Concept by: Johnny O’Bryant III
Writer: Tre McIntosh
Editor: Corey Mikell
Artist/Co-Writer: Nikolas Draper-Ivy
Editorial Associate: Janae Young
Cover Designer: Daniel Eyenegho
Graphic Designer: Sol DeLeo
Retouching and Lettering: Vibrraant Publishing Studio
Publisher: Noir Caesar and Tokyopop

XOGENASYS is a treat. Coming from Noir Caesar and Tokyopop, it’s a scifi sports series grounded in human drama, much like many sports manga that came before it. For those of you who enjoyed the human struggles in Spider-Man: Into The SpiderVerse (Sony), Hajime no Ippo (Kodansha), and Megalobox (TMS Entertainment, Toonami), this is especially for you! While Primus7, the other Noir Caesar title that debuted last week, caters more to fans of action fantasy, this one will appeal more to readers who appreciate drama and the human condition, because the main character Darius doesn’t have any superpowers and follows a more traditional sports story. 

Raised in a neighborhood that gradually became more dangerous, Darius Walter Smith had no choice but to use his father’s boxing techniques to defend himself and his family. This led to violent encounters with gangs and the threat of being forced into juvenile detention. After his most recent scrap with the authorities and The Flaming ‘60s, his only salvation is Timothy Mustafa–a professional athlete who came from similar humble origins. Timothy now recruits and trains hopefuls to enter XOGenasys, a professional fighting circuit that allows the use of martial arts and prosthetic enhancements in the form of bodysuits. 

What makes this story compelling is first and foremost, the pacing. There is action, yes, but those scenes punctuate the drama, allowing the narrative to breathe and develop at its own pace. Darius’s mother is concerned about her son; she’d rather he focus on his talent and interest in art, rather than be drawn deeper into the cycle of violence and fighting. Having a natural talent in fighting does not make her happy, because no mother would ever want her child to be potentially exposed to danger.

Due to his notoriety, however, Darius cannot escape from those who want his strength for their own. One of them is Kenny, a member of the gang known as The Flaming ‘60s. Darius knows better than to accept their offer or provocations, but there’s little else he can do after they ambush him and further murk his public image. The scene of Darius standing up for himself only to be brutally beaten on the way to pick up his little sister Lena is especially poignant. She is young, but understands that Darius isn’t going out of his way to beat people up. She wants him to teach her how to fight as well, but Darius knows that would also further complicate things.

The XOGenasys involves both professional fighters and natural talents who have been scouted into the league by other pros. Darius has considered joining himself, before being denied by his mother. After Timothy graciously pays off their family’s debt and erases the looming threat of being sent to juvie, Darius finally has the opportunity to prove himself and become a reliable source of income for his family, now that he’s been expelled from school. Darius never whines, but is all too aware of the hardships life has forced him to shoulder. This makes him stoic, but finely in-tune with his emotions and desires–a trait that is excellent for providing forward momentum to the story.

In terms of story events, this is most of what happens. After some months of training, his first match is up against a relative of Kenny, who is out for payback after being rejected and humiliated by Darius. However, in terms of emotional payoff, there is much much more to digest. The affirmation that comes from the acknowledgment of Darius’s struggles and talent; the relief and gratitude that comes from knowing the Smith family is finally safe after years of dodging debt collectors and neighborhood violence; and the tenuous relief that comes from knowing Darius has a potentially lucrative and successful future after being constantly undermined, framed, and persecuted by both the authorities and underbelly of society, albeit with the danger of it coming through bloodsport. 

This is an underdog tale, and one that is effectively told; it feels reminiscent of a sports biopic with narrative. Something about the execution of this story feels raw and relatable. It might be the expressiveness in the art, or the way the dialogue matches how real people speak to each other. Regardless, XOGENASYS Volume 1 is a rousingly successful debut for Noir Caesar–I am fully invested for the ride and eagerly awaiting more. This volume is now available directly from TOKYOPOP, and other venues such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Books-A-Million, and Indigo.

Courtesy of Noir Caesar, here is a short preview of XOGENASYS Volume 1, for those who are curious:

Xogenasys, Vol. 1 is out now.