“Fearless” Chuck Fairlane is a promising young football player, the best in his team, destined to become one of the all-time greats. Except his degenerate gambling father, Al, who pushed him to be the best, goes one step too far after a match, taunting his son and reminding him who made him what he is, and Chuck snaps. He hauls one off on one of the team’s mascots and then begins swinging at everyone. The incident becomes infamous and fighting team mascots becomes known as “fairlaning”. For Chuck, it ended his football career, though he was able to bring his dad down, sending him away to prison for running a gambling syndicate. 10 years later and Chuck’s a high school football coach - and suddenly mascots are showing up in his life again, demanding he fight them, coincidentally just as his dad is released from prison…
Down Set Fight is an original story in that I haven’t read a comic, or seen a movie, TV show, or anything - about a guy punching mascots, but you quickly realise while reading it why that is: it’s really boring to read. A guy punching mascots is not an interesting story, and trying to present it as something that has the entire United States mesmerised, to the point where they lose interest in the football itself, is stretching belief too far because when you see the fights themselves, they’re extremely underwhelming to read.
The story then switches from Chuck punching mascots to him suddenly going on the run and somehow evading a nationwide police search for months! Yeah… no. We’re supposed to believe this guy’s somehow Batman or someone? He’s a high school coach who’s good at football, not the Punisher! Also, defending yourself against a lunatic with knives coming at you in a restaurant does not mean you have to go on the lam.
Nonsensical story aside, the book is filled with cliches. Remember in Jerry Maguire those cutscenes of Dicky Fox’s soundbites? In Down Set Fight, instead of Dicky, you’ve got Vince Lombardi quotes at the beginning of each chapter. Think he’ll show up in some kind of hallucinatory scene later on? You betcha! Remember that George Clooney movie, Out of Sight, where he went on the run and was chased by hot agent Jennifer Lopez? We’ve got the same character here with Agent Molly Harrison. How about a sad scene where there’s rain at a funeral? Yup, there’s one of those scenes here as well. Need to a character to explain themselves? Have an FBI Agent show up to make you spout exposition! Also that subplot about Molly thinking Chuck was running an underground gambling ring was so half-assed, you could tell it was there purely to put Chuck and Molly together, not because it made any sense. How about having the bad guy show up at the end and explain his diabolical plot? Check! Where’s the imagination or the effort to come up with something different?
I’m not sure what the tone of the book is. Chuck and Al’s relationship is supposed to be taken seriously, I think, because Chuck finally standing up to his dad is presented as this big moment in the character’s life, but the whole story is written as a joke that this “serious” scene sits very awkwardly among more blatantly comic scenes. Al himself is a difficult character to take seriously because he’s so one-dimensional. This is a guy who sets bear traps on his lawn for his son to lift his knees up running, rather than use tires like other coaches. Or blindfolding his son and making him run across traffic. And then when his wife dies, he doesn’t go to the funeral and forces his son to train instead. He couldn’t be written as more cartoonishly evil! Realistically, Chuck would’ve stood up to him years before but doesn’t because that’s not in the script, because that’s the big “emotional” finale.
Down Set Fight’s premise is really too thin to work as a full length graphic novel. A disgraced football player punching mascots and then punching his one-dimensional evil dad is not enough to fill 150 pages, it’s more like a B-plot to a larger story - what that story would be (maybe a satire on modern America?), I’m not entirely sure, but by itself? A total snoozefest. None of the characters seem remotely real and the story is tedious most of the time. By the way, Chris Sims AND Chad Bowers, really? It took 2 guys to write this drek? Scott Kowalchuk’s art is definitely the highlight of the book, he does his best to make Sims/Bowers’ clunky script work and many of the mascot designs were good. Maybe if you’re a wrestling fan, Down Set Fight is for you - it’s about a man punching multiple men in silly costumes - but generally I wouldn’t recommend this forgettable book to anyone, it’s simply not a good comic.