Co-Writer/Letterer: Matt Bors
Co-Writer/Artist: Ben Clarkson
Colorist: Felipe Sobreiro
Publisher: AHOY Comics
Publication Date: February 2023
It feels almost obvious to say, but Justice Warriors — the comic about policing in a mutant world with a bubble city and oh also one officer has the shit emoji for a head — goes big. It goes big at every turn. The phrase I keep coming back to while trying to describe it is maximalist satire. In the first chapter, for example, there is a 24-panel page. And neither the story nor its ambitions really get much smaller from there.
Justice Warriors — out now in trade, via the good folks at AHOY Comics — is the work of Pulitzer Prize-finalist political cartoonist Matt Bors and Ben Clarkson, a veteran of animation, with a long prestigious list of experience in TV, music videos, and design. Bors and Clarkson team on the writing of this book, with Clarkson doing illustration and Bors lettering. They are joined by colorist Felipe Sobreiro as well. This group is an almost over-qualified creative team, which I note because I think part of this book’s whole deal is you can feel how much fun the team is having. They’re clearly having fun working together and they’re clearly having fun with the relatively low-stakes medium of monthly comics, long a skunkworks for any and all ideas.
In reading Justice Warriors, one gets the sense that yes and was a frequently used phrase during the collaborative writing process. If they did say no to any of each other’s ideas, I’d be curious to know what didn’t make the cut and why. See, the most striking thing about this comic to me is just how big it goes with everything, from its one-liners to its commentary to its very excellent designs (you’ll notice the shit emoji cop right way, obviously, but also keep an eye out for the police station’s exterior, as well as the subtle reimagining of mobile devices).
As a result, Justice Warriors is a dense, surprising, and often-hilarious read. The cartooning is bold and intricate, and really well-done on a technical level. It’s almost painful to think of how much time Clarkson spent on some of these panels. There are big splashes of the absurd characters engaging in truly heinous violence, and there are aerial establishing shots that get so granular as to give you the impression of individual buildings on high-density city streets (see the image above). It’s really impressive work from a craft level, and while the aesthetic is almost excessively eclectic, the cartooning is so bold and interesting, that it never tips into feeling incoherent (a definite risk when including so many visual elements). You could almost describe it as if a traditional direct market book had a child with classic underground comix.
Story-wise, Justice Warriors follows police in Bubble City, where this is no crime. But that’s not where the police work, not really, they work in the UZ (the purposefully misnamed Uninhabited Zone) outside the bubble, where there is a lot of crime, or at least a lot of policing. The chief of police is a robot who is very concerned with her mentions (or as she calls them, menchies) and the mayor is a knock-off version of the musician Prince who is very concerned with his latest album release.
From that foundation, the book takes aim at a good many other things you probably find very annoying, if not outright infuriating. This list includes police violence, political opportunism, false scarcity, artificially-inflated collectibles, zodiac signs, and so forth. Panel-to-panel, the writing is pithy and clever, as surprising as the visuals it gels with, and the coloring fits the world to a tee.
Overall, I really loved Justice Warriors, a singular entry in monthly comics if ever there was one. It does feel a bit like a pitch for an animated show, at least early on (one of those late ’90s prestige animated shows on HBO you weren’t supposed to watch but did while having a friend sleepover), but as the comic settles in and the story gets deeper, it really makes great use of the periodical publishing format, with each chapter feeling episodic but also heavy with running jokes and wonderful background visual gags.
Justice Warriors is a singular book that gets my full recommendation, a maximalist satire romp that takes on infuriating issues of the day with surprising, absurd, and bold storytelling.
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