[Comic Book Review] BANJAX #1 from Action Lab: Danger Zone

PopCultHQ received an advance review copy of BANJAX #1 from Action Lab Entertainment‘s Danger Zone imprint. Available Wednesday, June 5th, the creative team for this issue features writing from Rylend Grant, art from Fábio Alves, colors by Edson Ferreira, and lettering from HdE.

Here’s PopCultHQ’s spoiler-free review of…

BANJAX #1

Writer: Rylend Grant
Artist: Fábio Alves
Colorist: Edson Ferreira
Letterer: HdE

Cover Artists:
Fábio Alves (Artist)
Edson Ferreira (Colorist)

32 pgs./ M / FC
$3.99

Disgraced former superhero, Laird Mason, is diagnosed with terminal cancer brought on by years of using his powers. Defending what he has deemed an ungrateful and ultimately unworthy city is literally killing him. With just months to live and a legacy hanging in the balance, Mason launches a violent and misguided Death Wish-like campaign to purge the city of scumbags before he dies.
 
When things get really ugly, Mason’s measured and deliberate former sidekick, Abel Raines – the public’s current point-and-wink superhero ideal – is tasked with bringing his old mentor in. The issue? Raines isn’t remotely up to the task.


PopCultHQ’s Comic Book Review:
BANJAX #1

Drugs. Violence. Rape. Abuse. Cancer. This superhero action thriller is not afraid to go down a dark path. Not only in the cityscape, but in our protagonist’s personal life. His mind, his psyche, his choices in life. Not your typical superhero tale, this is an unexpected story that almost instantly has you screaming for more!

BANJAX offers parallels to creator Rylend Grant’s other Action Lab title, ABERRANT, where the writer envisions a world where superheroes actually exist and the real-life ramifications are then put under the microscope. For BANJAX, it’s about one man’s rise to superhero status, the pitfalls of fame and fortune, and the man he has become. Is he justified? Or is he doomed to pay the painful price of defending his city from its evils?

Writing:

Rylend Grant steps up to the plate with his sophomore release from Action Lab: Danger Zone and hammers it out of the park. The Hollywood scribe once again puts his screenwriting talents to the pages of a comic book and magic happens. The delivery, pacing, even the jumping around in Laird Mason’s life story, all are expressed with such excellence. At times while reading BANJAX #1, as well as when I’ve read issues of ABERRANT, I catch myself questioning just how Rylend is able to consistently produce such quality, engrossing material, embedded with a cinematic feel whose standard is of the highest caliber. Despite my awe, I’m sure as hell glad that stories (and comics) like Grant’s exists.

The storytelling in the first issue of BANJAX is unique in its delivery. There’s some jumping around to different times as we delve into Laird Mason’s life, learning where he’s been, what he’s encountered, and how it’s made him the person he is today. In a nature/nurture kind of way, Grant explores the human condition in a compelling way.

As someone who had his life spiral out of control due to addiction, losing everything and winding up on the streets, the internal processing of Laird’s life resonated greatly with me. Though I never went a violent route, or even became a superhero, I could still at times empathize with the pain, remorse, disgust and contempt one can experience when things are at their darkest. The self-reflection of Mason’s road to fame, and his subsequent fall from grace, is a humbling one and that comes across in the pages of this comic book.

The storytelling in issue two is going to flip the script by offering Laird’s former sidekick Abel Raines driving the narration. Knowing this series will alternate perspectives from its superhero protagonists adds a great deal of appeal to an already intriguing and dynamic tale. I cannot wait to see where this miniseries is heading.

Banjax #1 - preview page 3
Banjax #1 – preview page 3

Art:

Dude! Where has Fábio Alves been? The Brazillian illustrator delivers dynamic linework, art that feels a little out of place in an Action Lab title (no offense, whatsoever). To be clear, Action Lab has stepped up their game recently producing titles with standout artwork, like SPENCER & LOCKE and Grant’s ABERRANT (to name a few). This comic book emits an almost Zenescope Entertainment vibe from the crisp and sharp, well-defined characters.  Great detailing, more than modest attention to background work, and some intelligent inking.

Most impressive is the artist’s eye. His panel layouts and points-of-view angles add depth and dimension to inject a healty dose of life in each page. The seedy streets, the ominous and sometimes haunting nighttime urban environment, the violent and brutal themes throughout – Alves is crushing it in BANJAX #1. Definitely an illustrator to keep on your radar. His contributions to this first issue may just increase his worth/value in the industry. A definite commodity.

Banjax #1 - preview page 4
Banjax #1 – preview page 4

Colors:

Edson Ferreira is the perfect compliment to Alves’ illustrations. He fully grasps the environment, the tone of the narrative, the bleakness of despair the protagonist at times experiences. This is a gritty story, a superhero tale engulfed in darkness. Ferreira delivers the brisk, cold colors for the violent night settings. He plays splendidly well off the bold, dark inks, adding another welcome layer of harshness to a city plagued with ugliness and a hero facing demons.

With the eye-catching and appealing POV angles from Fábio’s panels, Edson masters the light sources, shading, and tonal differences to elevate the already superb linework. Where Alves produces the look for BANJAX, it’s Ferreira who brings the feels, even as dark and intense as they can be.

Banjax #1 - preview page 5

Letters:

Currently Grant’s letterer on ABERRANT, not only does HdE show off his lettering prowess, but proves his value by being so invested in the story and in what he does best. Though the bulk of the lettering is confined to caption boxes with Laird’s internal narration, his workload is still quite hefty. With all Rylend is trying to convey in this opening salvo, HdE’s emphasis and placement is crucial in maintaining the pacing and emotion that emanates from the dialgoue. The feeling the reader will experience hearing Laird’s struggles and internal pain, it’s all a credit to HdE’s work in BANJAX.

The indie creator has shown time and again (ABERRANT, The Fear Diaries, Go West, Salvagers) that his contributions are on par with some of the top letterers in the game today. I wholeheartedly expect HdE to be featured in the pages of Dark Horse, Image, and even the Big Two publishers’ titles in the near future. He’s got the goods and delivers with an exclamation point every time (figuratively & oftentimes literally).

Banjax #1 - preview page 6
Banjax #1 – preview page 6

This book instantly sucks you into an intriguing drama of self-reflection of super-powered individuals. BANJAX humanizes the hero and asks, “Is vigilantism justifiable? Can a superhero be the product of their environment?” Though not fully fleshed-out as of yet, the character building established in this premiere issue is phenomenal. Only one issue in and the concept gives a dark, cinematic feel prime to be optioned for the big screen.

There’s also an alluring dichotomy between both of the series protagonists. I’m eagerly anticpating next issue’s alternate perspective. This not only makes for a brilliant title, but makes BANJAX a more interactive experience with the reader. Does Laird Mason deserve sympathy from his story? Will Abel Raines approach and response raises compelling counterpoints? Can both perspectives bear weight? These are questions not only raised, but ones you desire to be answered.

BANJAX #1 not only wins as an incredibly strong first issue, it will instill that spark in comic book fans: that longing for the next issue, the excitement of getting the reader’s mind racing as to its possible outcome(s), that love for comic books as a medium for gifted storytelling and breathtaking artwork. With its debut set to hits shelves in early June, I’m assuming issue two will drop in July. That’s a long frickin’ time to wait…but BANJAX is worth it.

Banjax #1 - preview page 7
Banjax #1 – preview page 7
I wavered a bit at first when deciding on a rating to give BANJAX #1. Upon my first read-through, I was blown away and set to give the issue 5 stars. But I took a second to reflect, making sure it wasn’t a snap decision, and proceeded to re-read this debut issue. It’s something I typically do anyway, primarily to break down each creator’s contribution to the book. In a second (and third) go-round, I’ve come to the following conclusions…
  • Could this actually be a 4 or 4.5 star premiere that I (initially) reactively rated, being “in the moment” of the thrillride all the way up to final page?
    • Answer: That’s a confirmed “No.” In my additional readings I purposely set out to look for flaws. Ones that would, and should, ding away at a perfect rating. I was hard-pressed to find one.
  • Would a 5 star rating be a fairly honest and accurate representation of not only the issue as a whole, but also of each creator’s contributions to the issue?
    • Answer: Upon re-reading, eyes scanning only for colors or just the letters, etc., not only is that a yes, but it’s a HELL YES! Saying it’s well-rounded doesn’t quite exemplify the true cohesiveness of these talented creators. Each individual put their best foot forward for this series, and in doing so has kicked down the door of what it means to collaborate.
  • Was I inclined to show this book favor because of the success creator Grant has received on last year’s smash hit ABERRANT (now entering its second season) and how impressed I was with his first Action Lab: Danger Zone title?
    • Answer: An emphatic no! Already knowing the answer to this one, I asked myself this question because I feel it’s important to keep myself in check, to ensure that I don’t EVER waver from my ethics, and that my critique & rating are genuine. I stand behind every rating I’ve given to every comic book I have reviewed. If I can’t, or if my review is disingenuous, it benefits no one.

So upon reflection, and having said all of that, I feel confident in my initial AND final assessment and I’m giving BANJAX #1…

Banjax #1 - preview page 8
Banjax #1 – preview page 8
PopCultHQ Rating - 5 Stars
PopCultHQ Rating – 5 Stars

BANJAX #1 can be pre-ordered NOW
and available at your local comic shop and
online retailers Wednesday, June 5th!

Preorder Banjax #1 with the
Diamond item code APR191268.

Preorder the special “mugshot” variant edition
with Diamond item code APR191269.

Click the below online retailers to pre-order BANJAX #1!

Pre-Order BANJAX #1 from Midtown Comics
Pre-Order BANJAX #1 from Things From Another World
Pre-Order BANJAX #1 at Forbidden Planet (UK)

Writer – Rylend Grant

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Artist – Fábio Alves

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Colorist – Edson Ferreira

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Letterer – HdE

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Publisher – Action Lab: Danger Zone

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About Jason Bennett 5215 Articles
Jason Bennett is PopCultHQ's chief editor, a contributing writer, and comic book reviewer/reporter. One with the Force. Browncoats Unite! So say we all! Follow Jason on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram: @TahoeJBennett