Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Joe Palooka: An Old-School Icon with a New Twist

(Cover art courtesy of

Just recently, my good friend and fellow staffer, Alec Kohut, brought a new comic book concept to my attention, involving an old name with a brand-new spin: Joe Palooka. It turns out veteran boxing and mixed martial arts ring announcer Joe Antonacci has brought back an American icon in Palooka with an emphasis on modern-day action and suspense. 

For those of us with a modicum of knowledge about professional boxing, we associate the word
"palooka" with a fighter. Some use it in the context of a boxer who might be punchy or washed-up or just a throwback, tough-guy scrapper. Nonetheless, the comic book hero who was originally associated with the word was Joe Palooka himself, a heavyweight champion who did battle in comics and the funnies (as well as television and movies) from April 19, 1930 (my birthdate...not the 1930 part, however) until November 24, 1984.

In the aftermath of the brand's trademark lapse, Antonacci, a fan of Ham Fisher's original creation, decided to take the character's name and move it into an entirely fresh direction, this time, in the gritty, blood-soaked world of mixed martial arts. As someone who doesn't follow the wildly popular sport but loves comic books, I took advantage of a fantastic offer at Antonacci's new site,, and purchased the first and second issues of Joe Palooka, bundled up for only $1.99 (available in PDF format. You can also sign up for a free preview). 

What I discovered was action from the gate. It turns out our hero, Nick Davis (more on his "Joe Palooka" name change later), is a 22-year-old rookie light heavyweight (only having begun his MMA training the previous year) with a professional record of 3-0. He's a guy with a dysfunctional remnant of a family but a bright future and a beautiful girlfriend, Nina, to match. That said, it wasn't long before it all fell apart...

In a misunderstanding based on panic, reminiscent of "The Fugitive" and the TV show "Renegade," Davis' attempt to foil a bank robbery sets off a series of tragic events, forcing the young fighter to make a break for it, thus leaving behind everyone he loves.

After an explanation of the events in the bank and a tearful goodbye to Nina (which, in this writer's/artist's eyes, could've done without the onomatopoeia, "Sob"), Davis leaves for Tijuana, entering an underground toughman contest to make some cash to send to his younger sister. It's there where Davis is christened "Joe Palooka" (whether this is a reference to the classic hero or an original, inter-universe name is unclear). 

(Art courtesy of

As the new Joe Palooka makes his way further south, a video taken during his bout with "The Great Aztec" goes viral, catching the attention of someone who just might have the ability to prove the former Nick Davis' innocence.

Now if you're a fan of procedural crime dramas, you might just look at the scene where Nick flees and wonder to yourself if his actions were even necessary. Probably not but if Nick didn't go on the lam, we wouldn't have a story, would we?

Regarding the story, brought to us by Antonacci, Matt Triano and outstanding multi-genre writer/author Mike Bullock (who also scripts Joe Palooka), it's fast-paced and emotional, two attributes which good comic book storytelling depends on today (as opposed to the huge guns/shoulder pads era of the likes of Image Comics around 1992 and '93). Having a technical consultant like Master Trainer/MMA guru Phil Ross doesn't hurt either for those like me who aren't steeped in the know-how. Is the action and terminology accurate? This is for you MMA/UFC fans to decide.

As far as the art is concerned, you cannot go wrong with Fernando Peniche, an incredible comic artist whose style in Palooka seems inspired by J. Scott Campbell (Gen13, Danger Girl)- and that's not a bad thing! It suits the kinetic feel of the book very adequately. If there's a problem I have with the art, it's that sometimes it gets away from that formula, coming off as rushed in spots (namely in issue #2). If it's a deadline thing, maybe it'd serve the talented young artist (who also inks Palooka) to just relax a little (his diversely beautiful works can be found here, However, this looseness is almost always associated with the wild fight scenes, possibly defining them with this "energy." Bob Pedroza's vibrant colors make Peniche's action pop off the page and the lettering (an underrated task and art) is brought to us by Josh Aitken.

The bottom line? Don't sleep on this great book. With spin-off ideas and new supporting characters already in the works (but in need of dedicated publishing. The aforementioned Image, perhaps?), Antonacci's labor of love is worth your time. If you dig comics, bitchen art and a solid, suspenseful story like I do, are crazy about mixed martial arts/UFC or are wild about all of the above, give Joe Palooka a fighting chance. 

For more information and to get your own two-issue bundle, please visit, follow Team Palooka at and become a Facebook fan at

Coyote Duran is also the managing Editor of Questions, comments and complaints can be sent to You can also follow me at or become a Facebook fan at

No comments:

Post a Comment