What drives someone to become a hero? What is the nature of good and evil? What impact can the actions of one person really make? Why would a supervillain blow up a polar bear with a bazooka? If these are the kind of questions you want to see posed by a superhero comic, then the darkly comedic indie title No More Heroes may be for you.
Featuring quality writing by creator Gordon Mclean and bold, dynamic artwork by Caio Oliveira, this is a high-concept witty tale for adults, written in a grimy parallel universe where colourful costumed characters are ten a penny. The black and white pages reflect the underlying themes of morality and taking responsibility for your actions, while also giving you the option to use it as a colouring book
Our protagonist is Sid, a nobody who wastes time with his mates, a bunch of slackers, drinking beer and eating pizza. One day he receives an anonymous text: ‘Should I kill myself?’ Under peer pressure from his friends, and thinking it is probably a joke, Sid replies ‘Yes’. The next day the news is full of reports that Dark Justice, this world’s answer to Batman, has committed suicide.
Sid is soon confronted by Dark Justice’s sidekick, Black Fury, who lives up to his name. He has traced the text to our hapless viewpoint character and is none too happy. Wanting to know which big bad Sid is working for, eventually Black Fury realises that the text was sent to him at random. The two team up – Sid somewhat reluctantly – and so begins a chaotic hunt for the psychotically cunning supervillain Jack Slaughter, the mysterious mastermind behind Dark Justice’s death with a love for explosives.
No More Heroes is funny, compelling and readable. The foul-mouthed occupants and black humour exist in a crap-sack world that’s close to our own, with heroes and villains who feel real and relatable. Dark Justice is deeply religious, his Christianity motivating him to fight the good fight. Confronted by mindless violence, including the deaths of innocent children, he begins to question his faith and descends into alcoholism, to the dismay of his sidekick.
Black Fury is an angry young black man. But rather than feeling like a stereotype, he comes across as world-wearily believable. We never learn exactly why he is so furious, although it’s hinted that he has suffered prejudice, discrimination and abuse, and we feel him bristle when villains taunt him. You can feel his sense of righteousness buried under a layer of world-weary cynicism and rage. His enemies underestimate him, and he in turn underestimates Sid.
The story does a great job of world building, featuring a bar where prospective henchmen can sign up with whichever lunatic is hiring and bet on who will be next in or out of jail, evoking the idea of a cardboard prison with a revolving door, a concept familiar to fans of standard superhero comics.
It explores ideas like the super bank – what do you think heroes do when they need a new costume or super-mobile, use credit cards in their real names? Using your butler as a go-between is kind of obvious – and has a supporting cast includes Pieces, a wild-eyed chaotic villain who can literally fall apart and pull himself back together, when he’s not slapping you with his bits.
In the end Sid learns some responsibility, and that anyone can be a hero if they choose to be. The mindless evil of Jack Slaughter is unmasked, to be revealed as someone who lost the only thing they cared about, and who made the choice to bring down the world around them. Rather than sink to Slaughter’s level, Sid learns his lesson about responsibility, and steers Black Fury back from crossing the line from hero to murderous vigilante.
Although I love No More Heroes, it would have been nice to have more female characters front and centre. You might also feel that Jack Slaughter’s unmasking is a bit of an anti-climax. But then, that’s kind of the point – it could be any one of us behind that mask. Good and evil are a choice. If you feel that there are no more heroes, then maybe what’s missing is you. Although perhaps think twice before donning a cape and mask and taking to the streets to deliver your own brand of justice.
If such high-brow questions don’t appeal to you, then you can admire the pretty cover art, just enjoy the story for its own sake, or do some nice, relaxing, colouring in.