I really wanted to like this one, I really did.
In order to talk about Sharknife, first I have to talk about Scott Pilgrim. For those not in the know, Scott Pilgrim was a movie in which Michael Cera looks like a pedophile for an hour and a half while hipster videogame bullshit happens around him. For those who have read the comics, however, Scott Pilgrim was a story that captured the zeitgiest of the time, to sound like a total literary asshat. In other words, it was a book about a videogame playing slacker finding the girl of his dreams and getting to kick a bunch of ass while doing it, and who doesn’t support that?
What does this have to do with Sharknife? Well, everything really. Sharknife is basically Scott Pilgrim with all of the characterization removed, so that what we’re left with is a vaguely game-esque mishmash of hipstery bullshit and overwrought fight scenes. Corey Lewis, the guy who writes and draws Sharknife, has a good bit of talent for drawing, and seems to have at least some in the way of writing. So, what went wrong here?
I don’t think that Lewis set out to clone Scott Pilgrim, at least not at first. His book might have just gotten buried underneath the success of Pilgrim, only to get rediscovered once people like me, who were desparate for something to fill the void left by lack of Pilgrim, dug it up. I do know that my copy of Sharknife Stage First is a reprint, and that the original came out a few years ago. Since both Sharknife and Scott Pilgrim are published by Oni, they might’ve just went with the more successful title.
However, the major issue with Sharknife is that Lewis prioritized style over substance. There’s only three real characters introduced in this book, but we’re not really given any insight into how they actually act. Rather, we get short bios on them extremely reminiscent of the ones in Scott Pilgrim. The monsters in the book get the same treatment, just a quick sentence and then a frenetic fight scene. It’s like I’m reading an episode of Power Rangers in book form. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but Sharknife treads too close to Pilgrim’s path to be merely just a monster-of-the-week fightfest.
I realize that I haven’t said much about the plot, but there really isn’t much to it. We’re introduced to the characters, then monsters attack and Sharknife transforms, and he beats the monsters. Rinse and repeat three times, and we’re done with the first book. The characters don’t get fleshed out beyond “hot half-asian hipster chick”, “pretty boy (and that’s how the book describes him)”, and “Mr. Bad Badmans”. I mean, I’m fine with cliche’, but that’s only if you go somewhere original with it afterward. Instead, it’s just bland violence for the sake of bland violence. Sharknife has some cool Street Fighter-like moves, but who gives a fuck? There’s a team of chefs that are also superheroes that are introduced and tossed aside in two pages, and again who cares? Something is said about how Sharknife only uses his knife when things get heavy, but since we don’t have any basis of comparison or anything, that could just be meaningless fluff for all we know.
I had high hopes for Sharknife back when I saw it on Kotaku, but it looks like they didn’t pan out. The book is just plagued by poor execution, which is sad because the idea was actually pretty promising. I’m tempted to get Sharknife Stage Second, but judging by the previews it looks even more scattershot than the first. I definitely think that Corey Lewis can turn out a good book, but unless Sharknife undergoes some major changes, this isn’t gonna be it. If it attracts any sort of fanbase, it’ll be people who liked Scott Pilgrim and are willing to accept a pale imitation. As for me, if I want to get my fix of Pilgrimness, I’ll either reread the books or just watch Adventure Time.
HOWEVER, I did find something that has a similar feel, and it’s free. It’s a webcomic called The Adventures of Superhero Girl, and while not much has happened at this point (I’m only about 50 strips in), it’s an entertaining read with some good jokes and nice art. I also like how we get to know the main character slowly, but not so slowly as to get bored or think that she lacks any depth. I’m definitely eager to read more of this comic, and I definitely give it a recommendation to everyone, not just Scott Pilgrim fans.