TUNED opens with a quote by Ernest Hemmingway stating: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man. True nobility is being superior to your former self,” which is telling of how this comic exactly views its main character. Written by Neil Gibson; the story seemingly starts with some sort of a disturbed vigilante. Frank hunts down supposedly “bad people” and tortures them. He then rids the world of their misdeeds by killing these individuals in the most horrific ways possible; from electrocution to letting cannibals feed on them. Frank then adds the cherry on top by feeding their broken bodies to his pet pigs. But what seems like a simple story of vigilantism gone wrong buries something deeper—perhaps even more sinister.
This graphic novel likes to throw readers for a loop with tons of misdirection and red herrings. But the reality of the story isn’t something quite anyone would expect. Sure, supernatural abilities – here, called “amplifications” – aren’t uncommon. That said, the origin of these particular powers is something unlike any other before. The best way to describe it is kind of like the seven deadly sins of the military. An experiment called “Project Coventry” subjected six men and women to a series of drugged-induced amplifications. Each of these amplifications is based on traits needed to make an effective soldier; speed, strength, stamina, intelligence, aggression and loyalty. Like I said—kind of like seven deadly sins for the military except there are only six of them.
TUNED’s main character is Michael Chen – Mike for short. He embodies the amplification of speed, and has built a life for himself after Project Coventry. He has a wife and two beautiful children. Mike is very Gary-Stu; there’s a of lack of self-awareness in his make-up. Spoiler alert: he kills Frank in the end. Mike doesn’t seem to realize that he has crossed a line that can never be uncrossed. Frank even says, “I’ve killed a few times now. I hated it at the start, but I have to admit…I’m growing to like it”. It feels like this line is supposed amplify why Mike as a person is better than Frank. But honestly, it feels more like Mike disregarding a friendly little advice. Which brings us back to that Hemmingway quote.
Mike’s not the only character I’m not too fond of. His wife, Sarah, is also unbearable for most of her panel time. Annoying, easily jealous, and a little demanding—she asks too much of Mike and isn’t appreciative of his efforts. Her jealousy of Eddie – Mike’s ex-girlfriend – really grinds my gears. I’m tired of media pitting women against each other. In TUNED especially; there are only three significant female characters. Two of them are brutally murdered, and the last is Sarah who creates this divide between her and Eddie. She also pushes Mike to kill Frank and blames Eddie – who is dead, by the way! – for Mike getting hurt.
Frank is a grotesque character but he’s the most fascinating of the bunch. His story is so easy to sympathize with; especially because everyone around him has taken advantage of him. “If no one was going to help me, I had to help myself,” Frank says. This is a sentiment many of us can probably agree with. It’s that breaking point that people face – he begged them for help and instead, they used his amplification against him. The worst character for me is Dr. Razzaq. She spearheaded Project Coventry and when it all collapsed, she offered no support to the people whose lives she ruined.
Aymen Swissy’s art and Cris Peter’s colors are so on point in TUNED. The color story is very wicked and old folk in theme. This goes with the country and military hook of the plot. Peter uses heavy blues and greens to represent nature, and paper red to create a sense of dread and danger. The dark and retro colors of the torture scenes against the soft pastels of mundane family scenes is fascinating to see in transition. I love the art and character design. No one character looks the same, and you can tell from how their features are drawn what their race is. Saida Temofonte’s lettering on Frank when he’s speaking is also very much appreciated. It adds to his menacing character effect.
TUNED is graphic, both in the visuals and writing. It’s not enough that the art is intimate; close up of characters’ faces as they meet their end, the torture in their eyes as their bodies melt and explode out of existence. The text also likes to point out the finer details of what’s happening to them; from the logical explanation of muscles contracting in the presence of electricity, to bodily fluids reaching a melting point. I also really like the action sequences. They’re intense and you can see the action and movement from frame to frame, panel to panel.
Overall, I like TUNED. It’s an interesting story with lots to offer. Yes, we’ve seen stories of lab experiments gone wrong before where someone ends up wanting revenge. But the whole military aspect is quite unexpected, and very refreshing to read. I thoroughly enjoyed the comic, even if I have problems with quite a few of the characters. But I think the way these 2D people can evoke such strong emotions in me is a tell of investment.
A fan of concepts like seven deadly sins or military experimentation gone wrong? Want a graphic and violent story to live vicariously through? Look no further than TUNED! Back its Kickstarter and share with us all your thoughts on Twitter and Instagram!