How did I get it: I bought myself a copy.
Why did I read it: The title alone intrigued me. But the idea behind it, particularly the mechanical dinosaurs as a mode of transportation, amused me. And although I’m not sure I’m the ideal reader for all of Mellick’s books, Armadillo Fists seemed like a really good fit.
How I would rate it: 4.5 out of 5 stars.
A weird-as-hell gangster story set in a world where people drive giant mechanical dinosaurs instead of cars. Her name is Psycho June Howard, aka Armadillo Fists, a woman who replaced both of her hands with living armadillos. She was once the most bloodthirsty fighter in the world of illegal underground boxing. But now she is on the run from a group of psychotic gangsters who believe she’s responsible for the death of their boss. With the help of a stegosaurus driver named Mr. Fast Awesome-who thinks he is God’s gift to women even though he doesn’t have any arms or legs-June must do whatever it takes to escape her pursuers, even if she has to kill each and every one of them in the process. Strange, engaging characters, breakneck pacing, and jam-packed with more brilliantly weird concepts than you’ll know what to do with-this is bizarro cult author Carlton Mellick III at his best.
Review: First of all, I have to say that I could not have been happier to read that Armadillo Fists was influenced by Tite Kubo and Quentin Tarentino. This isn’t to take away from Mellick’s own creativity or to suggest that this book isn’t entirely its own strange creature. What it does mean is that there was so much about Armadillo Fists that reminded me of my favorite sort of manga and my favorite type of films that I was completely beside myself with glee. I also tried to read the book as slow as possible so I could savor each page.
June Howard is a terrific female character, and just her fictional existence alone makes me feel so much better about being so picky about protagonists. Tony aka Mr. Torso aka Mr. Fast Awesome was really, for lack of a better word, awesome. He was also just as absurdly delightful as he was delightfully absurd. There were so many great lines and so many great ideas, particularly the Dop Convention where people met alternate versions of themselves. The dinosaur transportation was also humorous, but I think Mellick’s real strength is, as he even points out in the introduction, his ability to care so much about the world and characters, that it’s really not hard to feel a lot of empathy for them in a short span of time. Everyone in this book is on the verge of being incredibly ridiculous in one way or another, but the hell if anyone of them think so.
The villains also really make this book really fascinating particularly Mr. Slick and his yo-yo gun, Mr. Sorry and his black tears, and Mr. Happy who would really like to stop being happy at some point. They are a really bizarre and motley crew that reminded me not just of Tarantino’s Resevoir Dogs and Tite Kubo’s Espada from Bleach, but also Eiichiro Oda’s Baroque Works from One Piece.* Their abilities are pretty far out there, they all are tattooed with numbers that rank their toughness, and they are all really fascinating to the point where I would happily read a prequel about each one of them.
I should point out that Aramdillo Fists timejumps a lot, but I didn’t find it distracting so much as a nifty approach to keeping the plot’s ultimate conclusion shrouded in mystery. The book also has a fairly strong Noir element, particularly towards the end that also enriched the plot. It also made me a bit sad, but I’m okay with that. The boxing aspect of June’s life wasn’t always prevalent but it was always relevant. There was a heck of a lot of violence of all kinds connected to boxing as well as virtually everything else before and after June got her armadilloes (named Judy and Jocko). But my one complaint, were I to be forced to have one, would probably be that I wish the book had been longer because it had no business ending. And I’m still a bit miffed that it did.
In conclusion, crazy awesome, touching, sometimes gross, totally action-packed, and occasionally hilarious. Armadillo Fists might not be for everyone, but it’s worth checking out.
* June probably would have done well in Luffy’s crew considering her armadillos… but that is a daydream for another time.