By: Kenny Keil
The Story: How do you tell a zombie he’s unemployable? Can a robot and space sleuth really find love? Is the barrel of this gun walnut or oak? Get the answers to these questions, and more!
The Review: Even though comics spawned some of the most hugely profitable and popular films of the last decade, and produced literary-quality fiction for years even before that, they still get kind of a bad rep—or at least, the serial, mainstream comics do. But maybe that’s to be expected; despite having entered a Modern Age, a lot of the stuff you see on the stands still plays with the old tropes that made comics a joke from their conception.
And if there’s any joke to be made about comics—from the readers to the creators, the various genres, the plot formulas, the cash-in opportunities—Keil’s going to make them. He parodies the medium from top to bottom, but with the irony also comes a great sense of love for comics. His collection includes a whole bunch of different features—you can almost call them sketches since they set up a scenario, get some laughs, and finish, with only a couple becoming recurring.
You have Ray Gunn, a take-off of all the weirdly body-suited space heroes from comics’ colorful past. His stories come closest to playing it straight, taking your classic plotlines and giving them a twist, such as “rescuing the damsel from psycho robot—and that robot is your jealous lover” or “having a criminal steal/besmirch your identity—despite looking nothing like you.” Silly as these twists are, you can’t say they’re predictable or fail to amuse.
Professor Wormhole and the Time Posse works to make fun of everything Ray Gunn doesn’t: the fraught delivery that turns everything into melodrama (“President Carter, put that burrito down immediately…the fate of the world depends on it!”); the deceptive covers (“A startling adventure in which this [aforementioned] scene doesn’t even appear!”); overworked acronyms (the Massive Invention Slapped Together for Kronological Escapades—just call it M.I.S.T.A.K.E.); and comics’ inexplicable love for gorillas.
Keil also takes on the ridiculousness of the very idea of costumed vigilantism in the humble origins of the Red Atom—sort of what you get if you combine the premise of Kick Ass with the total apathy, laziness, and procrastination of the real world which makes super-heroics an impossible reality. The stream-of-consciousness narration also delivers at least a joke or two in each panel: “Note to self: find a super lair that doesn’t serve grand slam breakfasts 24-7.”
These features only scrape the surface of what you get out of this collection—rest assured, this thing is packed. You’ve got shrunken cowboys, baby pilots, and cautionary tales of what happens when you read too much comics (the increasingly overbearing letters to the editor regarding continuity problems is one I can relate with). And the advertisement pages sprinkled liberally throughout—well, the ads may be the best part of the whole collection, from the obvious gags (“Mandles—scented candles for men”) to the tongue-in-cheek (“Bear Identification Kit”) to the straight-up bizarre (“Unlock hidden powers of the mind—let Bono teach you how”).
It would be a disservice to not mention the art, which Keil services entirely by himself—impressive considering he uses a highly polished and slickly colored webcomic look (in the tradition of Penny Arcade) to credibly mimic a wide variety of art styles, spanning multiple genres and periods. This collection is as much fun to look at as it is to read.
Conclusion: If there’s a Saturday Night Live of comics, this is it, as it cleverly breaks down everything that’s silly about comics, but showing how those are exactly what makes comics so much fun.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: – I love the letters page, and the publisher’s responses to them. “…my teacher…says comic books are bad for me especially the ones with your name on them.” “Now, I don’t want to alarm you, but it sounds to me like your teacher may in fact be a Communist.”
– Tales to Suffice’s Cancellation Threat-o-Meter: Moderate, Likely, Imminent, Can I Borrow a Dollar?