Kill a Man OGN / $17.99 / 128 pages / Color / On sale 6.3.2020
Writers: Steve Orlando & Phillip Kennedy Johnson
Artist and colorist: Al Morgan
Letterer: Jim Campbell
Cover: Al Morgan
As a child, James Bellyi watched his father die in the ring as payback for slurs thrown at the other fighter. Today, he’s a Mixed Martial Arts star at the top of his game, and one of the most popular fighters in the world…until he’s outed as gay in his title shot press conference.
Abandoned overnight by his training camp, his endorsements, his fans and his sport, to
regain his title shot Bellyi is forced to turn to the last person he ever wants to see again: Xavier Mayne, a gay, once-great fighter in his own right…and the man James once watched kill his father.
A singular achievement from writers Steve Orlando (Martian Manhunter, DEAD KINGS) and Phillip K. Johnson (Aquaman, Adventure Time, The Last Time) with art from Alec Morgan (Midnighter, Daredevil, Battlestar Galactica).
What can readers find in this story that they won’t see anywhere else?
Steve Orlando: The better question is what moments are in this book that “aren’t” the first of their kind. Yes, we’ve seen combat sports narratives before. Yes, we’ve seen coming out and LGBTQ+ struggle narratives before. But a gay lead has never been allowed to be the star of this type of underdog, combat sports narrative before. Every time PKJ and I work on the book, I’m inevitably texting him about how this moment or that moment is something that’s never been put to page before. So that’s KILL A MAN, that’s what you’re getting, a first of its kind take on the intersection of MMA and LGBTQ+ life. It’s raw, it’s real, it’s gut wrenching at times because the two worlds don’t meld easily, and that’s the point. This is about overcoming.
In KILL A MAN, readers get some of the most authentic MMA action ever put to page, and some of the most honest moments ever laid out about queer acceptance, shame, pride, and victory.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson: Kill A Man is a story of LGBTQ+ identity and struggle, co-written by one of the leading voices in that community, Steve Orlando. It’s also a story about the Mixed Martial Arts scene, co-written by me and illustrated by Alec Morgan, both of us MMA practitioners. Readers will see authentic LGBTQ+ culture and fight culture joined in the same story and embodied within the same characters.
I don’t think MMA culture has kept up with progress in its attitude towards the queer community, specifically towards gay men. As an MMA superfan, seeing a top MMA contender outed as gay before his rightful title shot and fighting his way back is a pretty fascinating story, one I would want to read for sure. And it’s DEFINITELY not a story you’re going to read anywhere else right now, which is one reason my co-creators and I are so passionate about telling it.
Will this project appeal to fans of mixed martial arts who aren’t otherwise fans of comics?
Steve Orlando: We hope so! The entire creative team are MMA fans, but beyond that, both PKJ and Alec Morgan train MMA as part of their fitness routine. It’s vital to us to not just present a gripping, groundbreaking story but also provide an unflinching and authentic look at the MMA world for all its ups and downs. This isn’t sugar coated, it’s every bit as triumphant and toxic, petty and perilous, exciting and eccentric as the modern fight world is outside our window. The talk, and the action, is as real as it gets when it comes to the telling on the page, and we’re extremely proud of that.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson: There just aren’t many books about MMA on the comic shelves right now, which continues to mystify me… it’s the most dynamic and exciting sport on Earth, practiced by some of the most driven, dedicated, and gifted athletes in history, and Kill A Man reflects that. Of course, it’s crucial that every LGBTQ+ reader who picks up the story recognizes that it comes from a true perspective, but it was also hugely important to me that every MMA fan recognizes the fights as being written and illustrated by creators who know the fight game. The creators of Kill A Man are real fans and practitioners, and it’s all on the page, both in the fights and in the behind-the-scenes aspects of the mixed martial arts industry.
This feels like a story about mentorship—what do you think sets it apart from other stories with similar themes, like Rocky, for example?
Steve Orlando: For one thing, that’s a torch we want to carry. We want to GIVE the ROCKY-type narrative to the LGBTQ+ community and say, loudly and unflinching, that WE TOO deserve a hero that overcomes, goes the distance, and finds victory on their own terms. But beyond that, there is an added level of drama compared to films like ROCKY, due to the homage we pay to boxer Emile Griffith. Griffith killed a bigoted opponent in the ring, and a similar thing happens here with Xavier Mayne. So when it’s HIM that’s the outed hero’s last hope to train, we reach a level of drama never seen in those previous mentorship films. KILL A MAN is CREED if, instead of Rocky, Adonis had no choice but to go to Ivan Drago to train…and no choice but to work out the intense personal drama of working with a man who killed your father.
Phillip Kennedy Johnson: Kill A Man is definitely part of the Rocky/Creed tradition, but the dynamic between main characters James Bellyi and Xavier Mayne starts from a completely different place from anything we’ve seen in those other stories. Mayne represents the old guard of the MMA tradition, one of the original pioneers of the sport…a gay man whose career started to go wrong when he beat a bigot to death in the ring. Then, a generation later, the dead man’s son grows up to be James Bellyi, a legit MMA superstar who gets outed as gay leading up to his title shot. Bellyi begrudgingly turns to Xavier Mayne, the man he grew up hating, to train him, setting up one of the most complicated and fascinating relationships we’ve seen in a coming-of-age story, one I’m honored to have a part in telling.