You know what I always wanted to major in back in school? Gunplay ... with a possible minor in intermediate nunchuckery. Unfortunately, though, the closest I ever came was watching a commercial for the Sally Struthers International Correspondence School, which promised a diploma or degree in Gun Repair. Yeah, I’m not joking. If you haven’t seen this advertisement, YouTube it - great bit of 90s arcana. The gun course in question is nestled right between a career in child daycare and floristry. It’s called cross-selling, and you’re doing it wrong.
But hey, why stop at college or untrustworthy adult ongoing education institutions shilled by forgotten minor celebrities? At the risk of making a joke that might give certain members of the Tea Party movement massive idea boners, why not go back further and strap our kids? Well, in a way, that’s exactly what happens in writer and artist Jimmie Robinson’s new Image book, Five Weapons. Armed children: who woulda thunk it? (Pipe down, Africa!)
The School of Five Weapons is the world’s premier educational facility dedicated to training the children of hitmen and women in the deadly arts. Think of it as the Hogwarts of murder. Upon enrollment, each student of this school is forced to make one decision: which weapon he or she wishes to master during his or her tenure there. Much like the correspondence school I mentioned earlier, children are allowed to pick from a smorgasbord of things that can kill you; five to be precise.
These weapons are arrows, blades, sticks (or “woodwind,” as I would call it), guns and “exotic” weapons. All of these clubs within the school are headed by a president from the student body, each of whom is blessed with a coincidentally associated name, like Jade the Blade, Rick the Stick, Darryl the Arrow, Nat the Gat or Joon the Loon. It would really suck if you went to this school and your name was Hildough. Because it rhymes with dildo, you see.
Unfortunately for the School of Five Weapons, there’s a new kid in town, one who threatens to buck the system and rock its very foundations with little more than a conceited smile, a steely wit ... and a secret agenda. The 13 year old boy who calls himself Tyler Shainline is our focal point in Five Weapons; the Harry Potter to our Murderwarts. As the latest of the Shainline family name, which is only spoken about with awe and in quiet whispers, Tyler should be a virtuoso of violence. However, as we follow him throughout his first day, which begins with a trip to the oddly noseless school nurse’s office and ends with a duel challenge from one of the class presidents, it becomes pretty clear that his pacifist ways contradict his nature and thus, for the reader at least, his identity.
In fact, a flashback to two days earlier reveals not only that the Shainlines are being hunted by an old foe dangerous enough to force them into hiding, but that there is a menial subclass in this world; servants who take a vow of non-violence and complete segregated subjugation to the assassins. Now knowing the true identity of “Tyler,” we are left to wonder what is going on, not only at the suspicious school, but what will happen to our savvy little subject as he faces death under a name that isn’t his.
Five Weapons offers a weird little mix of a story that falls somewhere between the video game Rival Schools, the movie Sky High and that other flick about spy kids ... can’t recall the name just now. The mood is cute, strange and yet somehow familiar, tethering violent implements, if not imagery, in an oddly innocent sense of fun. The effect is like a slightly more grown up Manga version of a Tom and Jerry cartoon. If you treat it as such, it actually isn’t bad. Visually, this book is generally clean and cartoonish, only occasionally losing its focus - particularly in the flashback scene, as well as the third panel of the second page. What the hell is that kid to the left leaning on?
The story is a bit more disappointing, if for no other reason than it’s pretty predictable. It also drags at points, repetitively forcing itself along at the end. Finally, I have no vested interest in this character, who comes off so smugly at some points, I wish he’d catch a stray bullet. The mellow reveal at the end was satisfying enough to keep me interested, but I swear to god, if this kid says something along the lines of, “I choose the most powerful weapon ... my mind,” I’m not gonna be amused.
There’s one last thing that worries me about this book, but I hope it doesn’t happen. I’m thinking Jimmie Robinson might catch some flack for Five Weapons, given the currently inflammatory (not to mention litigious) climate in the States surrounding the topic of gun reform. It doesn’t help that quite a few of the tragedies that have inflamed the political discourse and societal furor at the moment took place in schools and involved children. I don’t think Robinson is making a commentary on the subject - at least it doesn’t seem that way - and it’s clearly not meant to offend, but you have to admit this is pretty bad timing. Don’t be surprised if this title ruffles some feathers out there; if it occurred to me, it will do the same to someone much more easily offended.
Saying that, this book isn’t bad and it isn’t great, but I’ll stick around for the second issue at least. Somehow, it just kind of misses the mark for me, not ironically, like the space between childcare and floristry.
Writer/Artist/Creator: Jimmie Robinson
Colorist: Paul Little
Publisher: Shadowline and Image Comics
Release Date: 2/27/13