When you're confronted by the title of Ben Passmore's new graphic novel, it's all too easy to imagine any number of real-world problems the author might be referencing. Will Passmore spotlight the crisis around brain injuries in football, where the racial dimension (70 percent of National Football League players are black men) is as alarming as the NFL's attempts to bury inconvenient research? Maybe he'll focus on the abuses of college sports, whose institutions profit off the labor of unpaid athletes (again, often African-American) in exchange for illusory rewards. In recent weeks alone, sports news has been dominated by the cheating scandal surrounding the Houston Astros and discussion of the 2003 sexual assault case against Kobe Bryant. If this isn't hell, it's close.
Passmore's got more on his mind than organized sports, though — much more. Instead of targeting the sports world's manifold problems directly, Passmore uses them as an implicit, ominous backdrop for a broader fable of societal breakdown. On the book's opening page, a terrifyingly massive individual in football gear — armed with an equally terrifying jerry-rigged weapon — stands amid the debris of some kind of battle. There are human skulls, football helmets, beer cans, guns and team banners all jumbled together. Clearly, this will be a story of societally approved brutality giving way to society-wide violence — or perhaps setting the stage for it in the first place.