Heart has been an odd series. In my reviews of earlier issues, I’ve talked about how this story of MMA fighter Oren Redmond continually played against expectation, and that trend continues in this final chapter. Over the course of the narrative, the world of MMA has come to take a secondary role behind a study of Oren’s hubris, and by the end of last issue I was pretty convinced that Oren was on a downward spiral sure to end in tragedy. As it turns out, that prediction wasn’t quite right, with Blair Butler’s script once again going in a way you might not expect.
Quite early on, it becomes clear that Oren has reached the glass ceiling, and his MMA prospects are pretty much over. Blair Butler does an excellent job of getting into the mindset of a fighter in the aftermath of a knockout loss, showing how they might lose confidence in their chin, and how that could affect their whole style of fighting. Some are never the same after such a defeat, and such is the case for Oren. With his dream slipping away from him, Oren makes the rather pragmatic decision to retire while his health is still relatively intact and it’s not too late to do something else with his life. Here, you might expect to find the glorious climactic beat of “One More Fight”, but the actual affair is quite blunt and perfunctory, and doesn’t go the way we or Oren might have hoped.
But surprisingly, this all doesn’t lead to a downbeat ending. There is an unusual coda following Oren’s life post-MMA that at first glance may seem tacked on, but on deeper inspection might be the key to the whole story. Yeah, he works a plain, anonymous job as a delivery guy, but he’s married to a woman he loves, has a kid on the way, and he never went back to that miserable office job. His time in MMA is not presented as a cautionary tale, it’s something he can look back on with fondness, not regret. Because although he wasn’t good enough to be a star, he had the heart to take the risk of failure and try. And that, I think, is where we get the comic’s title.
Blair Butler’s story may be what I’ve talked most about, but Kevin Mellon’s art remains as consistently strong as ever. It’s simple, but Mellon has a great skill for so perfectly capturing the emotion of a moment that you become convinced there’s more detail than there is, with your mind stimulated to fill in the blanks. And I loved the little visual nod to the classic “Spider-Man… no more!” moment from comics history.
In my review of Heart #1, I talked about the potential for this series to make comic fans interested in MMA, or MMA fans interested in comics. In the end, Heart wasn’t really a series that was a classic showcase for either. It ended up being something more universal than that, dealing with big ideas such as the human struggle to excel, for our lives to mean something, that I think can be relatable to any reader. With a lot of other Image titles getting such acclaim, this one seemed to slip by under the radar. But it’s a diamond in the rough it could very well be worth seeking out as a graphic novel in the coming months.