Psycho Bonkers Volume 1: Full Throttle
Vince Hernandez (writer), Adam Archer (artist), Federico Blee (colours), Josh Reed (letters)
27 March, 2018
Collecting four issues, Psycho Bonkers: Full Throttle tells the story of young racer Shine. Descending from a long line of racers, Shine has been inspired to join the profession by her grandfather, six-time Bonk Cup winner The Wind Runner, and her father, the Dark Traveller, who was always trapped in his father’s shadow. Tragedy follows Shine’s life, though, when her grandfather dies during a race and everyone blames her father for his death. Despite these events, Shine catches the racing bug and undertakes the famed Bonk Rally.
With her trusty sentient car, Shiza, and her droid engineer, Gabbo, Shine believes she can win the Bonk Rally. The race is complicated and dangerous and Shine’s competitors soon gain on her. Everything Shine has learnt, through a childhood full of love and loss, she is going to need to make it through this race. Can she do it?
This volume is a thrilling joyride from start to finish. Think the pod-races from The Phantom Menace meets The Fast and the Furious. Each issue follows one lap of the Bonk race that Shine has to undertake juxtaposed with flashbacks from her childhood. As the race progresses, we see the different laps and their obstacles—tracks through a giant dinosaur fossil, ninety-degree steep hills, underwater roads—plus unruly competitors willing to do anything to win. Shine uses her wits to get through most of them, but it helps that she has Shiza and Gabbo, who trust her implicitly, even when Shine ignores their suggestions and does something completely contrary.
The dynamic between Shine, Shiza, and Gabbo really elevates the comic. They enjoy great banter and are constantly riffing off each other. Their interactions also help advance the story and give the race more substance than it might have had. I love their personalities! Creator and writer Vince Hernandez put a lot of thought into making the different characters, particularly the non-human ones, interesting and full of life. In an interview at the end of the collection, he references R2-D2 and Wall-E, two robots from films who have tons of personality despite their lack of dialogue. Shiza and Gabbo do have dialogue, and that works much better for their characterization, especially on the comic book page.
Shiza is the pragmatic one of the group. She states the facts of the situation—her fender has fallen off or the cliff up ahead is particularly steep—without stating the obvious or being pedantic. Often, to emphasise a point, Shiza shows an illustration on her viewscreen, and it is in these moments that her personality shows even more than from her dialogue. For instance, when Gabbo says Shiza is not as advanced a model as another racer’s car, Shiza shows Gabbo and Shine an illustration of them being ejected from their seats. She may not have any emotions, but Shiza doesn’t “take criticism lightly.”
On the other hand, Gabbo is sarcastic. He is drawn as a cute little robot, all bobbly head and big eyes housed above a tiny body, but he has an acerbic tongue. He is also incredibly close to Shine and doesn’t lose an opportunity to tease her.
Which brings me to Shine. A plucky, wise-talking, humorous teenage lead may be an overdone characterisation, but Shine manages to subvert reader expectations by having a great deal of heart. Unlike so many other female protagonists, Shine doesn’t become a racer just to please her father and grandfather, but because she is good at it and loves it. We do meet Shine’s boyfriend, Tai, but his inclusion is more as a racing adversary rather than a love interest. In fact, he could easily have been left out without affecting the story. One assumes he was introduced as a precursor to further development in future comics. Though Shine’s story is tethered to the male members of her family, her personal journey of survival and making her own way in the Bonk Races is the core of the narrative.
The story is simple with a present-day narrative and flashbacks running through each issue. The main story focusses entirely on the race and there is very little plot there. Instead, the narrative is driven completely by the flashback episodes, which also inform events in the present. I liked the back-and-forth from past to present and it helped to add more dimension to Shine. Present-day Shine is very clearly a force to reckon with, but, as we see in the flashbacks, she was once a little girl with no family and no home. There are also several twists thrown in, which were unexpected, but worked well.
I did think the denouement was too easily resolved. The final fight should have been longer to make the payoff feel worth it. But, generally, the story was well-paced and fun to read.
As enjoyable as the story is, the visuals steal the show here. Bright, vibrant colours bring the race tracks to life and hold your attention on each page. One feels like re-reading the comic just to absorb the beautiful panels over and over again. For a complete flavour of Adam Archer’s gorgeous art and Federico Blee’s stunning colours, dwell on the full-page and double-page spreads. But even their character work is astounding. No two characters look alike and the consistency of the art spans every issue.
I love the world created in Psycho Bonkers. It is colourful, bright and hopeful. The characters are funny and smart, the kind of characters you would happily spend many more hours with. The story is solid without trying to do too much. I look forward to seeing Shine, Shiza and Gabbo race again.