Bully Wars #1 is the first issue of an all-new series by Image Comics. It’s a kid-friendly tale about stereotypical high schoolers doing what they do best and, although the story is thin, it is a crazy, cartoonishly fun read!
Spencer, an enthusiastic nerd, joins his friends, twins Ernie and Edith, at the bus stop. There, they eagerly await their first day of high school. Spencer seems overly prepared for class with his mountain of books and overstuffed duffel bag, but he is underprepared for the assault by Rufus, who has been bullying them since kindergarten. He continues their bully-victim dynamic until the bus arrives.
Rufus is eager to start high school, too: he looks forward to the prospect of many new kids to torment. But his plans are quickly foiled by the massive Hock, who asserts in no gentle terms that he, not Rufus, is the de facto bully of Rottenville High. Hock has won the Bully Wars three years in a row to establish himself as the only bully in town. How is Rufus to continue his bullying ways? And what are the Bully Wars?
Bully Wars is a lighthearted story that easily could – and perhaps eventually should – be translated into a Saturday morning cartoon, or even an animated feature. The pacing is quick, and the expressive illustrations by Skottie Young read like a long-form comic strip.
The art is bright, crowded, and ridiculous. The number of details and hidden objects crammed into each panel is impressive. Try to find Rufus’s brass knuckles! Cartoons exaggerate visuals to comedic effect, and Bully Wars is not exception. Spencer and friends are drawn about four feet tall, Rufus dwarfs them at about five feet tall, and Hock towers above everyone at about eight feet tall. Similarly, when Rufus spits his wad of chewing gum at the gang, they dodge out of the way as if it were an oncoming train. When the gum hits its mark, it covers Ernie’s entire body, leaving him a sticky, shambling, hot pink nightmare from head to toe.
The idea of the high school bully as the protagonist is a novel one. Beyond this, there is not a lot of subtlety or nuance to be found in this book – just madcap fun. It’s not a very deep book so far: instead of an exploration of the characters themselves, the focus of the book is on the action and on the characters’ humorous, cartoony expressiveness. And, on those last two points, it delivers. There are no anti-bullying disclaimers or consequences, just crazy shenanigans. Which is perfectly acceptable.
The theme of the nerd-bully relationship has been explored for ages, but the real hook of the story is the nerd teaming up with the bully to overcome the threat of Hock. Why he is doing this is beyond me, because Hock never picks on Spencer. Hock’s only target is Rufus, because there is room for only one bully at Rottenville High. Maybe we will see the dynamic between Spencer and Rufus change over time to a loving antagonism, or maybe Hock will bully Spencer and his friends, but as it currently stands, Spencer’s motives for aiding his bully are befuddling. Does he feel empathy for Rufus, having endured the same harassment through the years (albeit by Rufus’s hand)? I presume this is the case, but the book does not give this or any reason in particular for Spencer’s decision to aide his bully.
Also, why did Spencer bring his duffel bag to school in the first place? Was he going to use its contents to hide from Rufus, or to scare him? I don’t want to spoil the story, because it’s worth reading for the fun pace and hilariously hyperbolic illustrations, but this is not really explained.
Bully Wars is a lighthearted, zany, colorful tale of a bully overcoming the odds with the help of his friends. He might even learn a lesson along the way, but this remains to be seen, and it doesn’t really matter either way. The plot and characters may be paper thin, but there is plenty of heart and entertainment to be found here.
For more information on Bully Wars, check out the Image Comics website.
Thanks to Image Comics for providing us with digital review copies in exchange for our honest reviews!
Bully Wars Issue 1
- The characters’ designs and expressions seem animated
- Each panel is wonderfully detailed
- The book is fun and light, and flows like a Sunday morning comic strip
- The characters themselves are not very unique or three-dimensional
- The motivation behind characters’ actions isn’t always made clear