Ferrier and Neogi’s ‘Curb Stomp’ Transcends its Exploitation Roots
In Ryan Ferrier and Devaki Neogi's Curb Stomp, a gang of five women called the Fever protect their home turf from outside crews, stemming the flow of guns and drugs into Old Beach. When two rival gangs make a deal to push them out of their home, leader Machete Betty makes a decision that she regrets, pushing the Fever into a war they wanted nothing to do with.
Let's get The Warriors out of the way immediately, because you can't talk about Curb Stomp without addressing the unabashed influence of the cult classic. There are a few minor but apparent similarities, most notably the gimmickry and timelessness of the gang's design, which seems to belong to no decade, and the set-up of being squeezed by rival gangs. The most important trait that Curb Stomp shares with The Warriors is the least obvious one, and has less to do with a direct influence and more to do with good storytelling. You actually care.
The most famous scene in The Warriors is undeniably immortal, but the best scene is actually much quieter than Luther's whining taunts. When Swan and Mercy are on the train to Coney Island, bruised and dirtied by a night of battle, a clean-cut, rich-looking young couple get in the car. Mercy begins to clean herself up, but Swan stops her, unwilling to let her be ashamed of who she is or where she comes from. In that moment, you feel for those characters, and the story transcends the exploitation genre and becomes art.
In Curb Stomp, the emotional depth of Machete Betty instantly make the comic much more satisfying than the empty, genre-flipped punky pastiche it could have been. As the leader of the Fever, Machete Betty is burdened with several responsibilities: the protection of her patch of nothing, the safety of her gang-sisters and her actual sister, and the enforcement of the rules of the street. When a member of the Wrath invades Fever turf and pulls a gun on her, she makes a choice out of anger.
Despite the disastrous consequences, that choice and every one that follows is one that you understand. All of the Fever --- Bloody Mary, Derby Girl, Daisy Chain and Violet Volt --- are cooler than ice cream on Christmas, but Machete Betty is flawed and scared and strong and you love her for it. Wherever Curb Stomp takes her is worth following just to see what she does next.