XCT – Xtreme Champion Tournament #’s 0 – 4

Summary: Great Warriors of history are resurrected 50 years from now, to fight in a futuristic Gladiatorial arena!

As the Xtreme Champion Tournament hots up, the recently revived Spartacus fights the menace of the Minotaur! A beast that has slaughtered 20 Gladiators already!

But Gladiators come and go in XCT, and when the monster, Baykok arrives, it changes everything! But Gladiators must fight to the death for the glory of the arena, it’s the extreme story on the “Cult of Personality” in “Reality TV” gone wild!

Reviewer’s note: This book is really suited to those over the age of 15, due to levels of extreme violence throughout.

Well, I can tell you one thing, the credits were fun to write up, so you can’t say there’s not plenty of variation there! But in all seriousness, there’s a more stable team incepted after issue #0.

Basically, the best analogies I could suggest here to give you an idea of what we’re looking at might be “Gladiator/The Running Man meets Battle Royale”, the first thing to do when you read XCT is to throw out any sense of suspension of disbelief, because sometimes, you just have accept that a work “is what it is”.

If you’re looking for a book about on Existentialism, a life-affirming experience, well, sorry, XCT is probably not for you, but as much as I like books that make you think and feel, sometimes you just want pure Brain Candy.

And XCT gives you exactly that, if you love Street Fighter, Troma films and other goofball, whacked-out stuff like “The Rage” and “Feast 3”, you are probably going to be in your element!

XCT is pretty gonzo, it’s a good reminder about what Grant Morrison once said about over-thinking everything, where he noted that kids just accept something ridiculous and think it’s just plain cool, whereas adults want to know about who pumps up the tyres on the Batmobile, who makes the sandwiches?? And Morrison answered that NO-ONE pumps up the tyres! NO-ONE makes the sandwiches! It’s a $%&*ing Comic book!!

Stop thinking for 5 minutes, relax and enjoy this load of nonsense!

Spartacus versus the Minotaur!

After a pretty shaky issue #0, with inks that don’t befit the lovely line-work of Jerry Gaylord’s pencils, not to mention the spelling, typographical and grammatical errors that needed fixing, from issue #1 onwards, this changes, with a generally more stable, regular team.

I get the feeling there was a lot of feedback given at the time, which has benefited the title to no end, the ink lines are better suited by Penelope Gaylord, colour depth and complexity has greatly improved and where we had dead space, we now see more of that being used as Negative Space instead, creating a better experience all round.

XCT is fun, it’s exceptionally bloody too, so expect appendages to go flying all over the place, and now that Shaun Paulet remains solely on edits for the book, while Brendan Halyday works on scripts from the writing duo’s plots, the script from issue #0, with all its faults, read surprisingly far away from the frequently cliched dialogue we see in books of today.

I get the feeling it was a case of “too many Cooks” on the editorial side initially, because, yet again, from issue #1 there is a greater sense of stability to the way the book reads.

Character development is gradually developed as much as the plot itself from the very beginning, although there is a sense of ‘finding-your-feet’ early in the series, from #2, it starts to stride along, to the point where in issue #4, you very much get the sense that everyone on the creative team are really beginning to enjoy themselves.

In terms of character design, this book reeks of marketability, it’s just begging for the video game treatment, a la the aforementioned Street Fighter.

In particular, Baykok is a very nasty piece of work and a fantastic design, it takes elements that have been used ad infinitum and breathes new life into it. Every one of the main Gladiatorial characters look like an action figure in a popular kids toy range, but XCT is also anything but just an ad for future merchandising.

There’s a core story that’s slowly pulling back the curtain, and to its credit, although it looks like we’re heading for “the Gladiators will seek their freedom in the future and break out of the arena”, I think anyone is probably going to draw that conclusion themselves pretty early on, but to be honest, you’re really not sure where it will go next, and I mean that in the best of ways.

One character in particular, who initially appears to be a ‘One-shot Wonder’ background character, by the time we reach the end of the 4th issue, is going to take on a more central, and pivotal role as we see this play out.

Much of this is like “Action Porn”, each issue is never shy on it, but despite all the bloodshed, it’s remarkably ungratuitous for what it is, sure, you see limbs flying and blood splattering all over the place, but it feels almost cartoonish about it, helping us healthily desensitise ourselves and otherwise avoiding an over-use of unnecessary gore.

There’s points where you think about the material that UDON Studios do, but rather than just feeling like a pale imitation, XCT, like some precocious claimant to the throne, would fit very well in there, so it’s particularly welcoming to see, given the gradual climb-down we’ve seen on out-put from UDON in recent years, but if anything, that’s also where XCT also has a flaw.

On average, each of these issues are coming out after roughly 6 months apart, personally, I think they’re worth the wait, sometimes it’s just a reality of independent Comics, because quite often, it’s a side-line project, a labour of love for both the Creators and for the audience following it.

It’s a shame, really, I’d hate to see it suffer for it, but on the other hand, while waiting 2 years between volumes to come out as a complete volume is a long time, I wonder if it might be beneficial in the long run, so that individual issues can run on a consecutive monthly basis, followed by a Trade Paperback.

Either way, despite it’s fall-backs, XCT is a big ball of fun that appears to consistently want to up itself, one issue after another. The quality in general has either improved or remained stable, I didn’t know whether I’d care about this book at the end, but..I do.

I really do, I want this book to succeed, it’s certainly got the qualities of something fun and has incredible marketing possibilities, should it be able to increase out-put.

The production design is crisp and well laid out, easy on the eye, I would still like to see greater colour depth, I’d also like to see a combination of inked line work and pencil enhancement, instead of just purely inked work, mainly because I know just how damned good a Penciller Jerry Gaylord really is, so it would be lovely to see more of the subtleties in the work here, which aren’t being fully captured as yet.

That’s not to the fault of Penelope Gaylord, the inking is fine, but I’ve got a fondness for the variations we’re seeing in digital inking methods now, and I can’t help feeling XCT could benefit from that.

Lovely Lozen!

The colouring is also getting more adventurous too, go bold, I say, Wilson (you see what I did there)! If Wilson Go wants a bit more freedom to go nuts on this book, I say take those constraints off.

It’s called Xtreme Championship Tournament, it’s completely mental, so why not unleash that full potential?

XCT, overall, is a surprisingly bright new star in the sky, it’s clearly gained a following over time, you may find it unusual I’ve not discussed the story elements in great detail on this review, but there’s a reason for it.

Frankly, I really am recommending it, it’s worth just kicking back and watching it all unfold, especially for the parts where topical Comedy plays into it, and while it’s not quite on the satirical level of Ed Neumeier and Michael Miner’s “Robocop”, it’s closing in on that vein, in particular with the Sports announcers, Tom Turner and Joe Dollar’s conjecture and interaction, who have also been smartly used for replying to readers in the letters page of the book, it’s a good way to connect with the audience.

Additional notes of credit are how the COMICS2MOVIES team have opened up means to monetise the book with adverts, but they’re adverts that are relevant to interest, like Comic stores, or ads for other Comics on the indie scene, Comic Book printing, and, of course, to other products C2M have available.

Furthermore, it was also nice to see that one of their fans for the book is one Dan Feuerriegel, who played Agron in the popular “Spartacus” TV series.

In final summation, I’d give a final rating as follows;

XCT #0: 5/10
XCT #1-4 (average): 7/10

#0 gets a 5 only because of the production issues and we’re really not getting to the ‘meat’ of the book just yet, from #1, it hits the ground running, and at points, it’s verging on an 8/10, if those moments become more commonplace, it might hit that level.

Very entertaining as a read, but the question is, would I buy it?

Actually, yes I would, I’d prefer to buy it in volumes though. Given how busy I am, I probably won’t get the chance to read it again any time soon, and there are other books I will want to get before this, but perhaps one day I might even have a little re-union with these now familiar faces, I wish it well, and a worthwhile break from all the drama of today’s titles, the market has been needing a book like this again for quite a while.

Editor’s Note: Interested in checking out this most excellent series for yourself? Why then head right over here to the XCT website! You won’t regret it!

XCT – Xtreme Champion Tournament #’s 0 – 4
Story: Shaun Paulet and Brendan Halyday
Script: Brendan Halyday (#0-4)
Pencils: Jerry Gaylord (#0-4)
Inks: Alex Sollazzo (#0), Penelope Gaylord (#1-4)
Letterer: Optic Pop (#0-1), Nic J Shaw (#2), Darren Close (#3-4)
Colorist: Gabriel Cassatta (#0), Wilson Go (#1-4)
Covers: Jerry Gaylord with Gabriel Cassatta (#0) and Alex Sollazzo (#1-4)
Variant covers: Chris Copeland (#0), Carlos Herrera (#1), Genzoman (#2), Craig Bruyn (#3), Martin Abel (#4) (additional variants are also available)
Title page illustration: Louis Joyce (#0), Carlos Herrera (#1,2,4), Mike Bowden (#3)
Reviewer: Scott Mack