By Ben Kooyman
As a reviewer of Australian comics, I read a lot of #0s and #1s, but not a whole lot of second or subsequent issues. That’s part of the nature of the gig, but it’s also unfortunately symptomatic of local comics publishing: #2s and #3s tend not to get the same critical or promotional push, and sometimes, sadly, never eventuate. It’s always good, then, to check in with a series further down the track and find it chugging along nicely.
A couple of years ago we reviewed issues 0 and 1 of XCT: Extreme Championship Tournament and interviewed Shaun Paulet, co-creator of the series and founder of publisher Comics2Movies. In those initial issues, legendary freedom fighter Spartacus was slain in battle in 71AD, cloned 50 years into our future, and transformed into a celebrity gladiator via the titular Extreme Championship Tournament, the entertainment fad of the future. In the latest issue of XCT – once again courtesy of scripter Brendan Halyday (with story co-credited to Paulet), penciller Jerry Gaylord, and inker Penelope Gaylord – Spartacus is the undisputed star of the enterprise and is on the promotional circuit. Meanwhile, interpersonal tensions are flaring up between his fellow champion competitors, and the issue ends with a spectacular venting of frustrations in the arena.
With a reality show host officiating world affairs from the White House and programs like Australian Ninja Warrior all the rage, XCT is a topical series. This latest issue also allows its creators to poke some fun at the convention circuit via Spartacus’s most awkward tour of duty. I’ve seen Paulet and the Comics2Movies brand at comic book and pop culture conventions, and they’re no doubt familiar with the particular, peculiar, heightened combination of commerce, awe, and ennui that conventions inspire, particularly around celebrity encounters, which receive a gentle ribbing here.
XCT is, as indicated above, chugging along nicely: it’s colourful, mainstream, and populated with larger than life characters who routinely adopt Jack Kirby-esque action poses. It also gets the base appeal of picking up action figures and making them pulverize each other, which resonates with many a comic book fan…