Comics, like all art, can affect people in many ways. They can entertain, inform, make social commentary and shock the reader, sometimes all at once. Unleash is one of those stories, dealing with sexual assault and violence. So, can a comic like Unleash be entertaining or is it all for shock value? Click for the review! (WARNING: those sensitive to themes of sexual violence may want to skip this review as there will be slight descriptions that could upset some readers.)
Writer: Jennifer Van Gessel, El Torres
Artist: Nacho Tenorio, Sergio Mora
Colorist: Veronica R. Lopez, Sonia Moruno
Letterer: Malaka Studio
Publisher: Amigo Comics
UNLEASH NOT THE NEEDLESS SHOCK VALUE I EXPECTED
When I randomly came upon the solicit for Unleash in Previews, I kinda didn’t know what to think. To boil the story down simply: Emmie is a young woman who was raped, but never saw the attacker’s face. Now she has a picture of multiple men who it might be and she plans on tracking them down one by one. But she’s not alone: She brings with her a large man in a costume that is a mix between mummy bandages and a BDSM mask, on a chain leash. His name? The Rape Machine. You can probably guess what he’s there to do to the rapists.
A few things to note about Unleash: It was originally written as a screenplay by a woman, was then opted for a comic and had the story condensed for the format’s storytelling and there is a short film that the writer, Jennifer Van Gessel, has made. As a lover of horror movies, I’ve watched a lot of graphic content. I will admit that in my old age the type of content I will view in a horror film has decreased (rape being one). So, is Unleash any type of garbage or “shock shlock”? No, it isn’t and I found it dealt with how sexual assault deeply scars a person.
Even while Emmie is allowing The Rape Machine to rape the assaulter she isn’t watching and getting pleasure out of it. Instead, she quite often sheds a tear, remembering her own assault. This is not something she plans to continue once her rapist is caught. It has an end goal. Many other threads weave through the story, such as Emmie’s dad being a cop unknowingly trying to catch his daughter and a recently reformed gang member helping the police and somewhat of a love interest for Emmie. I found the gang banger, Keith’s, section rather dull though I understand some reasoning for it being there. Luckily, most of the rape scenes are not as graphic as I expected. Emmie’s is only remembered in three black and white panels, more suggestive than explicit. The Rape Machine’s first attack is the most brutal but still tame by some standards. It’s clear that this has been drafted from a screenplay as some story elements don’t make sense or need more explanation. While we find out who The Rape Machine is, it was never clear exactly why he would allow a young girl to dress him up and drag him around by a chain. I also thought the reveal of Emmie’s attacker was too obvious and cliche. The final few pages of the book attempt to make a statement but come off more hokey than effective. But, for the $19.99 I paid (along with the jokes at my expense from my fellow employees at the shop for reading such a book) I was more than pleased. Unleash is a dark revenge story, but with substance in its madness.
FANTASTIC LAYOUTS AND MOOD SETTING
Many times with small press books, the artwork you end up getting can be disappointing at the least and garbage at the worst. Fortunately, Nacho Tenorio and Sergio Mora and colorists Veronica R. Lopez and Sonia Moruno deliver. I have seen artwork in Marvel books that look worse than this. Every character is recognizable and layouts are handled well, especially in the action and horror scenes. I must admit, seeing a badass woman in a pink jumpsuit with a samurai sword leading a horrifying bound man is a cool visual, showing how good the character designs are. The coloring is dark to say the least. Intense moments get a slight red tone overlay and black and white moments remind you of flashbacks. My only problem is that Emmie’s tracksuit is referred to as pink, and I swear it looks purple. It could be the darker shading throwing me off or just me. Full disclosure: I have gotten in fights over whether a color was purple or pink. (I went to college for graphic design and clearly learned nothing.)
BOTTOM LINE: EXCELLENT COMIC FOR THOSE WHO CAN HANDLE IT
I don’t know why I wanted to read Unleash. Maybe because it sounded like a really horrible B-Movie? Was there going to be extreme gore? Or possibly just the fact that a book had the balls to name a character something ridiculous like The Rape Machine, especially in this political climate. Regardless, I’m glad I did because I got a brutal revenge tale with realistic and thought-provoking commentary on the nature of sexual assault plus the victim’s tragedy, pain and need to take back control of their life. It stuck with me. One of the most interesting ideas is that violence begets violence and that a victim of abuse can easily turn into an abuser. Emmie consistently states “I am not a victim.” If so, what is she? I’m hoping to find the short film and that Ms. Jennifer Van Gessel gets this made into a full-length feature. I’d love to see this story expanded. Unleash is a great comic earning 4 out of 5 stars and highly recommended for those who can deal with the subject matter.