Monday, February 20, 2017

President's Day: Barack the Barbarian #3

Back to a time when 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!

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