So there’s another milestone we’ve just reached with the page: someone actually came to us for a review, and I’m proper fucking chuffed about that, so I’m leading with it. There!
Author Joe Khachadourian (jury’s still out on the pronunciation, will advise) sent a PM asking if I’d give his 4-issue series a look and a review, and naturally I said yes, because comics and flattery will get you everywhere, but I digress.
Caveat before going in: I had the four digital issues sent to me in order to do this, but that doesn’t mean I’ll be pulling my punches. I’ll always give credit where credit’s due and critique where it’s warranted.
On to the juicy bits!
I’ll keep things as spoiler-light as possible because I truly think the twists and turns across this series are best served by reading through. I will also do a video coverage of it later on and go into more details then, but for now the catch is this: this book is a definite recommend, with a couple fine prints here and there that don’t detract much from the overall enjoyment of it.
Identity Stunt does several things right when it comes to plot and tone: it tries to pose a twist on the “secret identity revealed” trope, and it also toys with having both a serious enough tone to make its villain seem actually dangerous (and deranged), as well as keeping things light and tongue in cheek where they count, to make the characters seem relatable and fun. That’s what makes it a fresh read (hence the title) in a sea of repetitive, trope-y plots and hero-types.
It also does a couple things wrong when it comes to plot and tone: sometimes the tongue gets so firmly planted in the damned cheek it forgets to leave and/or comes out clean through the other side.
If you’re a fan of 90s action movies, this will tickle a lot of funny buttons with you, as it did me. I’d have no issue, for example, with any of the “old guard”, Expendables-lineup dudes to feature in this comic’s live action adaptation, maybe alongside an up-and-comer for the role of the hero, Sami Nasser.
And this book deserves to go live action!
But I’m getting ahead of myself: who is Sami, I hear you ask?
He’s a professional stuntman, and a pretty good one at that. He’s former US military (and more…), turned to a life of Hollywood behind-the-scenes acting, a father to a young daughter, and an ex-husband to a famous actress. There’s plenty going on with Sami to make him seem relatable to a wide range of people in this day and age, so well done there.
This is something the comic does well for a wide range of its characters, most actually: even with the larger than life events that transpire during the course of this arc, the characters feel lifelike and real. Believable and based on easily identifiable archetypes with which they keep for the duration of the run.
Consistency is key, and there’s seldom a time where my suspension of disbelief was damaged: the established characters act as they make sense to, within the confines of this work.
The plot can be summed up pretty neatly: bad guy mistakes Sami for vigilante, seeks revenge, cue shenanigans. But that characterisation alone would be doing the comic a great disservice.
I got hooked twice during the course of this: the first issue got me on the basis of the story alone, with a back-and-forth-through-time take (something I’ve previously mentioned I always enjoy when done well) that works great for adding context to present happenings by jumping into different points in the past.
There’s a bit of an issue with these jumps as those different points can get a bit muddled and I had a couple moments when I had to slip back a couple pages to remember what the sequence of events was, exactly.
The second time I got hooked was with the introduction of the second artwork team, which propelled the comic, in my view, from just decent looking to bringing the art up to par with the story. Cracking job done here by Briscoe Allison, with everything from facial expressions, to hard-hitting action, to car chases with vehicles that aren’t traced (thank fuck!) and look amazing while still retaining the “Oh, I know what model that is!” aspect that some people find really hard to do without copying the damned things from Google these days…
The art really helps exaggerate the characters’ traits and personalities, with every muscle, sinew, bloodshot eyeball, and gritted tooth being rendered in stunning fashion. There’s also something to be said about the composition here, with the story flowing freely, drawing the eye to precisely the details that need to stand out, and eliciting a sense of motion where the octane runs high, or stifling, puddling (is that a thing? It is now!) tension where the discussion warrants it.
There’s another couple points that I feel beg mentioning when it comes to the way the story progresses.
First of all, it doesn’t shy away from giving plenty of nesting for the events that will come to pass. We’re given time to get to know the characters before shit hits the industrial-level fan, and there’s a certain sense established for the universe before the out-of-their-mind-mystic-aspects get brought into the fold. Yes, there’s some proper magic in this one, albeit done in a very tasteful manner and keeping things rather contained, not blowing the plot all the way into Narnia on that end.
This gives the arc a constant ramp to climb and then outright fly off of at the end of issue #3, for the finale, where pretty much everything goes. It builds towards a spectacular conclusion, taking its time, then chops it all to bits at the end in a very satisfying manner.
And there’s another thing here: for some reason the final issue felt a bit… rushed. Not in execution, be it writing or art, but there were some scenes that may have warranted a bit more padding, so much so that I think this could have worked for a five-issue run instead of just four.
Maybe that’s just me wanting more of it, but I felt a bit cheated at the end, solid as the whole run still seems to me at this point.
Second point on the story progression front, and also character-related, is that every big event, twist, or scene that happens does so at the right time both when it comes to the comic’s rhythm as well as a point where the story has developed enough for the scene to hit hard, and this includes some character deaths which I’ll let you read about for yourselves…
There were several aspects that had me squinting weirdly at the whole thing, some of them in issue #1 where the introductory/exposition bits seem to drag on for too long or are edited in a way that had me scoffing at bubbles taking the spotlight away from the art or the characters’ postures and expressions, for instance.
Most of this was done away with from issue #2 onwards, but it was a bit disheartening to see it happen, and is part of the reason why I think the first issue is actually the weakest of the run, but for the hook which is solid.
Another thing that stuck like sour thumb is the 90s one-liner addiction of every other character in the book…
Alright, hear me out, I know this kind of cheese is a staple of the genre, and I like cheese! I like it in all shapes, colours, tastes, and sizes, and I indulge in it on the daily… Almost.
At times it’s a good idea to lay off the cheese and let a fight be a fight. There’s a very precarious balance between creating one-off, iconic one-liner moments during combat and taking the one into the twos and threes and losing plenty of the impact along the way.
I get that these are personalities that are being underlined, but there are times when the action dialogue borders on cringeworthy and even obnoxious, strong as those words may seem.
More spacing-out of the digs and jokes would probably have benefitted some of the scenes and lent more gravitas to it all, especially in the latter, culminating point of the comic.
Then again, we have the classic villain monologue being cut short multiple times thanks to the characters smashing the bad guys’ mouths in, which is always something I applaud, so there’s a counterpoint to be made here.
Boy, I love arguing with myself!
Further on the art, there’s a very cinematic feel to the whole arc, and that can be both good and bad, depending on what side of the spectrum you fall off: there might be some instances and scenes where you’re expecting things to happen. And they do.
On the other hand, the timing and presentation of these sort of trope-y moments is mostly done with a humorous tone, and one that fits pretty well with the tropes themselves, so you can’t help but appreciate the eye for direction that the creators had for the duration of the run.
All in all, this was a very enjoyable read, with stellar artwork (for three full issues of it), and a solid plot that isn’t left dangling and is surprisingly engaging beginning to end. There’s also the tantalising promise of a second run coming up at some point in the future...
The few drawbacks it has aren’t enough to bring the series down, in my view, and if this were readily available to order physically in my neck of the woods (gotta keep loving Romania…), it would definitely make it on my monthly pull list.
You can find more info on the book (including previews) over on the Tumblr page, and you can also follow the creators to see when and what’s coming up via the Facebook page.
There’s also a very easy way to purchase digital copies (or physical, if you’re lucky enough on shipping) over on the Identity Stunt website.
Thanks for reading, and have as nice a day as you deserve!
About the author:
Costin thinks he knows a lot. And he does, but he’s also an asshole about it so don’t indulge him. A Focus-sedan-driving family man/corporate drone, he games way more than he should considering he also has this writing gig to deal with. When tasked with a bio piece, he chuckled and said “I better get a lot of room for this cause boy, do I have a lot to talk abo-”