Steve Orlando and Phillip Kennedy Johnson unveil the project centering on two gay fighters of different generations.

Announced last year, AfterShock Comics’ upcoming graphic novel Kill a Man is a sports story with a difference, following the complicated relationship between two MMA fighters of different generations with a shared history. Ahead of the book’s June release, The Hollywood Reporter has a first look, as well as some words about the project from its writers.

“Yes, we’ve seen combat sports narratives before. Yes, we’ve seen coming out and LGBTQ+ struggle narratives before. But a gay lead has never been allowed to be the star of this type of underdog combat sports narrative before,” writer Steve Orlando said in a statement about the series. “Every time [Phillip Kennedy Johnson] and I work on the book, I’m inevitably texting him about how this moment or that moment is something that’s never been put to page before…. We want to give the Rocky-type narrative to the LGBTQ+ community and say, loudly and unflinching, that we toodeserve a hero that overcomes, goes the distance, and finds victory on their own terms.”

Kill a Man is definitely part of the Rocky/Creed tradition, but the dynamic between main characters James Bellyi and Xavier Mayne starts from a completely different place from anything we’ve seen in those other stories,” added co-writer Johnson. “Mayne represents the old guard of the MMA tradition, one of the original pioneers of the sport…a gay man whose career started to go wrong when he beat a bigot to death in the ring. Then, a generation later, the dead man’s son grows up to be James Bellyi, a legit MMA superstar who gets outed as gay leading up to his title shot. Bellyi begrudgingly turns to Xavier Mayne, the man he grew up hating, to train him, setting up one of the most complicated and fascinating relationships we’ve seen in a coming-of-age story, one I’m honored to have a part in telling.”

“There just aren’t many books about MMA on the comic shelves right now, which continues to mystify me. It’s the most dynamic and exciting sport on Earth, practiced by some of the most driven, dedicated, and gifted athletes in history, and Kill a Man reflects that,” Johnson continued. “Of course, it’s crucial that every LGBTQ+ reader who picks up the story recognizes that it comes from a true perspective, but it was also hugely important to me that every MMA fan recognizes the fights as being written and illustrated by creators who know the fight game.”

Orlando added, “It’s vital to us to not just present a gripping, groundbreaking story but also provide an unflinching and authentic look at the MMA world for all its ups and downs. This isn’t sugarcoated; it’s every bit as triumphant and toxic, petty and perilous, exciting and eccentric as the modern fight world is outside our window.”

The 128-page graphic novel, illustrated by Al Morgan with letters from Jim Campbell, will be released June 3. Some of Morgan’s artwork from the book is below.