Dodge City #1
Written by Josh Trujillo
Art by Cara McGee and Brittany Peer
Lettering by Aubrey Aiese
Published by BOOM! Studios
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
What’s your thing? Were you a superstar on the basketball court in high school? An honor program whiz kid in college? Is your “thing” a true passion, something that defines you after years of dedication, or something you fell into hoping you would find yourself along the way? For Tomas of Dodge City #1, dodgeball seems to be his last hope for some kind of niche - but when he falls in with perpetual losers the Jazz Pandas, Tomas may wind up getting more than he ever bargained for.
Josh Trujillo’s Dodge City, out this week from BOOM! Studios, leans into the well-meaning underdog trope with a large cast of distinct and delightful characters. Trujillo doesn’t waste any time with the drama of tryouts and cuts and angsting over making the team - instead, he throws Tomas into the tangled relationships of the Jazz Pandas and their competitors head-first. There’s something charming about Trujillo’s take on an off-beat sport like dodgeball - coming hot on the heels of Fence and even its slightly older sibling series Slam!, Dodge City offers something fresh and entirely new.
The Jazz Pandas are young, enthusiastic about dodgeball, and also, for the most part, unwilling to center it in their daily lives. Tomas has little experience and takes more than one shot to the face through this week’s debut issue, but Trujillo makes it clear that Tomas has more to offer than a good arm or quick instincts. This doesn’t make Dodge City better or worse than either of BOOM!’s other current sports offerings by default, but instead speaks to Trujillo’s ability to turn the expectations of sports genre comics into something new and engaging in a way that doesn’t wholly hinge on high-level athletic skill.
The whole world of Dodge City is vibrant and endearing, thanks in large part to artist Cara McGee’s playful style. McGee has an excellent eye for panel layouts and, with colorist Brittany Peer, delivers eye-popping hits and startling saves through subtle shifts in color; the slow increasing level of red in a shot of Tomas taking yet another hit to the face makes the three panel spread feel like it’s happening in slow motion as Peer and McGee up not just the color but the slow rising terror on Tomas’ face as he realizes what’s happening.
It is also extremely refreshing to see a sports comic book feature a cast that don’t all have roughly the same chest to waist ratio and body fat measurements, and to not have their varying shapes and sizes be presented as obstacles to be overcome. When Tomas finds out his teammate Huck is deaf, the onus is on Tomas to be accommodating and work out, with Huck, the best way to communicate during a game. There are no moments in Dodge City where McGee turns any of the characters’ bodies into a joke, and Trujillo never makes any indication that their bodies are in any way responsible for the Jazz Pandas’ losing streak. Instead, this is a team full of people with varying levels of natural skill and, more importantly, dedication to the team, who come together every once in a while to try and win a game, which is honestly for a large swath of readers is just as interesting as the exploits of a team of cookie-cutter shaped athletes trying to become the world’s greatest [insert sports practitioner here].
Those stories aren’t bad either, and there’s an entirely different set of interpersonal relationships to explore in those relationships - it’s just different, and Dodge City #1 turns what often feels like this-or-that choice between “goofballs shape up to become real winning athletes” and “ragtag band of goofballs lose but learn it’s okay to just have fun” into a happy spectrum where characters who ‘defies’ athletic stereotypes isn’t made into something to gawk at. Dodge City #1 is a charming, engaging debut with a little something to make everyone feel welcome.