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SLOTS: When The Chips Are Down, All Bets Are Off [Feature]

feature by Henry Barajas, originally published in IMAGE+ magazine

Meet Stanley Dance.

Stanley is the guy that your mother warned you about when you were younger. He has those piercing blue eyes that look at you in a way that no other man has before, but he'll break your heart into a million pieces and probably sneak out with the cash from your purse while you're sleeping. You know, the kind of chap your father forbid you from ever seeing. Well, he's back to fight and save the day his way, but will he live long enough to make it to the final round? Stanley Dance is the frontman in Dan Panosian's action-packed crime series SLOTS, from Skybound Entertainment.

Stanley has burned every bridge in his life, aided by the get-up-and-go of his Chevrolet Impala convertible custom hot rod and the comfort of a lit Lucky Strike. He's coming back to his old stomping grounds to save the his pal Betsy, the owner of a casino called the Piggy Bank, keeping his old enemy Les from poaching their talent for his casino. In between trying to get back into the ring to relive his glory days in professional boxing, Stanley may just find a chance to patch things up with his son.

Panosian's exceptional character design perfectly illustrates Stanley's questionable moral code of conduct, gambling addiction, nonexistent relationship with his family, and drinking problems. Stanley looks shifty, like a guy who knows a guy who could get something illegal done for you. Panosian more than lives up to his reputation in SLOTS, drawing some of the most beautiful women and men you'll see in comics.

SLOTS has a charming, light-hearted beginning reminiscent of those early '90s action movies. But Panosian takes things down a dark turn. Stanley packs all his personal belongings into his 1959 Airstream Caravanner attached to his hot rod, and drives to the middle of the brutal Nevada desert. He digs out a lockbox with a touching photo of him and a beautiful woman accompanied with a loaded Smith & Wesson pistol. Panosian has this uncanny ability to relay a lot of information with minimal words, and he knows exactly when to let the art do all the talking. He touches on that hidden depression we all struggle with in plain sight, the heartbreak we will never get over, and suicidal thoughts. If it doesn’t hit close to home, we all definitely know someone struggling with these demons.

But then Panosian changes gears, going from zero to 60 thanks to a grand double-page spread that perfectly illustrates everything magical about Las Vegas. He gives the strip that vibrant sheen we all know and love, but quickly drags you to the sketchy part of Sin City, the part that you don't want to get caught in at the wrong time. You can feel the struggle Stanley is having with his decision to help. He’s trying to stay relevant in a place he loves, but he’s stuck in the past. He’s the worst kind of ex-boyfriend, and Las Vegas has found a younger lover.

Panosian's the son of a boxer. His father was a pro in his 20s, and he got Panosian into boxing, and then Japanese jiu jitsu. The Los Angeles-based comic book artist also credits his dad's art and passion for the medium for his long-running career in comics. It's obvious that he's writing something more personal than we've ever seen before from his chiseled body of work. The last page alone will drop your jaw and floor you like a fast left followed by a hard right.

I dare you to go back and look for something that possesses this much heart. Dan's had a long career in comics, having been on the ground floor when Image Comics made its debut 25 years ago by working with Rob Liefeld's Extreme Studios. SLOTS shows the results of a career spent constantly improving your craft. It’s both cool and measured, emotional and exciting, and beautiful on top of all of that.

Pound for pound, SLOTS is the story Dan Panosian was born to tell.

SLOTS is on sale now.

Originally from the Old Pueblo, Henry Barajas works for Top Cow Productions and sells doughnuts in Hollywood. He writes comics, writes about comics, and collects comics. IMAGE+ is an award-winning monthly comics magazine that's packed with interviews, essays, and features about all your favorite Image comics and your first look at upcoming releases.