In my review of Heart #2, I noted that this MMA comic series wasn’t feeling particularly plot-driven, that at the halfway point of the story there wasn’t much sense of a clear narrative goal to be heading towards. In Heart #3, this continues to be the case, but it becomes clear that writer Blair Butler doesn’t have much interest in telling a plot-driven story. This narrative is very much character-driven, and here we get a real sense that the pivotal arc of the series is that of our protagonist, Oren “Rooster” Redmond, and that this may not be a journey to the top, as his obviously biased voiceover might have thus far indicated, but a bumpy road in the opposite direction.
There’s something I picked up on in Heart #3 that I didn’t notice in the previous issues. Every time Oren fights, he changes his entrance music. It occurred to me that this little touch is in fact symbolic of his entire personality. He’s someone who doesn’t know what he wants, for starters. And it also shows how much he’s obsessed with the external, about looking great, about the showmanship and the attention, rather than on the meat-and-potatoes work ethic of being the best at mixed martial arts. Much of this issue is dedicated to Oren’s hubris. While boasting of his success and rising profile in the local MMA scene, he loses his apartment and has to move back into his mom’s basement because he can’t afford the rent without the office job he lost last issue. Meanwhile, he’s spending all his prize money on elaborate new tattoos, because, to him, looking the part takes priority over being the part. But we get the sense that, as he begins to rise to tougher opponents that he can’t bulldoze through or get lucky wins over, that he might be perilously close to reaching a plateau, a lot sooner than he’d like.
The central idea Blair Butler seems to be building on in this issue is that it’s lots of fun being a winner in the world of MMA (or, indeed, in life). But what about when you’re not winning? What about when you’re a loser? Do you let it beat you? Or do you suck it up, pick yourself up off the floor, and fight back to win the next battle? That’s the question posed to us in this third chapter of Heart. I imagine the final chapter next month will show us what path Oren Redmond will ultimately take.
The artwork of Kevin Mellon continues to be solid. My only criticism would be that, while he continues to soar in the fight scenes, there are points in this particular chunk of the story where the nuances of facial expression could have added much to the central character study. And those same rough lines and sketchy, jagged figures that make the fight scenes so kinetic work against these more quiet, stationary moments. Kudos on the grim, weathered, beaten-down face on the cover, though.
Heart has ended up being a quite different comic than what I, and perhaps some others were expecting. It’s been a lot more introspective, and less a celebration of the thrill of MMA than other recent cross-medium efforts such as, say, Warrior. Heart is more concerned with what drives a person to compete in the sport, and its assessment is that not all those impulses are healthy. But still, as a character study, Heart continues to be an understated, but quietly compelling read.