Buzzkill: A superhero joins AA

Buzzkill by Donny Cates, Mark Reznicek, and Geoff Shaw

Buzzkill by Donny Cates (writer), Mark Reznicek (writer), and Geoff Shaw (artist)

Buzzkill, collecting all four issues of the mini-series, is a funny superhero parody by Donny Cates and Mark Reznicek, with art by Geoff Shaw. I sought it out because Donny Cates is one of my favorite new writers, with great titles like Redneck from Image and the insane Marvel title Thanos Wins, which features a cosmic Ghost Rider who is a resurrected Frank Castle, The Punisher. Buzzkill is about a superhero trying to get sober. He eventually ends up with a sponsor who is a Doctor Strange parody. Together, they get this retired superhero the help he needs.

Buzzkill opens with our hero, Ruben, in a self-help group trying to get assistance as he decides to quit all drinking and drugs. Unfortunately, we find out, that is where he gets his powers from: Any form of drug (including the nicotine in cigarettes). So, while he’s succeeding in kicking his bad habits, he is simultaneously leaving himself vulnerable to super-powered enemies who do not lose their power when sober.

The suspense is funny in this book because in addition to the typical will-he-win battles with his enemies, we have the questions one would expect from a more serious book: Will he get sober, will he stay sober, and will he find a sponsor? All pressing questions for Ruben. But when one of the self-help group members turns out to be a plant to get to Ruben, his current situation becomes even more desperate. The tension escalates as Ruben finds out he has been betrayed by those closest to him, and his desire to smoke, drink, and get high increases as it does for any addict going through personal problems.

There are strange, dark parts of the comic; for example, when, as a fraternity pledge (after five years of sobriety), he is forced into the back of a moving van and told to drink an entire keg with his fellow pledges, the results, hinted at in the comic, are disturbingly violent. But this darker side to the comic is what gives the story some depth, as the authors, Cates and Reznicek, consider what the “real-life” impact would be on superheroes if they were real: Ruben has many regrets about losing control and hurting others either physically or, in the case of those who are close to him, emotionally. Would a superhero really have the opportunity for normal relationships? Is a “friend” on a superhero team really to be trusted as a real friend? Can one retire from the life of being a superhero when there are so many enemies out there looking for vulnerability in their nemesis?

Buzzkill is a fun parody comic with a serious side in commenting on sobriety. I particularly enjoy the narrative device of having Ruben telling his story in a self-help group setting. That’s a genre most of us are somewhat familiar with (if only from seeing such scenes portrayed in movies and television), so the authors really play with the conventions, often by having Ruben narrate his story as if it’s a typical alcoholic tale, while the images show that the tale is not typical. The text is about his alcoholism, but the images are about his being an out-of-control superhero.

While I think this is an enjoyable, well-written comic, it is not Donny Cates at his best (again, see Redneck or Thanos Wins). However, if the premise sounds interesting to you, I am positive you will enjoy this book. And if the premise does not grab you, at least remember the name Donny Cates. You will be hearing more of him in the future, since he is clearly a rising star.


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BRAD HAWLEY, who's been with us since April 2012, earned his PhD in English from the University of Oregon with areas of specialty in the ethics of literature and rhetoric. Since 1993, he has taught courses on The Beat Generation, 20th-Century Poetry, 20th-Century British Novel, Introduction to Literature, Shakespeare, and Public Speaking, as well as various survey courses in British, American, and World Literature. He currently teaches Crime Fiction, Comics, and academic writing at Oxford College of Emory University where his wife, Dr. Adriane Ivey, also teaches English. They live with their two young children outside of Atlanta, Georgia. Read Brad's series on HOW TO READ COMICS.

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2 comments

  1. I like this idea! The allure of alcohol or other drugs often seems to be that you at least FEEL like a superhero, at least for a little while. (I’ve never understood what there was about tobacco that made people feel good.) It does sound quirky but like something I’d like.

    • It’s a good book. I read it twice in one week, and I liked it even better the second time, which suggests I might have given the book a little lower rating than it deserves. It could be a 4 star comic. But it’s not a five-star comic like the author’s other books: God Country, Redneck, and Thanos Wins. I’ve just written a review of God Country, and I’ll be posting it this Saturday. It’s without doubt a five-star graphic novel. You’ll have to check that one out for sure, Marion!

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