Sam Bosma's best trait as a cartoonist in his Fantasy Sports series is his ability to create whip-crack panel-to-panel transitions that propel his action-packed but highly silly adventures into overdrive from the very beginning of the book and don't let go. From purely a personal, aesthetic viewpoint, I'm not a fan of his garish color schemes nor his heavily Osamu Tezuka-inspired character design. The heavily-mustached brute Mean Mug's orange-hued skin and over the top panel presence is as annoying to look at as is the wispy, androgynous Wiz-Kid is dull. All of that said, Bosma's ability to use their clash (but as character types and as partners) in a fantasy story that incorporates street basketball in Fantasy Sports No. 1 was quite clever. The story begins with the pair of wizards who work for an Archmage complaining about working with each other, and their boss tells them to go work it out.
That's not exactly an innovative plotline, but Bosma embraces the cliches by turning them all the way up. Mug is a brute who hits before thinking, and Wiz is careful and clever to a fault, but her lack of experience sometimes works to her detriment. That conflict unlocks the rest of the plot and really, the entire excuse for the book (and the series): drawing a fantasy-tinged basketball game. Going up against "Steps" (a nice little hoops pun), an ancient being with a treasure trove, what Bosma does is an action-packed and highly-accurate account of basketball and basketball strategy. Mug struggled at first against Steps' speed and sky-hook, but took him down into the block and used his power to score over him. Bosma adding magic, fire and other such silliness made it feel like one of those wacky two-on-two basketball videogames like NBA Jam. I laughed out loud when Wiz literally broke the brittle-boned creature with a crossover dribble and sailed on to the basket for the win.
Fantasy Basketball #2 ups the ante a little bit, throwing some monkey wrenches into assumptions the protagonists have made about their superiors and the nature of their missions. That was a welcome element, given how straight ahead the first volume was. This time around, Mug and Wiz wind up in a coastal town after a mishap, get their treasure stolen and win up having to play in a two-on-two beach volleyball tournament. Once again, in a style similar to the old Harlem Globetrotters cartoon, the duo is outclassed by the champions of the beach (two local deities) initially but they come back to get much more competitive when they start playing the game the right way. They wind up losing, a development that actually enriches the plot in interesting ways while reinforcing how important teamwork and respect for the game and your opponents is in every contest. I found this volume to be far more visually varied and appealing than the first, with the soft blue hues evening out the intense oranges. The character design also felt much more solid and confident, with a lot more variations in style. In other words, it felt like Bosma really found his footing in this book in a way he didn't in the first volume. Fusing comics about sports with fantasy tropes is a smart way to create sports comics that don't depend on a great deal of prior knowledge about the sport or a need to create a soap opera-style backstory for a team. In this series, Bosma gets to the heart of what makes a sport fun to watch and play without dumbing down strategy or game play. The speedy pacing and exaggerated character design allow him to turn an event that's dependent on watching bodies in motion into a comics story that captures body language and the ways bodies move in space in a way that gets across the essence of each sport. Throw in the fantasy template with a bit of continuity, and it's clear why this series has been a big success for NoBrow.