Fight or Run: Shadow of the Chopper
Kevin Huizenga, writer/artist
Buenaventura Press, October 2008
Anyone who read Kevin Huizenga’s hilariously accurate description of the plot of a made-up video game in Ganges #2 knew he’d have a heckuva video game comic in him somewhere, and Fight or Run is that comic. The structure, which we’ve seen him take stabs at a few times in the past, is simple: Two little dudes from a selection of about two-dozen entertainingly designed and named characters–a flying Illuminati eye-in-pyramid named Pronouncement, a little Pac-Man ghost/blob hybrid named Bernini, a guy with a hand for a head named Hander, etc.–face off, one of the critters decides whether to Fight or Run, and it’s game time! The appeal of this comic lies in how Huizenga recognizes that the comfortingly familiar and repetitive parametric structure of video games and works based on them–beat this guy, acquire that object, solve a puzzle, beat a level, repeat–enables visual and logical flights of fancy that would make a blockbuster all-ages starter game like (say) Super Mario Bros. look like a work of ostentatious avant-gardism in any other narrative medium. So here, Huizenga again gets to indulge his inner Powr Mastrs superfan with those character names and designs, while devising increasingly baroque and entertaining ways for the characters to battle, to the point where it’s (duh) much less about the fighting and much more about the fun things you can do with lines on paper, paring certain elements back as far as they can go: a Duck vs. Rabbit fight in which the two characters are distinguishable only by where the handful of lines that connote their beak and/or ears fall on their round, one-eyed heads; a logic diagram that shows the Fight or Run concept, for all its internal variations, has only six possible outcomes. Of course, you can then also ring humor out of unexpected variations on these very simple constituent parts, like Huizenga does with McSkulls, a female fighter who beats her opponents by doing girly things like beating them with her purse, hitting them with a rainbow, riding away on a unicorn or a dolphin, or going out with them and then dumping them (the only time a <3 is used in lieu of an F or an R to connote the choice made by the combatants). There's also something being said here about the folly of ambition in the person of Chopper, the character who participates in the greatest number of F/R contests. He tends to lose because of trying to hard to win in showy ways, like self-dividing until he collapses or skating away on replicas of his own head that are easily transmogrified into giant eyeballs by his ocularly-themed opponent. In the final strip, Chopper runs from the sinister Kid Torcher (aka Kid President, aka Kidder/Torturer (so dubbed in front of an American flag background, no less (I think you get the drift))) and ends up winning his fight only by living his entire life and then dying of what must in the Fight or Run world be natural causes. I'd read an entire collection of comics this deceptively simple and sharp if I could.