Hollywood has produced plenty of revenge dramas, many of which involve the cartel or other criminal enterprises that originated in Latin America, but they overwhelmingly star white men. It’s refreshing to see a crime story that features a character like Dani Libra, an underground MMA fighter and American immigrant pulled back to Mexico and the monster she escaped. That perspective combined with top-tier action storytelling makes Pound for Pound one of the best books published by TKO Comics to date.
A crime boss, angry at Dani for not throwing a fight, kidnaps her little sister Espie and sells her into slavery. Dani chases after Espie with the help of the dim-witted but loyal Officer Reynosa and Sal, a father figure who she met when escaping Mexico after her parents were taken. The story quickly transforms from a relatively grounded crime story to the best kind of pulp fiction.
Dani suffers from blackouts and a fractured memory because of years in the ring. She slowly pieces things together about her past and the night she lost her parents over the course of her journey. On that adventure, she encounters the Patriot Council, a gang of white supremacists who punish unlawful citizens dressed in powdered wigs, and has to fight off a meth-addled founding father. Things only intensify and exaggerate more from there. The over-the-top nature results in an immensely entertaining comic. The man revealed to be the leader of the cult was a little too over-the-top, but not so much so that his appearance damaged the reading experience.
The entire series is trailed by narration in the style of classic noir. The captions, while at times unsubtle, keep the reader engaged in the events of the comic. Dani’s inner monologue provides the necessary background and propels the story forward. Dani’s arc comes together neatly compelling discoveries redefine her view on family and remind her what matters most to her. But the narrative plays second fiddle to the wild characters and set pieces peppered throughout the series and makes it more than an action movie in comic book form.
Pound for Pound is the first comic book work from Natalie Chaidez, showrunner of USA’s Queen of the South, and the TKO Comics series is a very impressive debut. She developed a story that would be almost impossible to adapt to the screen, and the book is incredibly entertaining because of that. By understanding the benefits of the art form, especially in comparison to the industry where she spends most of her time, Chaidez created a thriller so over-the-top it can only be made as a comic.
Pound for Pound is very likely the highlight of Andy Belanger’s career. His art looks fantastic in TKO Comics’ slightly oversized format and on the publisher’s thick paper stock. He draws frenetic action sequences page after page and every scene is filled to the brim with energy. Characters are expressive not just through facial features but in their every movement. Belanger takes full advantage of the exaggerated characters and world Chaidez developed for him to draw, designing villains that bear cartoonish qualities but still manage to feel terrifying.
Daniela Miwa’s colors are such a perfect fit for Belanger’s that it’s impossible to picture anyone else’s palette adorning the comic. Together they create a colorful, bombastic crime story worth buying just to flip through the pages.
On the whole, Pound for Pound isn’t the most ambitious story, but it doesn’t have to be. The TKO Comics series a good old-fashioned revenge drama from the underserved perspective of a woman of color. This series will have comic book fans ripping through it, consistently entertained and eager to read what happens next.