Trigger Warning: The graphic novel reviewed here contains depictions of violence, drug abuse, abusive relationships, references to rape, and the looming threat of neo-Nazism. If you have had any experience with these issues or otherwise wish to avoid such content, proceed with caution.
Today I’m reviewing another illustrated work. Unlike The Blue Unicorn’s Journey to Osm, this book is a graphic novel composed of four comic books. The subject matter is very adult and perfectly fits the tastes of readers who enjoy post-apocalyptic stories. Namely, this review will focus on Toxic Romance: A Post-Apocalyptic Love Story, written and illustrated by Benjamin Parkour and inked by War.
2099 CE, Post-Apocalyptic Manhattan. Marcus has lived a rough life filled with toxic romances and comedy. He pops handful after handful of painkillers to dull the misery, but he doesn’t need your pity. What he needs—what he thinks he needs—is Faith, the girl he saved and lost all those years ago in high school. Little does he know, their reunion will bring back more than just bittersweet memories.
Marcus soon finds himself on a mission to save the young woman he loves from her forced marriage, her abusive husband, and her husband’s menacing allies, all of whom are bent on creating a genetically-superior race of humans beginning with Faith. He must team up with the Pit Bull of Manhattan, sharpen his fighting skills, and gather all the anger and blind courage in him to make it past the slew of neo-Nazis separating him from his toxic romance. But can he do it? Can Marcus save Faith? Will they escape alive? Most importantly, will Faith let herself be rescued?
Romance, action, the revival of the Nazis, and a morally-questionable Urban Messiah abound in this gripping graphic novel. No more than fourteen pages each, these comic books pack many punches in a very short span. Accompanying the brief, crisp text are gorgeous illustrations worthy of any big-scale comic book franchise.
Parkour’s work reminds me quite a bit of the Original Sins comic book series featuring the notorious John Constantine, which is my all-time favorite comic book (frankly, the only comic book series I wanted to read up until this point). Marcus is a no-bullshit drug addict with a vigilante sense of justice, the sort of character any Constantine fan would appreciate. The moral makeup of the graphic novel is not cut-and-dry, either; while Marcus and his anti-Nazi ally seem to clearly be in the right, there are no pure heroes here, only antiheroes.
Fast-paced with a compelling plot, Toxic Romance makes for a very quick read that leaves you wanting more. Parkour creates a seamless transition between past and present, although the action scenes sometimes become so jumbled that I lost track of who is saying what. Parkour releases most of the background for Marcus and Faith through dialogue, although I never felt as though exposition slowed down the story. The writer manages to slip details about the characters’ past into their conversations in natural ways, from catching up on missed time to sarcastic remarks, which is a very difficult feat for even the most seasoned veteran. Parkour put a lot of thought and creative energy not only into this world but the characters as well, and that is one of the main reasons I was so enamored with these comic books.
Parkour also takes the reader on a rather dizzying whirlwind of events. The action scenes are so frequent and quick that I became a bit disoriented. Most of the time, this effect works in Parkour’s favor. After all, the comic books center on a post-apocalyptic world in which demented viewpoints, violence, and unexpected twists can take both the characters and the reader by surprise; it only makes sense that the reader be left as confused and frustrated as Marcus. Still, the disorientation occasionally forced me to re-read pages in order to ensure that I knew exactly what was going on.
For the most part, the illustrations and text are skillfully balanced and complement each other nicely. However, I ran into an issue with a few of the darker-colored illustrations which grew annoying after the first couple encounters. Some of the darker illustrations bleed over the text, causing some letters and even whole worlds to be all but invisible to the reader. If I stopped and focused, I would be able to make out the covered words. Nevertheless, doing so slowed down my reading a little and, as I am prone to migraine attacks and eyestrain, started to give me headaches. I love the illustrations, mind you, but I think that Parkour and the rest of the team should go back and fix those areas so that all the text can easily be read.
I also noticed a few proofreading errors such as misspellings, as I have frequently seen with small-scale publications lately. They do not detract from the overall quality of the graphic novel and do not occur often, but they are still present.
As far as comic books and short graphic novels go, Toxic Romance by Benjamin Parkour is top-notch, especially for a small-scale publication. While it is very violent and heavy on drug addiction and physical/sexual abuse, Parkour handles these subjects in a way which did not make me uncomfortable. They are crucial to the story line and character development and, although openly depicted, are not overly-explicit. I also find the neo-Nazi and Eugenics angle to be very appropriate for the current political climate in the United States (although I’m certain my conservative readers will disagree, which they are welcome to so long as they remain civil and polite). For me, socio-political commentary always enhances the value of a book, and I think that Parkour uses it very aptly in his work.
Aside from Original Sins and a graphic novelization of Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonflight, I have never been one for comic books or graphic novels. With Toxic Romance, however, I am eager to see where the story goes and hope that Parkour and his team will continue to release issues about Marcus, Faith, and the fight against Neo-Nazism in a post-apocalyptic world.
If you would like to learn more about Parkour and his work, you can follow this link to his website. The website also has free PDF copies of each comic book in Toxic Romance, so please take the time to read them and leave your thoughts on the graphic novel in the comments below.
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