As we get deeper into the new millennium, it becomes more apparent that the traditional concept of manliness is a bit of a joke. Consider, if you please, the mustache: The great status symbol of distinguished manhood can now be found as an adorable print on Band-Aids stocked in the same aisle as the Hello Kittys. Consider, too, that PBS once aired a special that unironically asked, “Are bronies changing the definition of masculinity?” We’ve come to the point where once-popular portrayals of manly men like Paul Bunyan and John Wayne come off as buffoonish and comical.
Manly Men Doing Many Things is fill with many manly things. There are pecs, chest hairs, bulging biceps, bold jawlines, strong brows, slicked-back hairstyles, six-pack abs, disdaining sneers, bugged-out eyes, and a general air of brute force. There’s plenty of flexing, grunting and lumberjacking, too. Their faces are scarred and severe, as if they were chainsaw sculptures brought to life by black magic (the manliest of magic). You expect them to be chewing tobacco … or a toothpick, at least.
Creator Kelly Turnbull is a big fan of manliness. From her “About” page: “I like drawing comics about unapologetically macho things because I’m not on board with this modern trend of telling men that they should act less like men. I dream of a world where the beer is cheap and plentiful, violence can still be an acceptable solution to life’s problems, and no one ever has to talk about their feelings.” Is this tongue in cheek? Again, it’s not so obvious in the 21st century. Ironic or not, however, her character designs are quite appealing. They’re big hunks of beef in a world where most webcomic characters are lean and lanky.
The star of our story is a granite slab named Commander Badass. Distinguished by his slicked blond hair, red jumpsuit and rad goggles, the Commander exudes a no-nonsense brand of leadership that distinguishes him from the chaos around him. He’s cool, calm and collected. He’s got an air of world-weariness about him, perhaps because he’s a divorced father who finds more joy hanging around with his little kids than, say, swinging a giant buster sword to mow down zombies. I approve. For truly, being a good dad is a true sign of manhood.
It’s good that he’s cool as a cucumber, though, because the people that surround him are completely nuts. Outside of tongue-in-cheek revivals, ’80s action heroes and ’90s Liefeld-inspired powerhouses are likely a thing of the past. Manly Men Doing Manly Things manages to find the one medium where traditional machismo is still treated with utmost seriousness: the realm of video games. The comic is populated by characters that have barely controlled rage issues, like the insanely violent Kratos from the God of War games and the stoic, noble Sten from Dragon Age. Even characters that are outright parodies: Lobo is one of Turnbull’s favorites, and she was no fan when Kenneth Rocafort’s New 52 version debuted last year. (Hmmm … tally one up on the “Actually a fan of muscly men” side of the balance sheet.)
The craziness of the clientele is accentuated when they’re contrasted against the Commander’s more even-keeled colleagues. Honest, for example, is the audience surrogate, and through her eyes we see the madness explode around her. In fact, it may be the Commander’s nonplussed attitude that keeps her from cracking. Then there’s Jared. It could be argued that he’s the complete opposite of “manliness.” He can often be found squealing with delight like a giggling fanboy (where his dewy eyes are accompanied by rainbows and sparkles). He’s also a former Pokemon trainer, an admittedly unmanly pursuit. Yet Jared is quite competent. Though he looks wimpy, he’s an idiot savant who knows how to use his brain (and his monstrous Pokemon, Mr. Fish) to get out of most jams.
In other words … Jared is probably an example of this new definition of masculinity that PBS keeps telling me about.