A Harry Potter-esque academy for assassination training, rendered in a style reminiscent of a manga inspired Series of Unfortunate Events; yes, please!
Five Weapons is the story of Tyler Shainline, a surname that draws respect and awe amongst his peers at Five Weapons Preparatory Academy where, you guessed it, they train and compete in one of five weapon disciplines. While each of these clubs vie for Tyler’s fealty, he enters their world armed with neither firearm nor sword but merely his rapier wit. It’s a simple yet ingenious hook that more than backs itself up with an entertaining and engaging plot!
Written and drawn by Jimmie Robinson (Bomb Queen), this was just a lot of fun to read. He takes a straightforward enough premise and weaves in a unique back-story that makes this book breeze by. It feels perfectly at home at Image, seemingly the home of individual and unique story-lines; they are fast becoming my new favorite publisher. Slated as a five issue arc, it finds a good pace in what reveals the world of the story, exploring the first of the five clubs (knives, staves, archery, exotic weapons, and guns) starts to look at character back-story, and sets up the conflict and exposition to come. Page one sets up a “how did I get into this situation”-type flashback while posing to the reader a “which side are you on”-type challenge. Page two reads like a brochure for the assassin academy, and if that’s not enough to hook you, then just stop reading here.
Beyond the captivating storyline, there is a lot of enjoyment to be had in Robinson’s art. From the targets on the school uniforms, to the recycling bin for ammo, to the motivational posters in the backgrounds reinforcing weapon safety, the illustration simultaneously captures a unique flair and flavor while adding some refreshing visual foreshadowing. One of my favorite panels was a wide shot of the knife club featuring a selection of famous blades around the classroom like those from Final Fantasy 7 or Halo. The manga inspiration does not stop at mere visual influence, as the genre’s trademark quick over-emotionality carries through. As a fan of the brand it didn’t bother me, as it keeps a very packed story flowing smoothly. The vibrant color pallet and notebook style shading add and enhance the story. The layout is a bit restrictive consisting entirely of four or five horizontal panels per page. While this would normally be a sticking point for me, it somehow works for this title and really lends itself to being read digitally—being almost perfectly formatted for tablet reading without the need for constant device re-orientation.
In a time where it would be really easy to dwell on violence and weapons in the media, Five Weapons treads in ominous territory. However, in a world built upon the premise of training kids to kill, not a single character is harmed—all while never sacrificing entertainment value! From a quote at Image: “I wanted fun with an edge, but I also wanted Five Weapons to be smart and challenge the reader,” said Robinson. “While there are plenty of weapons to be found in the pages, there is also an invisible sixth weapon between the panels: the skill of the human mind.”