On the Ropes by writer James Vance and artist Dan Burr is a sequel to their classic '80s book Kings in Disguise, one of my all-time favorite comics. Taking place in the '30s during the worst of the depression, young Fred Bloch is now apprenticed to escape artist Gordon Corey, a star attraction in a traveling government-sponsored circus. He has joined the communist party and is delivering secret messages for the unions. Union breakers have hired two murderous thugs to find and kill people like Fred. This is a true novel, with characters who grow and change, real human beings with emotions and secrets and a fast moving, thrill-packed plot. As the thugs create a swath of destruction (and bodies) looking for Fred, he doesn't even know they're after him. I have no sympathy for communism and I'm not much on unions, but Vance makes those choices an organic part of the story and the character. He doesn't hit readers over the head with their "correctness," as most modern comics writers do. This is an incredible story about human experiences, and not everyone has a happy ending. On the Ropes leaves readers pondering its events and themes long after the last page is turned.
Rating: ****1/2 stars out of 5