4 Elements: Axe Cop

March 18th, 2011 by | Tags: , ,

There was an episode of The Twilight Zone entitled The Big Tall Wish. The episode – and recent graphic novel adaptation – is about an aging boxer named Bolie who is about to take part in a match against a young fighter who will no doubt beat him. Adding to that, he busts up his knuckles before the match. There’s a little boy named Henry who looks up to him and Henry makes a big, tall wish that Bolie would win the fight. Despite the beating Bolie takes in the first round, reality twists and he finds himself standing over a beaten opponent. He’s the winner.

Nobody notices any foul play. Everyone celebrates his miraculous victory. His fist isn’t even all that hurt anymore. He finds Henry and tells him that this isn’t right. Henry warns him about how disbelief can ruin the wish, but Bolie, as a hardened adult, can’t handle it. There are too many holes in the story. The reality is that he could never win that fight… and so he didn’t. Reality sets itself back to normal with Bolie on the mat getting counted out. With no memory of the alternate reality he created, Henry becomes disfranchised with the idea of wishes and loses a big piece of his childhood. The story has a great message to it, but it’s so damn depressing.

The existence of Axe Cop has that same moral as Big Tall Wish, but comes off as a celebration rather than a damning. If you haven’t heard of Axe Cop, it’s a young, but explosively popular webcomic series by the brother duo of Malachai Nicolle and Ethan Nicolle. It’s the adventures of a gruff, enigmatic and at times deranged police officer who goes around killing bad guys with a fireman’s axe. The big twist and selling point is that the artist Ethan is 30-years-old and his writer brother Malachai is only six. It’s such a brilliant little concept. It’s brilliant and I’m glad to see how successful it is.

The webcomic has been released in a volume recently, which has added commentary by Ethan about every little strip and how they came to be. A few weeks ago, the first issue of their Dark Horse miniseries Axe Cop: Bad Guy Earth was released. In it, Axe Cop and his partner Dinosaur Soldier (AKA Flute Cop, AKA Avocado Soldier, AKA Ghost Cop) go up against an incoming planet that they can sense is evil. They destroy it, but a couple survivors come to Earth and plan to turn it into a Bad Guy Earth by taking a device that turns bad people good and reprogramming it into a device that turns good people bad.

I’ve seen people hate on the comic and give it the damning of being all, “wacky ninja cheese random.” I can see where that argument is coming from, but I think Axe Cop deserves a pass. If it was an adult who wrote it, then yes, point at it for being stupid. Someone like that should know better, I suppose, but a child adds extra dimensions to it that raise it to something far more intriguing.

Axe Cop is a perfect window in the innocence and rampant creativity of a little boy’s mind. Unlike that Twilight Zone story, there’s nothing there to hold back the magic. Malachai doesn’t allow sense to be a creative roadblock like anyone of drinking age would. There’s a pureness to it all that ought to be celebrated because by not holding back, we’re treated to some outright surreal and original concepts that we would never see and that an older, wiser Malachai wouldn’t be able to give us.

As awesome as it would be, not every story is Malachai telling his brother what’s what from beginning to middle to end. A lot of it comes from random tidbits he’s said along with Ethan quizzing him about what happens next, like a brotherly interrogation. I like to think of Axe Cop as “dream storytelling”. In our dreams, we have the same illusions of logic when it’s filled with anything but. Last night I had a dream where I was hanging out with my dad and halfway into the dream he was replaced by Conan O’Brien with no rhyme or reason. Then we watched some kind of sport that seemed to be a mixture of football, basketball and slip ‘n’ slide. In the initial moments when I woke up from that, the entire story in my head totally made complete sense. It’s when my mind caught up with me that I realized it was just a bunch of garbled concepts that I forced myself to believe was a narrative of some sort. Malachai’s creativity is like the part of your mind that gives you those concepts and Ethan acts as the part of your mind that keeps it cohesive.

That paragraph probably didn’t make any sense, but if you were to start reading Axe Cop, it might put you on the right wavelength to understand what I said perfectly. See? Just another reason to check it out.

To get back to my dream-writer point, Ethan tries to subtly fine-tune what Malachai’s come up with and makes it fit to print. He isn’t explicit about it all that much, though he goes out of his way to point out what Malachai seriously came up with, such as this gem:

Still, his own inspirations shine through here and there. Easiest to point out is from one of the earlier stories. More good guys were created to align themselves with Axe Cop and one of them was simply named “A Wrestler”. I can only imagine that no more was said by Malachai and he moved on to the next character. A wrestler joined them. No name or description. Just a wrestler.

So how did Ethan play this?

The Ultimate Warrior. Genius. How insane is it that there exists three Ultimate Warrior comics and the worst by far is the one actually created by the Ultimate Warrior himself?

There’s still something else about this comic that really makes it magical. The true reason I find Axe Cop to be a thing of beauty. And I’m not saying “a thing of beauty” to be all hyperbolic like as if I’m saying Axe Cop is the “best thing ever”. I truly mean that it is a thing of beauty. That aspect is that despite being an original story created by people I have never met and may never meet, it’s filled with nostalgia for my own childhood.

I remember having an imagination not unlike Malachi’s when I was that age. I’m hoping that you did too. I can recall a character I made up named Electro Man, a Lobo-looking superhero design who could fly, shoot electricity out of his hands and charge his fists for an Iron Fist-like punch. His adventures are missing in my head. Buried by grains of experience or blown away by the winds of age. There’s a part of me that wants to meet my younger self and be reminded of what kind of exploits Electro Man got himself into. Also to tell myself not to make the mistake of seeing Hollow Man in theaters.

In the first volume trade, Ethan says that some believe that he’s needlessly exploiting his little brother. I disagree. Ethan is an amazing brother. He may not fully realize it and Malachai himself may not fully realize it, but he’s doing a wonderful thing here. Axe Cop is filled with ideas and originality that would never see the light or would never be recreated had it not been for Ethan putting the pen to the paper. I don’t know what Malachai will grow up to be, but I know that he’s going to one day reread Axe Cop with a five o’clock shadow and smile. He’ll remember this segment of his life and he’ll remember hanging out with his brother, but he won’t remember coming up with the origin of the vampire ninjas or the book that was also a robot. He’ll read them again, almost for the first time, and he’ll be glad to see that the spirit of his youth is kept alive in some fashion.

I guess what I’m trying to say is that Ethan Nicolle is the antithesis of Bolie. He’d stand tall in the boxing ring and he’d accept his victory. Malachai will be better off for it.

Lastly, while I highly endorse Axe Cop I do warn you not to take it in all at once. In fact, go through it in as many sittings as you can. Take it from me. When you end up reading about a man dressed as a baby chasing down a duck that shoots exploding eggs and it doesn’t faze you anymore, it’s time to put the book down or X out of your browser and get back in touch with reality. Calibrate yourself and get back to business later.

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9 comments to “4 Elements: Axe Cop”

  1. My only real exposure to Axe Cop is the Dr. McNinja team-up. And suddenly it all makes sense. Wonderful, beautiful, insane sense.

  2. Gavok!
    I have read about every review and heard about every interview. Almost all
    are enthusiastic and glowing, some attempt to prove the superiority of the writer. BUT I am so grateful to you for your brilliance and clarity.I have been caught up in the AXE COP phenomenon and it’s success but I had no perspective on it. Malachai gets to have the honor of author as though he sits down and writes it. In reality he gets to roll play with his big brother who loves him so much he would actually play with and listen to him and let him lead. Ethan out of his capacity to love, confirms those around him and it is his genius that is manifest. Malachai is an intelligent, normal kid who is truly loved and has a wide open imagination. Thank you,Gavok. I am sure you are a blessing to all who have the privilege of your acquaintance.

  3. What a pleasure it was to read your interview. I came upon AxeCop thru VSL: Very Short List.com. Reading AxeCop, enjoying the imaginative writing and drawing…brought joy into my life. Learning through published interviews, blogs, etc. of the special relationship between Ethan and Malachi, the moral character of the artist 🙂 , and the success of both the comic book and Ethan…has been a wonderful experience. Albeit, 63 yrs old, my sense of humor remains intact. I love this type of innocent yet complex humor…I’m hooked and imagine I will be for as long as this plays out.

  4. First, is this the Gavok I know from a little fighting game website forum?

    Second, what a great review. The connection to the Twilight Zone episode was poignant, and put a great perspective on the whole thing.

    -Nas (formerly Sklabah)

  5. This is the best article about Axe Cop I’ve seen on these here internets, and I know that because it’s better than mine! And I have a huge ego.

    Axe Cop reminds me of the comics I used to make as a kid– only it looks the way they always did in my head, but never on the paper. It’s a work with a wonderful spirit and a boundless imagination, a real treasure.

  6. @thomas nicolle (dad): Thank you. That’s very kind.

    @-Nas: The very same. Good to see you.

  7. Cool review, sums it up nicely.

    Me and my buddy had imaginary tv channels in our heads and when we played with our he-man/star wars figures we were acting the episodes that were shown on these channels. My channel was called “American 6”.

    Axe Cop kind of reminds me of these fun times we had.

    After the official Ultimate Warrior comic and axe cop what is the third ultimate warrior comic?

  8. @Ian B: None other than WWF Battlemania (Part One, Part Two)! One of the Ultimate Warrior stories in there was written by the late, great Dwayne McDuffie.

  9. Thanks! 😉