The Things I Do For Comics – Straight Edge #1
This book, man.
As you may have gleaned from our appearance schedule, this site is based out of New York’s capital region. The comic shows in the area, while definitely on the rise, are fairly small in scale and limited in number and as such, don’t always draw the most impressive guests or exhibitors. Certainly, there are toys to be found at Albany Comicon and I feel like the Chase Con Expo will deliver exponentially exciting guests as time goes on, but for now things leave a lot to be desired. But I know this. I’ve been to some very big conventions, and I don’t expect to be rubbing elbows with Joe Quesada in a bar after these shows, and likewise I don’t expect DC to announce a new book in the Holiday Inn courtyard.
That being said, I never expected this…
I found this book in the garbage can outside of the Albany Comic Con. That should have been my first sign, in hindsight. This is an event dedicated to the love of comic books and someone saw fit to discard this one amid the festivities, You may be thinking it was a free giveaway, and someone took it to be polite and then ditched it immediately afterward. And that would be a reasonable assumption, lord knows I’ve done that more than once or twice myself with a flyer… but this book is cover priced at $4.95. How wretched must a comic book be that someone would pay $5 for it and then immediately through it away a celebration of the media that is graphic storytelling. Pretty. Fucking. Bad.
Have you ever said to yourself, “I love the Karate Kid, but the characters are too intimidating and there isn’t enough Christianity!” ?
SPOILER ALERT: You haven’t. But if you had, this book would be exactly what you were seeking.
This is Caleb. He used to be named Michael, but a Tae Kwon Do teacher (a person who, while often a martial artist, has the same level of authority as a daycare instructor) shut that shit down long ago. Caleb believes in a lot of bullshit* and tells us on the first page that Tae Kwon Do consists, in its entirety, of three things.
*Like the idea that one needs to find one’s Tae Kwon Do “center” to define oneself as a person.
Okay, this story is a sad one and maybe inspiring, can’t really take a shot at that. But the first thought balloon in this flashback baffles me. “I was raised by my mother and step-father. I’m Caleb but I heard what they called me… Trailer Trash.” If I’m following the two pages of story so far, he was still Michael at this point, right? He hasn’t started Tae Kwon Do yet, so presumably his sensei or scoutmaster or whatever hasn’t renamed him. Also, are his parents calling him trailer trash? They’re the only other people he’s mentioned to that point in the flashback, so it sure seems that way. This lady is calling her own son trash and meanwhile I’m pretty sure she’s lying about having a job. Take a look at that lower left panel. Her body language sure seems to suggest that she’s leaving for work, right? She’s turning back and reminding someone in the home of something before she heads out, if I had to guess. Wagging that finger all done up in business attire carrying a sporty handbag. Well, it’s fucking 10:30. So she’s either very late, VERY early, or working at a place with an unrealistically optimistic dress code. I’m thinking it’s all bullshit and she’s going to huff paint in a parking lot somewhere. Makes me feel for the narrator all the more, he’s busting his ass for a small luxury while the mother (at least as portrayed here) couldn’t be bothered to find real work.
Right off the bat I can tell this instructor is evil. He’s trying to make money with his skills instead of teaching Tae Kwon Do for free as a public service! Don’t worry… he’ll get his. Anyway, I like this Kang character’s style. He’s “sure that Caleb is going to continue”. Wait, what? Was there a chance that this kid was going to die, or did the letterer forget a word there. Also, I’m FULLY prepared to accept the idea that this story is a giant steaming hunk of shit, but the portrayal of this Kang fella… all black attire and all about the money (This coming from a guy with the balls to charge $5 for this book!!!) feels a bit too on the nose. Also, why doesn’t anyone have a nose?
Anyway, we skip over six months of training in two panels loaded with bitching about money… hey, it seems like the mom is paying now, even though Caleb worked so hard for the money. Maybe he’s full of shit? He gets a job at the Tae Kwon Do school and buys himself a fancy Ed Norton from the Honeymooner getup. It’s a shame that his replacement stands heavily hunched over his phone four feet from the sink, but you just can’t find good help these days. Caleb will truly be missed.
Uh oh! Kang is a bad, bad man, it would seem, and is involved in some dirty dealings with Bob Balaban and Terry Bradshaw. I mean, that’s who those dudes are if I’m not mistaken. The coloring isn’t great in this comic, but there’s a little bald dude with glasses and a big balding blonde dude. These two thugs definitely match the description of the perps:
So, Caleb is one minute late for work (apparently Kang likes him there at 10:59, because the clock shows it as 11:00 sharp) and his boss tears into him. I think we’re supposed to feel for Caleb here, but I really don’t. Kang is right, mature adults are on time for engagements whether social or professional in nature. This guy is imparting some valuable life lessons on Caleb, and trying to help him rise above his station as “trailer trash” by teaching him responsibility. What a heel!
What? Are those four speech bubbles meant to be from four different conversations, because they don’t make a lick of sense if read sequentially. These four kids are great friends, so much so that it causes insecurity in a grown entrepreneur, but Victor treats Caleb like shit. At least I think he does… he says “If you’re working here he likes you – Don’t ask me why?”. I’m not sure why that final question mark is there, but perhaps Victor is questioning the soundtrack of the dojo. I would not be surprised in the least if these dudes were working out to Bill Joel’s Glass Houses.
“He pushes us so hard an only cares about money. It’s Still Rock and Roll to Me?”
Gee, I don’t know, Caleb. Perhaps instead of saying “But NOT today.” you might have said “But NEVER AGAIN.” because that dude definitely hit you with a stick on that day. Caleb bails on this dojo because he’s tired of being pushed around by the guy his family pays to push him around, but there will be repercussions. Kang takes it out on Caleb’s friends, and Victor looks none too please about it. Oh, hey! A spurned friend named Victor who’s on course to become a contentious rival? This is sort of like the Fantastic Four except, you know, not at all fantastic.
Credit where credit is due here. I was hard pressed to think of something less butch than Tae Kwon Do, but the creator of this comic has found just such an activity: Rollerblading!
Pro tip for the kids out there… If you’re not being bullied hard enough for wearing your Tae Kwon Do gi in public, try the following trick: Mix the sassy frustrating forward-momentum dancing of Footloose with the ludicrous rollerdancing of Starlight Express. If this book is to believed (it’s not) bullies heretofore seen only in 80s young adult movies will be on your ass like bad art on these pages.
So, these new bullies threaten Caleb with death after he makes some kind of round hand gesture at them. I would have to imagine that the real-life bullying incident on which this is undoubtedly based involved a middle finger and far more justification on the part of the thugs, but for the sake of the fiction let’s pretend this is how it went down. The boozehounds are chasing Caleb through a parking lot, they’ve got two cars and he’s on roller blades. So what’s his move? Ditch those blades and take off on foot. Wait, what?
So the other kids catch up with Caleb and have WORDS with him about his oath to be drug free. Dick move, guys, but well within your rights as citizens. Caleb threatens the big blonde dude, the guy defends himself and Caleb assaults him. Words ≠ Actions, it’s not okay to hit someone because they hurt your feelings or insulted your manhood, Caleb. Didn’t you pay attention to any of those lifetime movies?
Jesus Christ, Caleb… did you murder that dude? You should turn yourself over to the authorities before you hurt anyone else.
Phew, that was a close one. With some quick thinking and teamwork, a group of local teens were able to subdue the assailant. All’s well that ends well, I guess, so… Oh wait, we were supposed to be rooting for the kid with the rollerblades, weren’t we? Fuck. I was hoping that was the end of the story, but this is beginning to feel like the halfway point. I need a drink.
In case you can’t read that first panel (I really don’t wanna open this book back up to scan it a second time), the guy we’ve never seen before says “I guess you found out that you’re not invincible.” to one of Caleb’s eyes. Caleb replies by saying “You can say that. Thanks for coming”. Normally, human beings say “You can say that AGAIN” as a sort of colloquial way of affirming a sentiment. Caleb says “You can say that” giving this stranger retroactive permission to speak that sentence. Crazy, right? Remember, this fucking maniac just beat the shit out of a kid with a wheelie-shoe.
Whoever this stranger is, he brought Caleb a flyer for a Tae Kwon Do recital, and we’re once again told that Caleb has made a commitment to live drug free. I feel like in a comic called Straight Edge about a straightedge kid it might have been wise for the writer to follow that “Show Don’t Tell” rule and actually walk us through the whole pledge scene instead of just referencing it a whole bunch. Admittedly , the copy I found may have been missing some pages. We both know it wasn’t, though.
Caleb’s mysterious benefactor has also brought him a Tae Kwon Do costume, specifically the NEW Olympic uniform. Now, I did a little detective work on this. Mostly because when I read the word “Olympic” in a Tae Kwon Do comic I had to see if that shit was for real. It turns out it is, and has been since 2000. So that would make this 2004, at the earliest, since he stresses that NEW part about the sentence.
I’m seriously surprised that this dipshit is allowed back at Tae Kwon Do practice, seeing as last time around he bitched out his Hitting People teacher for hitting him. Also, isn’t the teacher sort of right? Does going to a local tournament really give Caleb the right to go traipsing around in the US Olympic team’s uniform? I’m finding it very, very difficult to sympathize with this kid. He holds himself to some kind of double standard. Not doing drugs is all well and good, but you shouldn’t think that it gives you the right to assault other people or impersonate a trained professional athlete.
Anyway, Caleb finds his way to another dojo and prays himself into a regular Tae Kwon Do master. He also develops a Terminator-esque HUD wherein he can visually identify his opponent’s weaknesses. God ain’t no slouch, I guess because he “KIAP”s the first opponent straight out of the tournament.
Eight entirely unseen rounds of the presumably pivotal tournament later, Caleb is up against Curtis. He kicks Curtis a few times, we’re expected to give a shit, and then he wins. Or at least I think he does. He says “Crazy! I just point gaped him! He couldn’t even score.” At first I thought he said “point gapped”, but I think he’s referring to the porn parody of Point Break, entitled Point Gape. And he will be hearing from my lawyers.
Welp, that was the whole tournament. And apparently it was a sloooooooow motherfuckin’ news day over at the Metro Bugle because this was their front page headline:
So Caleb is confronted by his old classmates at the behest of the instructor. They demand his belt so naturally Caleb assaults them. Wait! Caleb, do you even know how NOT TO ASSAULT PEOPLE? You’re not coming off as the hero here, pal. Plus, I’m pretty sure you meant to use “you’re” instead of “your”. Why don’t you see if God can do for your grammar what he did for your Tae Kwon Do.
Manipulates everything , Caleb? Oh, brother… it’s starting to make sense, now. Caleb, show me where on this Ninja Turtles Action Figure the bad man manipulated you.
Here, Caleb again references Levi’s theory that one has only 9 seconds in which to end a fight. It’s becoming very obvious that these characters are based on real life classmates of this obvious author surrogate. The only part of this that doesn’t seem like a thinly-veiled analogue of real life is the part where he doesn’t get his ass kicked. And maybe the evil criminal mastermind Tae Kwon Do instructor.
Jesus, Caleb. Methinks thou dost protest too much on the whole trailer trash thing. If the kid who’s still wearing grunge gear in 2004 wants to call you trailer trash, try to avoid getting so defensive. Also, try to avoid throwing your car keys in his eye.
Caleb confronts Kang-Dae himself, having proven himself the most skilled of the students. What really confused me about this bit is how Kang-Dae is incensed that Caleb speaks his birth name, and yet we’ve never heard him addressed as anything but. I guess there’s a lot about Tae Kwon Do, Christianity, and not having fun that I’ll never understand. Anyway, Caleb is about to drop the secret of his own birth name on Kang-Dae.
Holy Shit! Caleb was Michael all along! And he drops a little etymology on Kang, explaining that Michael means “He who is like the LORD!”. Now, unlike some people, I know how (and when) to use the internet. It took me a half a second to realize I needed to fact check that statement and three seconds to turn up this little bit of info.
The question mark and the lack of the word “he” tell a different tale, Caleb. Your name ain’t shit, brah. It’s not going to win any Cool Name Meaning contests and it’s not sure as hell not going to win you any Tae Kwon Do recitals. You’re living a lie, and I’m sort of glad that your coach stabbed you with that weird green knife.
AJ to the rescue! One count of Attempted Vehicular Homicide later, and Caleb and AJ are friends again. And they don’t even need to involve the folks at the hospital, because Caleb’s knife wound is strictly magical in nature. Nothing to worry about, there!
Oh, dang. Kang-Dae has a whole army of Tae Kwon Do students at his whim, and he’s out for revenge and…. intervention?
I can’t fucking wait. I cannot what for this entitled jackass to hunt down the mythical sling that slew Goliath and what appears to be Moses’ staff. I mean, why would anyone want to read Secret Wars when they could get this comic for the same price?
Okay, now that we’re done, let me just say that the unnamed publisher of this comic should be careful about how carelessly they’re tossing around the word “Straight” in the title. They may see a class action suit from straight people for associating this book with their lifestyle. In fact, even “straightedge” people are probably gonna take issue with their portrayal in this bit of media.
The brings me to another point. Aren’t you only Straight Edge if you’re into punk rock and/or metal? If you’re a god-fearing Christian in high school, aren’t you expected to be drug-free? I sort of feel like it’s only an accomplishment if you’re immersed in a culture filled with drug abuse, I don’t see many suburban kids heading to Tae Kwon Do practice with rubber hoses around their arms, so I think avoiding drugs in that world is more or less par for the course. There goes your only accomplishment.
As far as an actual review of this book goes, if I hadn’t known that it was written and drawn by adults, I would probably go as high as three stars. It’s a needlessly preachy comic and the greatest conflict is the reader’s struggle to finish it. I fully understand why someone threw this thing out, and I wish there were an adult watching when I pulled it out of the trash so they could have slapped my hand and scolded me. Garbage belongs in the trash can.
I know that now.
Anyway, if you hate good things and would like for issue #2 to exist, please contribute to this Kickstarter initiative. There’s less than a month to go, very lofty incentive goals, and precious little reward for donating. Dig deep, brothers and sisters!
Or you guys could get together and buy me one of those wraparound 4K TVs… God would probably appreciate if you did that instead.
On a final note, if you’re looking for a better Tae Kwon Do story, here are some suggestions. If you’re actual into Tae Kwon Do, check out The Miami Connection. Actually, check that out either way. And if you think Tae Kwon Do is ludicrous, check out The Foot Fist Way. If you legitimately enjoyed Straight Edge #1, check out that videotape from The Ring, please.
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