Friday, February 24, 2017

Strange Team-Ups, Part V: The Ren & Stimpy Show #6

Bizarre mixups continue to trickle out of the Crapbox

"Clash of Titans: Break-Fast of Chumpions"
Writer – Dan Slott
Art – Mike Kazaleh
Letters – Brad K. Joyce
Colors – Ed Lazellari
Editor – Fabian Nicieza
America's 2nd Fav'rit Breakfast Treat! – Tom Defalco
May 1993

Texas heat and my poor organization skills must have allowed an Amazing Spider-Man comic and the Nickelodeon tie-in book for Ren & Stimpy to meld together.

And just like last week's Barack the Barbarian, this blending of two things that shouldn't work, kind of produces a decent story on both levels. Not great mind you, but decent.

My love for Ren & Stimpy might have something to do with my affection for this one. Also my love of a good Dan Slott scripted story, Slott being one of my favorite Spider-scribes. 

When I say that I love Ren & Stimpy, there is always a pesky asterisk that has to be added to that statement. The odd duck pairing was the brainchild of John Kricfalusi, a duo he created while studying at Sheridan College. He was signed to produce a series by Nickelodeon in 1989, one of the first three original series that network created (the other two being Rugrats and Doug.) Kricfalusi would only work on the show for the first two years, however, as tensions over his racy and violent episodes clashed with Nickelodeon's Standards and Practices section. Eventually the relationship between creator and network devolved to the level that Kricfalusi would only talk to them through his lawyer. Some of these tensions were ascribed to missed deadlines due to the approval process.

These first set of episodes are golden to me. They skirt the line of good taste in the BEST way possible. They are accessible to children yet are entertaining to adults as well. Kricfalusi produced an amazing, marvelous thing.

And then Nickelodeon pulled the plug on him. They ousted him as director, offered him a position as a consultant (which he refused) and gave creative control over to Bob Camp.

Camp's Ren & Stimpy wasn't the same. In the original, Ren always seemed our everyman, our hero. Even in the most bizarre situations, it was still easier to identify with the crazy, Mexican-accented Chihuahua than it was to find a commonality with Stimpy, the dim-witted cat who ate litter. Camp reversed these roles and made simpled-minded Stimpy the centerpiece. Gone were the more racy, Cheech & Chong type story-line vibes you got in the first year, replaced by endless goofy preachings from Stimpy.

The cardinal sin, however, was that the show wasn't funny anymore.

Something about holding back these characters after they had already infected us with their particular brand of SPACE! MADNESS! defeated the humor inherent in their adventures. It would struggle on for two more years before being retired. After a long hiatus, it was revived in an even more Adult version on Spike network in 2003, but by then the moment had passed and the new content went too far for all but the most die-hard fans. I hear tell they might have a short before the next SpongBob movie too, but that might just be rumor.

What we have here is Slott doing his best to put Spiderman into a Ren & Stimpy episode and not the other way around. So we begin with the duo eating breakfast when an emergency occurs…

…Which, of course, Stimpy summons…

…uh, what?

Yeah, so Spider-Man appears and his little pronouncement kicks things off to a great start. Powered Toast Man is mind controlled by this talking donut-thing. Spider-Man uses his webs to create web-based toast for the dog and cat and then vamooses. Which is where get the standard Ren & Stimpy trope of "oh, there is lots of evidence they are going to say one thing…"

"…when instead they say the opposite." 

Spiderman gets a call from headquarters (through his spare pair of Powered Toast Man underwear – don't ask!) only to find that trouble is brewing.

And here you have it: the formula for the rest of the issue. Every few panels will be some bread or breakfast related pun. If you enjoy puns (and I do, for the most part), you'll love this issue. If you find puns groan-tastic wastes of your time, you'll hate the issue. Like a breakfast cereal, all comes down to your personal taste.

And the art is pure Ren & Stimpy.

Oh, there is a few smatterings of other types of humor, like this self-referencing bit on the comics industry here.

Chuckle-worthy if you ask me. And I did smirk at P.T.M. using the underarm fart sound motion to fire croutons at Spidey. Silly stuff. And the issue is literally packed with this battle. It goes on for several pages, almost to the point of being too long.

We have Spider-Man get the upper hand.

Only to be trapped in Powered Toast Man's giant booger. Eww! 

Which leads to the "Spider-Man talks himself into not giving up montage."

And yes, I snickered a bit at this part. 

Slott's a good match for this material. Generally his writing is a bit humorous and here he dials that up to eleven. Either that or he just lets off the shackles that normally keeps him in check. Whatever the cause, the effect is some genuinely silly, funny moments that caused me to crack a smile.

What I thought would be a groan-filled issue has some cleverness to it. Most cartoon-to-comic transitions lack the finesse of the source material, but Slott seems right in the groove of Ren & Stimpy's madness.

Madness that includes dunking P.T.M. in milk so he's too soggy to fight…

…and then letting Spidey get a lead pipe to the head. OUCH! (Remember that bit about violence in R&S cartoons? Well, here you go…)

Which leads to a P.T.M. "Popeye" moment.

Again this is silly fluff that is well executed, given the art stylings of the cartoon. And Spidey gets to help foil the bad guy, so it's all good there too.

With the reappearance of the duo the book is named after we get one final joke setup…

To which P.T.M. punches him through a building.

There are also two short joke bits starring Spider-Man at the end that are just as silly as the story, the smaller of the two presented below.

So the issue fairs pretty well for having to give due to both of these characters. It is definitely more of a Spider-Man visits Ren & Stimpy Show rather than the other way around. But it is handled as competently as the What The… magazine stuff from the late 80's, so I rated it worth a pick up.

Monday, February 20, 2017

President's Day: Barack the Barbarian #3

Back to a time with a parody comic could be MORE crazy than the current administration

"Quest for the Treasure of Stimuli, Part III"
Writer – Larry Hama
Artist – Christopher Schons
Letters – Crank!
Colors – Rachelle Rosenberg
Editor –Evan Sult
Editor-in-Chief – Josh Blaylock
Everything Else – Sam Wells
August 2009

Everybody has a political leaning. Since high school I've been a left-leaning liberal. I blame it on one source: Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle."

Written in 1906, Sinclair created a scathing fiction novel that was nothing short of an indictment of the turn of the century meat packing industry. In a broader sense though, the tale was a coercive call to socialism that opened up my eyes. Just not in the way Sinclair would probably have liked.

The book depicted the harsh working conditions and lack of safety/health regulations leading to unsanitary practices in the American meat industry. Its hero and his entire immigrant family are brutally destroyed, bit-by-bit, on the altar of American big business. They arrive eager to work and make a new life here, yet by the end of the book only one of them survives, however is unable to work due to injuries sustained on the job.

At the time, the book was supposed to be a call for Americans to abandon Capitalism in favor of Socialism. What it ended up doing was causing wave after wave of reform in all sorts of industries, beginning with the meat packers.

To me, the book was more frightening than you can imagine. I grew up believing in the American system of work hard and you can succeed. Now here was something explaining in great detail how that might not always be the case, that your hard work might allow someone else, someone already rich, to succeed while you fail utterly. It was a book-length exposure of Capitalism's flaws.

Sinclair wanted to convert everyone to adopt the Socialism Russia finally embraced. I completely rejected that idea. What he got from me instead was the idea that if Capitalism is to persist it has to evolve into a hybrid that protects the rights of the individual against the predations of big business. That while a country ruled solely by business interests can grind up generation after generation of labor without caring for their health or happiness, it isn't the kind of country I'd like to live in. Thus: left-leaning, liberal Democrat.

I don't NOT believe in America.

I just don't think the capitalist system works well without some tweaks. Capitalism has to have some constraints on business which makes it less free market. I don't think we'd have clean water or air without an EPA, because those environmental protections cost money. And businesses hate to spend money.

Same goes for protecting the individual health and well-being of the workers. Oh, they talk a big game nowadays about "worker retention" and us being "valuable assets" but I'm sure many industries would love to get rid of pesky things like the minimum wage law and anything requiring them to provide health insurance.

But full-on socialism has just as many problems, most of which begin and end with the pigs in Orwell's Animal Farm. Socialism doesn't fix the problems, it just makes for different abusers at the top.

All of this has very little-to-nothing to do with my review today, other than to give a reason for me liking our prior presidential leadership over who is currently in power. So for this President's Day, we are looking back at one of the better parody books to come out while Barack Obama was the POTUS. Also because I'm not sure anyone could come out with a parody of our current POTUS. Not one more bizarre than what is on the news each day, anyway.

What we have here is Barack the Barbarian, a four issue series with a one-shot follow-up that took the political landscape into Conan territory in a tongue-in-cheek way. For our story so far we are thrust not into the past but into the far-far future after a post-apocalyptical societal collapse having occurred.

Barack and his troupe ascend this giant stone edifice called The Elephant Tower to depose the evil Boosh the Dim and his Vizier, Harry Burden (Harry Reid). Meanwhile Old Warrior (John McCain) and his ally Red Sarah (bet you can guess that one) seek to do the same, but not with the people's best interests at heart. This issue starts after both parties (why is this suddenly like D&D) having escaped the Labyrinth of Pundits.
We catch up with Barack, Manny the Fixer, Hilaria and Bill ascending the tower via staircases.

Note the in-jokiness of everything going on here. Manny giving the "We can do it" line and Hilaria doing the "Yes, we can" bit. Bill trying to pull up the donkey and throwing out the line about how hard it is to move more conservative "blue dog" Democrats into working with the more liberal elements in the party. It's all very "grin worthy" but not laugh-out-loud level. Most of the issue is more of this.

Same as the next page's Manny going all "I can do it!"

And Hilaria and Bill's banter about her doing it herself, now with added irony in light of 2016's poor election showing. This is the level of what we are getting the entire time though: a standard comedy adventure with a watered down undercurrent of political commentary.

Like this scene with Boosh and Harry summoning a demon, which could have been the specter of 911 or if they had done Cheney instead of Reid, perhaps even Cheney's Lockheed-Martin connection. Instead we get a stand in for the banking industry. Clever but not as clever as it could have been. 

Do like the Cthulhu-ness of his octopus-form, a metaphor for the consolidation run rampant during the Bush years. Still, the book's punch is pulled and it needs to take greater risks.

It's almost like it seeks not to offend, or at least offend either side too much, which is sad. Years of reading Mad magazine have taught me that lampooning things you love usually leads to bigger laughs. Also that no matter what the subject matter, everything and everyone DESERVES to have fun poked at them if it comes from an equal opportunity offender.

The point of this scene, however is to remind the audience that Boosh and Harry have something bound behind a locked door that they don't want to get out. They keep calling it "she" and for the life of me all I can think of is Nancy Pelosi.

By the time we reach Red Sarah and Old Warrior, we are familiar enough with the pattern to expect the jokes. Like these about how Sarah hunts from a helicopter.

…and how McCain was shot down over.

Again, neither of which are worth much more than a groan and a smile. The book tries hard to be non-partisan on rooting for anyone after a fashion, not making any set of characters too likable, with the exception of Barack himself.

Like this page of Barack facing the Pinheads and Mudslingers. All their charges against him fail to stick, yet Hilaria and Bill get coated with mud.

While McCain gets hit with a mudball that breezes by everyone, Boosh and Harry concoct something mysterious upstairs that have them exclaiming "Party Time!"

And it turns out to be a huge elephant thing that Barack claims "…will defeat itself. We just have to stand out of its way." Boy, if only they could see the results of the 2016 election they might change their tune. All optimism has gone out the window these days. Especially when looking at the thing's "white underbelly."

While all this is going on, Bill tries to rally support by "tweeting" in a much more literal fashion.

Sadly there is a nugget of wisdom in all this that is buried in the wrapper story. Since I don't have access to issue four, not sure if the final climax to all this mayhem underscored this point strongly enough or not. However in today's polarized and charged political climate, maybe it is something we need to hear said more and more.

People with opposing political viewpoints aren't evil. They just come at things with a different perspective. Only by working together can we really be a great nation, standing tall as a beacon of freedom.

Happy President's Day everyone!