Best Shots Review: PUNK MAMBO #1 (7/10)

Punk Mambo #1 variant covers
Credit: Valiant Comics
Credit: Adam Gorham (Valiant Entertainment)

Punk Mambo #1
Written by Cullen Bunn
Art by Adam Gorham and Jose Villarrubia
Lettering by Dave Sharpe
Published by Valiant Entertainment
‘Rama Rating: 7 out of 10

Valiant’s Voodoo spin on the John Constantine archetype continues in Punk Mambo #1, as writer Cullen Bunn and artist Adam Gorham throw a lot of action at readers in the magenta-haired magician’s debut issue, even if the characterization is a bit too shallow to hook in new followers. That all said, the artwork on this book is downright excellent, and if you’re looking for a title to scratch that sardonic magical antihero itch, you could do a lot worse than this one.

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before — we’ve got an irascible magic user prowling among the shadows us daylight folk fear to tread, cracking one-liners along with a can of magical whoopass to stop some grotesque monsters in their tracks. But rather than a Brit with a cigarette and trusty trenchcoat, we’ve got Punk Mambo’s leather jacket and pink mohawk — sure, their voices sound uncannily similar, but one can’t help but wonder if that’s an intended feature rather than a bug.

Bunn moves through the action portion of his story quickly, and to his credit, it’s effective, as we get to see summonings of demigods and conjurings of a particularly nasty bone scythe. But rather than delve into Punk’s origin story, the human connection he establishes for the character is her partnership with the voodoo loa known as Ayezan — particularly when Ayezan gets captured in the middle of a fight. But I would argue that’s not quite enough to get readers invested in the character — indeed, the action starts to get a little numbing after a bit because there is so little context surrounding either the lead character or the villains she’s facing.

Of course, it’s easy to see where one might lean into the action side of things over exposition, especially with an artist like Gorham behind the wheel. He and colorist Jose Villarrubia are a really effective team — Gorham has a style that evokes Sean Murphy and Olivier Coipel, his angular heroine really popping off the page with every dynamic turn. There’s lots of speed and energy to Gorham’s action sequences that does a lot of heavy lifting for a somewhat thin script — and while Villarrubia is constrained to a less moody superhero palette, he’s able to get in some really cool moments to establish more of a tone, especially when his fight sequences explode in shades of green, red and yellow.

While Bunn does effective work in getting in the prerequisite superhero fisticuffs out of the way quickly, for a new first issue, one can’t help but feel a bit of a missed opportunity to really introduce new readers to Punk Mambo as a character and as a concept — and to be honest, without the easy comparison to John Constantine, I’m not sure how many newcomers would be able to glean much of any context to this debut adventure. But credit where it’s due — Gorham and Villarrubia really elevate this issue with a stylishness that befits this iconoclastic antiheroine. It’s unclear if Punk Mambo will stick the landing in future installments, but the artwork is strong enough to justify a second look.

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