Prison Pit: Book One / Comic Book Review

Prison Pit: Book One / Comic Book Review

Story and Art by Johnny Ryan

Fantagraphics Books, 2009

9/10 Stars – Highly Recommended

The Prison Pit is a planetary superstructure set in the depths of space, where the vilest cretins are sentenced to wander its wasteland, free to exhibit their true natures without hindrance from the law. From space, the prison planet looks like a non-descript satellite, like Earth’s moon. Beneath its cragged, grey mantle is an alien non-society of random butchery, lewdness, barbaric verbal takedowns, uncouth physical spite, savage rivalry, brain-molesting cheap shots, cannibalism, rampant cussing, bizarre reproductive appendages, and simple, unfettered bloodletting. The action in Prison Pit goes even further than that, packing brutal action sequences into big panels at a pitch-perfect, often hilarious pace.

Prison Pit Book One p30

There’s a classic scene half-way into John Carpenter’s 1988 sci-fi standard They Live, where they two main characters, played by wrestling legend, Roddy Piper, and genre-flick staple Keith David square off against each other in a dingy Los Angeles alley. The two men, sick of each other’s gruff, spend almost six minutes of screen time pummeling each other into submission as the true villains of the story go about their usual business offscreen. Prison Pit feels like an extension of this heavy scrap.

We don’t know much about the main character- a bad dude named C.F. (guess what his initials stand for), who, from the first pages, is incapable of staying out of brawls. His head is permanently covered in a cowl of blood and he makes a victory trademark out of chewing on his enemies (everyone is his enemy).

While Prison Pit: Book One rings in at 121 pages, the pacing is brisk. Much of the dialogue is sound effects and the narrative style opts for large panels or, often, full-page dramatic shots. As C.F. wanders from fight to fight, Johnny Ryan keeps the editing tight, making sure that his maniacal main character is in constant, often revolting peril. There are no hordes of faceless cannon fodder grunts to stand in the main character’s way. Prison Pit offers only mid-boss and boss fights.

Prison Pit Book One p101

Ryan’s series, which is five volumes long, is just about as good as it gets. Prison Pit is the type of comic that will thrill devious kid in you while the ghost of Dr. Frederic Wertham and the Comics Code Authority gnash their teeth and claw at its pages from the other side of the veil.

Perhaps for the best, and for all the monumental levels of raw comic brutality in Prison Pit, the story strikes a final, uplifting note at its end that carries Book One to the next level.

9/10 Stars – Highly Recommended

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