact on the market value of the original work.
20 Fists was published by Source Point Press. Frank White and Kat Baumann are creators of this work. All characters and the distinctive likeness(es) thereof are trademarks of and copyright of the above or their respective owners. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.