Gimmick or Good? - Crazyman #1

In this column, Mark Ginocchio (from Chasing Amazing) takes a look at the gimmick covers from the 1990s and gives his take on whether the comic in question was just a gimmick or whether the comic within the gimmick cover was good. Hence "Gimmick or Good?" Here is an archive of all the comics featured so far. We continue with the diecut cover Crazyman #1...

Crazyman #1 (published May 1993) – the creative team is uncredited, but the great Brian Cronin has informed me that it’s scripted/plotted by Peter Stone and Neal Adams, pencils by Dan Barry, and inks by Richard Bennett.

Continuity Comics was an independent publisher founded in 1984 by longtime DC/Marvel artist Neal Adams. When the “gimmick” craze took over the comic book industry in the early 90s, Continuity was at the forefront, publishing some incredibly unique cover gimmicks such as “indestructible” Tyvek covers. For Crazyman #1, which is actually the second volume in the series after a three-part mini was published a year earlier, the entire comic is die-cut as the profile of the titular character’s face. The only other comic I can think of that deployed such a trick was the infamous “bullet hole” cover of Malibu’s Protector #5, published in January 1993.

But what about inside the comic?

Fortunately, the die-cut effect doesn’t actually impact any of the book’s content (though a little bit of the publishing information at the bottom of the first page has been chopped off). So with the story and art all intact what readers are left with is a sometimes-fun, often-absurd homage to the late-60s British television series “The Prisoner.”

The comic actually opens with an action sequence from what is quickly revealed to be the fictionalized version of “The Prisoner,” here called “The Inmate.” The scene cuts to Crazyman, aka Danny Brody, engrossed in the television program while his psychiatrist looks on amazed.

Danny tells his doctor that he relates to the show’s main character, dubbed “#6” because he’s been psychologically abused and tortured by “The Inmate’s” antagonists, the Society. The creative team is unabashedly heavy handed with the symbolism here, and I really hesitate to call it subtext, as that would imply that there are inferences to be made that are not explicitly stated in the text itself. Calling your hero “Crazyman” and saying his insanity was buoyed by a group of villains called “Society,” is about as subtle as an anvil to the head.

Reading this comic in the post-9/11 universe, I am immediately struck by the fact that Danny is able to go to the nearest heliport and demand his way onto a flight that’s headed towards the dreaded “Devil’s Triangle” over the Atlantic so he could find the island where a production crew films “The Inmate.” After he’s initially denied a spot on a helicopter, Danny saunters his way over to the runway where he finds an old friend, Christine, piloting one of the helicopters. He convinces Christine to fly over the Bermuda Triangle and, naturally, the copter’s mechanisms start to fail and Danny finds his way onto the mysterious island inhabited by gelatinous monsters called Fidoes, and gun-toting military types who are very hostile toward visitors. The whole sequence reads like a Lewis Carroll tea party, but I’m assuming that’s exactly the vibe the creative team is going for. Some of my favorite books/movies over the past 25 years feature “unreliable” narrators (i.e. Chuck Palahniuk’s Fight Club and Bret Easton Ellis’s American Psycho), but stories told in this fashion also tap dance on the line of frustrating and disengaging readers. The unrealistic nature of how Crazyman #1’s entire conflict gets set into motion feels more frustrating than titillating to me, and it took me right out of the story for a couple of pages, as a result. Seriously? He just walks into a heliport and, by happenstance, can hitch a ride over the Bermuda Triangle? All right, then.

Throughout its 10-year existence, Continuity developed a reputation for not being afraid to push boundaries in terms of violence and sexual content. Crazyman #1 has its share of off-color moments, though nothing I would classify as being explicitly “graphic.” I did wince a bit when a scene of Danny chewing and clawing his way out of a Fido monster is accompanied by some choice “chomp chomp” sound effects, but I also let out a laugh when Danny busts in on the private home of “#6” and finds a gentleman enjoying some “quality time” with a woman.

In early 90s fashion, the comic more or less stops, rather than ends, as Danny discovers that he’s now a prisoner of “The Inmate’s” production team. He bemoans, “why can’t I ever win?” which would probably have emotionally landed better if the creative team actually showed Danny struggling to “win” earlier in the comic. Instead, I’m interpreting the final panel as an allegory for how Danny has fully broken from reality and, much like his hero on “The Inmate,” finds himself captured at the end, despite some heroic efforts to escape from the island and “Society.”

Barry’s art is mostly solid, especially if you’re a fan of realism in your comics, which was the house style Adams reportedly mandated during his time running Continuity. Considering the comic is paying homage to an actual television show, a realistic style suits the issue just fine.

I’ll openly admit that I had no idea of this comic’s existence until I started doing this feature on Comics Should Be Good earlier this year, so I didn’t know what to expect. There are some undoubtedly good moments in this comic, but I hesitate to say that the good outweighs the bad. My biggest concerns come from my inability to suspend disbelief, which I know can be explained away by the fact that the story’s hero is “crazy” and, thus, cannot be trusted as a narrator. My problem with that argument is that it’s never definitively established – in this issue at least – if the events that are transpiring are actually happening or are figments of Danny’s imagination. As a result, there are just too many moments that read like a bucket of cold water being dumped on my head, rather than an engrossing story that demands I keep turning pages.

Verdict: Gimmick

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