Arc Reaction: Critical Hit

Published on February 16th, 2015

This week on Arc Reaction we’re discussing Critical Hit by Matt Miner, Jonathan Brandon Sawyer, and Doug Garbark. Critical Hit is a spin-off from Liberator, another vigilante comic by Matt Miner and Black Mask Studios. Miner’s a socially conscious writer unafraid to tackle environmentalism, substance abuse, and domestic violence in four issues–but does it work? Let’s dig in. Spoilers ahead!

Right off the bat Critical Hit opens with Jeanette narrating the story of her alcoholic father. It’s a hook, and it works. Jeanette insists “dad was a nasty drunk, but underneath that? A really good person.” For Jeanette “nothing’s so black and white, you know?” The funny thing with Critical Hit is that there isn’t actually a lot of moral ambiguity. You can’t really defend the domestic violence inflicted on Sarah, our other lead character. It’s downright impossible to defend once her abuser actually kills her dog. Jeanette and Sarah team up with radical environmental activists to meddle with hunters, but that story quickly spirals out of control. The hunters are actually murderers producing snuff films in a cabin, and suddenly the “morally ambiguous” property damage is retroactively justified upon this reveal. Critical Hit isn’t subtle. It’s not gray.

Further, the story tries to juggle a lot. We’re shown Jeanette’s childhood with her father, as well as her ongoing relationship with a drug addict boyfriend. Sarah is stalked and violently attacked by her own boyfriend, as previously mentioned. Then we jump to the anti-hunting expedition. And then we jump to the present where Jeanette and Sarah are imprisoned by psycho-killers. Critical Hit insists on shaking things up chronologically, which just further muddles an already busy story. Critical Hit is ambitious with it’s subject and structure, but it’s rough as a direct result.

Luckily, Sawyer and Garbark actually do a lot to pull Critical Hit together. The art’s surprisingly fluid and sensible. The framing and layouts are always interesting. I have to praise Sawyer’s ability to make an otherwise dull room visually engaging. Garbark’s colors are just as important; they’re strong and vibrant, but never undermine the more weighty and violent scenes. Critical Hit juggles sensitive topics, and the art never fails to handle those topics respectfully.

But if you’re not in-line with some of the environmental and animal politics of Critical Hit, then this story isn’t going to change your mind. Yet it’s still bit of fun even if you’re not fully on board ideologically, and it’s a quick read at four issues. There’s a quite a bit of passion behind this book, and clearly Miner’s invested in these characters. My hope is that the next story is perhaps a little less ambitious, and a little more polished.

Travers Capps