Slots #1
SLOTS #1 does fall back on some Las Vegas and narrative device cliches. Yet, overall, Dan Panosian presents a solid story that pays homage to Las Vegas as a place where anything can happen (such as having a 53-year-old boxer plan to take the ring against MMA fighters). SLOTS #1 gives readers enough hooks to keep them excited for future issues in the series.
92 %
Full of (Left and Right) Hooks
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Is it possible to say something new about Las Vegas’ grit? To be honest, I had my reservations when first approaching SLOTS #1, the debut issue of a new Image series written and drawn by Dan Panosian (UNCANNY X-MEN, MAGNETO, WITCHBLADE). Arriving in stores October 4th, SLOTS #1 follows aging former boxer Stanley Dance as he returns to Las Vegas for his last shot at redemption. With its salmon pink gutters and halftone images, SLOTS gives the nostalgic feel of sitting down and reading an old comic. Sure, the plot does fall back on some cliches (as I inevitably will too while writing this review). Yet, overall, Panosian presents a solid story that pays homage to Las Vegas as a place where anything can happen — and, as we all know, “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas.” SLOTS #1 gives readers enough hooks to keep them excited for future issues in the series.

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Down and Out…Somewhere Outside of Las Vegas

Image from Slots #1, provided by Image Comics
Courtesy of Image Comics

Our first glimpse of Stanley is when he’s sitting in a roadside diner, flirting with a waitress and about to skip out without paying the bill. Even this early on, Panosian’s attention to detail as an artist really stands out. He captures iconic roadside stops in the American West masterfully, with nice touches such as trucker hats, grim faces on other diner patrons, and crumbs on the countertop.

Even the banter sounds right. The waitress patiently listens to Stanley’s tale and asks if he needs more cream and sugar before the conversation turns to almost sickeningly sweet flirtation. After he jokes that he needs to watch his figure, she responds, “Well, it looks mighty fine from where I’m standing, hon!” Stanley then says, “Who needs sugar with you around?” Through small moments like this, Panosian expertly conveys both Stanley’s smooth-talking character and the Americana setting. Altogether, the opening provides a nice contrast to the fast-paced urban scene of Las Vegas to come later in the story.

Indeed, as soon as Stanley hits the road, it’s clear that Vegas isn’t that far away. He encounters an SUV filled with three girls dressed for the Vegas nightlife, one of whom flirts he with, and a guy who may or may not be their pimp. Panosian leaves it up to the reader to decide and uses this scene to show the two opposing lives that Stanley is drawn to. On one hand, you have the polite setting of the American diner, where even the flirtation has a G-rating. On the other, you have the overstated sexuality of Vegas. Stanley knows his way around both cultures and, moreover, Panosian knows how to convey them.

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A Well-Timed Text Message

It turns out that Stanley is really at wits’ end. He’s run out of spare car keys (which he left at too many diner counters, besides the unpaid bills) and luck. Without the latter, he feels he can’t go on. “Luck is really the only thing that’s held me together,” he says. Panosian leaves the next few panels with an air of mystery. Stanley digs up a steel box. It’s buried near a rock and filled with old photos of him and a woman. He says little but rhetorically asks, “Who knew the first promise I would keep…would be my last?” From these words and images, especially the final one of him holding a gun up to his head, it’s enough for readers to gather that he plans to kill himself.

Oh, but wait: his cell phone beeps at just the right time and he, ever curious, checks to see who it is. He (and we) see a cryptic message from Betsy: “Calling in that marker.” I was totally confused by the text, but it could be due to my lack of knowledge about boxing and gambling (except for nickel and penny slots and video Blackjack). But what matters is that Stanley knows exactly what she means. The scene ends with the image of him speeding down the road, his packet of Lucky Strikes falling to the asphalt. To me, the well-timed text message at first felt a little contrived as a plot device. This scene could have been a moment of deep character exploration. At the same time, the bluntness of Stanley’s conclusions — for instance, that assholes tend to use up family and friends — fit his characterization.

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Denizens of Stanley’s Las Vegas

Courtesy of Image Comics

One of SLOTS #1’s strong points is its pacing. The beginning chapters’ slow pace parallel Stanley’s own drifter life. However, as soon as he arrives in Las Vegas, where he swore that he’d never return, the pacing picks up. It’s a nice shift from the first chapters, and the change doesn’t feel abrupt. Panosian then introduces an extensive cast of characters. This moves the story away from the predominantly one-man show that it has been.

There’s Betsy, whose text brought Stanley to Vegas. She owns the Piggy Bank Theatre, where she holds a burlesque show featuring her daughter, Mercy. Betsy describes Mercy as a “cash cow” that’s “sick of being milked by mommy.” Gotta love her motherly love. Finally, there’s Les, who likely will be the villain of the series, though we don’t yet see him. He hates Stanley and wants to bring Mercy’s act to his casino, The Royal. We also briefly meet Greg and the apparently fake fortune teller Alex/”Rosanna.” These characterizations are all brief — perhaps purposely so. Altogether, the brevity of the encounters left me looking forward to future issues where we’ll learn more about them.

But the biggest sidekick going forward just might be Sticky, Stanley’s old manager. Stanley wants to save the day for Betsy and crush Les. Yet what Stanley has forgotten (and Sticky promptly reminds him) is that he’s 53 and smokes two packs a day. “A decent boxer would kill you,” Sticky tells him. Luckily, there’s MMA. As Sticky sagely advises, MMA fighters usually specialize in one aspect of fighting, so Stanley just has to find one who’s bad at punching. Easy, right?

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Final Thoughts: SLOTS’ “Helluva Hook”

Fans of boxing and MMA will love this series. I’m not a huge fan, but I can imagine someone who is really liking the scenes at the boxing gym. That said, SLOTS has something to offer to anyone who loves realistic comic books. Best of all, the issue ends with Stanley finding his long-lost son, and it ends right there at the cliffhanger. “My kid has a helluva hook, huh?” Stanley asks. Yes, he does. And SLOTS has a helluva hook, too.

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