REVIEW: Heart #1

Heart #1

Written by Blair Butler
Art by Kevin Mellon
Letters by crank!

$2.99 / Black & White / 27 pages

Image Comics

Heart is not a dubiously sanctioned Bluewater biography of the Wilson sisters and their tumultuous rise, fall and late 80s comeback. Just to be clear. Though this also features tight shirts and tenacity, there’s also an element of bloodsport and chiseled canines not likely to be present in the former. Unless we’re talking about the Hartford stop during the “Dog and Butterfly” tour back in ’79.

No, Heart is about MMA and the path leading someone to willingly enter a cage of chain link fencing in order to grapple with a man who doesn’t like him very much.

To start, I should probably say I’ve never watched a mixed martial arts bout. I’m best considered a fair-weather wrestling fan, having hosted a handful of WCW pay-per-view parties in my living room. With cakey pre-Wolfpac era Sting makeup, naturally. But as a comic fan, it’s impossible to overlook the popularity of this more aggressive breed of tussling. We’ve even seen ads for the action figures in the pages of our monthly books. And if you’re anything like me, you’ve likely wondered, “Are those…fangs?”

They are fangs.

But I’d be telling half truths if I said I was in this for the examination of a sport. In this instance, I was entirely curious about the creator and her choice of entry into the scripting game. Blair Butler is best known for her comic reviews in the “Fresh Ink” segments of Attack of the Show, meaning she’s been looking at comics and their mechanics on a critical level, professionally, for years. As someone considering making the same kind of jump, I was absolutely curious about her storytelling methods and what kind of story she’d open with. An intimate, first-person deconstruction of an MMA fighter if not MMA as a sport or industry would not have been my first guess, but it’s such an atypical story that I became even more curious about the outing.

When we meet him, Oren “Rooster” Redmond is 25. 185 pounds of Muay Thai fury. He’s never lost a professional match. He has a number of tattoos and a pair of fangs. He’s fighting a guy called The Hooligan who doesn’t have any weight over him, but six years of life experience and the seasoning only wrought from being knocked on your ass as well as winning. Butler takes us through this match and Rooster’s inner monologue, zeroing in on the doubts and on the strategy. By the closing bell we’ve got a good picture of this warrior and his drive. But we’re ushered back a few years to the first legs of his journey, to the doldrums that inspired his course change. The Rooster wasn’t strutting back then, wasn’t cutting his teeth on much of anything. His cage was more of a cubicle. In fact, it was exactly a cubicle. And his posture does not inspire the same level of dread from the opening pages. But that’s what a story is for, yeah? To bridge that divide.

Butler demonstrates great confidence in developing Rooster’s voice, transitioning from the thoughtful warrior he ultimately becomes to the sad sack he once was. But this attention to voice is both the book’s brightest asset and it’s chief hangup. Heart #1 is relatively light on plotting, with much of the attention paid to this character study. As such, it feels more like the opening of a longer, self-contained OGN than it does a single issue, even of a mini-series. There’s a defined structure to the issue’s narrative, but it’s maybe not as satisfying a cliffhanger or poetic conclusion as it could be. This is a minor criticism, but it does seem like the story could benefit from a tighter, leaner plot with bolder beats in the act breaks.

Aside from the structural question, Heart is a truly promising debut with sharp writing and especially coherent visual storytelling. Mellon is tasked with rendering some incredibly specific and complicated holds and maneuvers, and he accomplishes this is such a way that the art still flows naturally, without much impediment. It shows a masterful understanding of anatomy, but not at the expense of pacing. Again, lacing the experience with MMA to call out any distinct moments of accuracy or misstep, I can’t provide a complete analysis of the sport’s depiction. But as a reader, there was never a feeling that the training sessions were pedantic or bordering on tutorial. Rooster simply advanced and invited the reader into his world. The overall impression is that Butler and Mellon have a grasp on this material and have a wonderful level of communication between them, executing some very complicated athletic beats with effortless aplomb.

Heart #1 might not leave you itching to find an MMA bout on cable if you’re not already a fan. It’s also too soon to suggest it introduces a colorful new hero with a rich history. But as a clinic on cartooning, and on crafting a journey, I think it has a lot to offer. Butler’s is absolutely a voice to watch, and though I don’t want her to quit her day job as a reviewer, I definitely want to read more of this kind of thing as an expansion upon it.

Story: 3.5 / Art: 4 / Overall: 4

(Out of 5 Stars)



  1. MMA? no thanks.

    • yup

    • I don’t watch or follow MMA, however I don’t wish it any ill will. I’m just not interested. I stopped following Blair on Twitter because she tweeted too much about MMA and not enough about comics. So, not really that interested in this book.

  2. You bring up an interesting point here about comic reviewers becoming creators. I think comics journalism is at a point it’s never been, with this site being a clear example of the high quality, in depth analysis that we have now a days. I’m not sure we had this, say 10 years ago. In film, the directors of the French New Wave, Goddard, Truffaut, etc, were all critics first and they transformed film as we know it. So, I guess what I’m saying is: bring it!

    • yeah but everybody’s a critic so….. =)

      good points though. I hadn’t thought about it like that. The internet, and blogging has changed traditional roles of how critics/pundits participate in their media form. Makes sense though, you have to know A LOT about a subject to effectively critique it.

    • You probably learn a lot by critiquing it, too. I think Josh has made that point many times.

  3. Hrmm…Hadn’t heard of this until today, and seeing Blair’s name was enough to make me interested, but…MMA? Really?


  4. Thanks for the review Paul, as a big MMA fan I’m definitely picking this up. It’s weird how some people think mma and comic fans never come together in the venn diagram.

  5. Really looking forward to this. Saw preview art and boom…down.

  6. I’ll be setting aside my disinterest for MMA and give this a shot. As long as it’s good story telling, I’m in. I like Mellon’s art a lot, and Butler is clearly passionate for the subject matter.

  7. I really hope this book does well. I’m a fan of MMA and I really hope it transitions well into telling a story. Not alot of entertainment portray MMA into quality storytelling.

  8. I’m actually an incredibly mediocre guitarist.

  9. The MMA aspect is not what actually attracts me to this title but in fact the story and character. Reading this review and another, as well as listening to Blair Butler herself, It’s seems this comic is as much about the main character and his journey of self discovery as it is MMA. I haven’t read it yet but that journey is one that appeals to me on a personal level and I’m intrigued to read a comic that depicts such a journey in a real world context as opposed to a superhero or genre one.

  10. Realize that the MMA aspect comes from the fact that she the G4tv MMA correspondent… talking what she knows here… Kevin Mellon art is always great too…

  11. The “canines” are on the mouth guard which give the appearance of fangs. It’s an optical illusion. I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Martial Arts, so when Blair pitches her book from a technical perspective…I’m in. Think Iron Fist but with a narrator. A story like that could be very appealing. I totally understand that balancing the story and the technical might be tough, but I’m confident.

  12. pre-Wolfpac era Sting….ahhh I still remember those days fondly.

  13. Well-written review, Paul. Although I didn’t like HEART #1 quite as much as you, I still did enjoy it, and I thought newbie writer Blair Butler did a better job than I’d anticipated. And I also admit to some degree of sexism; I was afraid that a female (let alone a pretty one who’s on TV) would not be able to write a decent MMA tale. However, as a longtime fan of MMA and the UFC myself, I can attest that Ms. Butler’s take on the sport is right on. It all seemed real. I just wish the story had been more engaging, and that the artwork hadn’t been so rough and sketchy. I’ll still buy issue #2, though.