Back in 2007 I reviewed an independently published book called Unbeatable. The book followed the story of Heimen Dale, a young man stuck in a cycle of battles against some of the greatest warriors in history. The reasons for this were exposed right at the very end but struck a disharmonious chord. It moved from a nightmarish horror – drenched in madness, violence and paranoia – only to be explained away by virtue of a dream-like mythological fantasy.
With this second volume, however, things start to become a bit clearer. The series isn’t really just about the fighting, though it still features heavily. Instead, this book places Dale in a rich fantasy milieu, mixing religious and mythical concepts from Norse mythology with a Christian interpretation of Hell. Having said that, it’s more of a modernised mash-up than a devoted homage to the legends.
The previous book served as a circuitous death-match of an introduction, which brought us to the point where this book kicks in with a plot. Dale finds himself ejected from his previous job as an immortal combatant protecting the gates of Heaven from the unwanted attentions of the Underworld, and finds himself cast down into Hell.
Unlike most versions of Hell, however, this one isn’t too bad. There’s plenty of demons to fight, but Dale quickly hooks up with Thor, the Norse god of thunder, who has also been stranded in the Underworld. They find their way to Shangri-La, a house of temptation within Hell, where scantily-clad female demons drape themselves across the scenery like the living embodiments of teenage wet dreams. Meanwhile, tough immortal fighting types, like Thor and Dale, can earn (and spend) small fortunes fighting an increasingly tough barrage of demons in a gladiatorial arena called The Pit.
And that’s about the extent of it – the two titans start their journey looking for an exit from Hell, but seem to end up spending rather more time enjoying the spoils of Shangri-La. Dale dodges the carnal pleasures in honour of the memory of his deceased girlfriend, but still relishes the fighting and the glory. Thor rarely seems happier than when he’s staving in the head of a demon and taking the proceeds to his bed.
Despite Dale and Thor’s violent, louche behaviour, there’s a real charm and some genuine laughs to be had along their journey. Wolf writes their dialogue with wit and apparent ease. However, the story suffers from similar problems to the first book, continuing to be stretched out more than is really necessary. The duo spend more time fighting – to pay off the bills they accrue celebrating their victories – than doing anything to further their goal of leaving Hell. The plot appears based around a classic Hero’s Journey structure but feels stretched over-long. Its action and titilation fails to grow the characters and while there is some development here, it only appears in fits and starts.
The art of Carlos Gomez is growing in stature though. His action sequences would merit the time spent on them if only they meant more to the plot than a series of potentially deadly sporting rumbles. His characters are undeniably attractive but follow a fairly typical stock of gender stereotypes. However, he’s good enough at it to pull it off and, if that kind of thing offends, there’s really no point coming anywhere near this book.
So, if you like the sound of a fantastical romp through some epic fisticuffs, overly friendly female demons who look like they’ve spilled out of a glamour photo-shoot, and a bit of mashed-up mythologising, Unbeatable is shaping up to be the series for you.
It makes for a strange kind of book – one you can’t help liking, but equally can’t quite work out why. On the writing side, the dialogue is classy but the plot feels overstretched; while the art is good but perhaps marred by its reliance on the story’s adolescent take on fantasy adventure. But perhaps it’s a younger audience that will enjoy this the most – its hardcore violence, softcore posing and strong language may well be hitting the sweet spot of readers who think this kind of thing is terribly grown-up. If you’re in that demographic, there’s a lot to enjoy here. I think in my case, with a birthday at the wrong end of the 1970s, I might have just got too old and grumpy to enjoy this kind of book any more.
Read more Unbeatable reviews:
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