PIPELINE'S MOST SURREAL MOMENT
This Sunday is April Fool's Day. It's also time to set your clock ahead by an hour. I have to think this will work in all those prankster's favor. What better time to catch you unawares than when you're sleep deprived?
Keeping in something close to the spirit and the tone of the time, then, I present two off the wall reviews from two eras gone by – 1980s Saturday morning television and mid-1990s intercompany crossoveritis.
GET ALONG GANG – ARTISTIC MASTERPIECE?
Amongst the hidden gems of the 1980s Marvel line of Star Comics is the GET ALONG GANG. This week, I'll be taking a special look at the third issue of the unfortunately short-lived monthly series, starring five furry friends and their home base, the caboose. (OK, there are actually six friends, but that's not nearly alliterative enough.)
We begin with the cover, in which five of our Gang display a definite self-awareness. While they're not breaking the fourth wall, per se, they do show a constructionist style here, finishing off their own cover with a series of paint colors. This sort of self-awareness is classical, and can be seen in similar artistic masterpieces such as M.C. Escher's hands that draw themselves. It's not enough for the characters merely to be painting the background of the scene they inhabit, but their paint also drips lovingly on each other. This shows their scenery to be an integral part of themselves. Oh, but Freud would have a field day with this.
I'm sure he'd also take umbrage with the hussy near the top of the ladder, Woolma Lamb, whose skirt can clearly be seen from below, and whose underwear is pictured on the cover for the entire world to see. It's this type of cover that brought us Doctor Wertham in the first place. In an almost subliminal message, this smutty character is seen hurling paint at a beaver. It's a beaver, also, whose tail appears to be growing out of the back of its knee. A further study of surrealist paintings might educate an informed opinion of the messages the artist wished to send here.
The story starts with a gorgeous splash page of furry delight. "The Creature of Mystery Mountain" is still pages away, but the suspense builds early. There are six characters in the Get Along Gang, each one so special in his own way. The opening splash clearly identifies for us who all the characters are, what their goals are, and where the story is set. We are so cleverly introduced to Montgomery Moose, Dotty Dog, Bingo Beaver (a saucy name for a male animal on a kids show), Zipper Cat (who looks a lot like a raccoon without the eyeblack), Portia Porcupine, and Woolma Lamb. Their home is pictured just behind them. It's a red train car, labeled the "Clubhouse Caboose." With clever and often alliterative names like that, it's clear the story is based on the foundations of good Stan Lee scripts. That's fitting, since the comic was published by Marvel in 1985.
Dave Manak wrote the script, and quickly rose to stardom after his hard work on this book, filling in for – well, writing the regular monthly adventures of-- well, I'm sure he wrote something after this series, if only letters home to his mother to let her know he loved her.
We can learn a lot about the prime demographic of this comic from the advertising present in this issue. The major sponsors included those lovable Care Bears, Fig Newtons, Quik chocolate milk mix with its spokesman Steve Garvey, Reese's Pieces, and the He-Man and She-Ra movie, "The Secret of the Sword." That last one is particularly funny. She-Ra looks cross-eyed and bored. He-Man's loin cloth shows us that he has no genitals. The message to be had from the sponsorship, though, is that clearly more government regulation was necessary to prevent comics such as this from becoming the brain candy of impressionable youths. Could you imagine a culture in which children actually read comics?!?
When it comes to story structure and presentation, this issue can be easily seen as the precursor to today's larger than life storytelling. It predates today's widescreen comics by almost 15 years. The camera stays at a medium distance, allowing all the characters to be seen. Their epic tale of abandonment and disorientation in a forest permeated with legends, lore, and mythical monsters would make Neil Gaiman's head spin. If the panels had been just a little bit wider, one could more easily see this as a precursor to today's cinematic storytelling that most people closely associate with Warren Ellis' PLANETARY. As it is, the book does contain an ad for the much-discussed (on Ellis' own message board) PLANETARY predecessor, PLANET TERRY.
GET ALONG GANG #3 is a classic example of a book ahead of its time. Though presumably aimed at children, an adult can take any number of angles on its creation or its place in the pantheon of sequential art. Surely, this book was a boost for anthropomorphic characters the likes of which we didn't see again until Kennedy the Three Toed Sloth made his first appearance in DESPERATE TIMES. And the simple message that getting along is a good thing is one that should only resonate with audiences in tune with the feel-good loving of television's SURVIVOR.
It stands today as one of the most celebrated intercompany crossovers of all time. It is hard to believe that it's been nearly seven years since the fine folks at Archie Comics and Marvel Comics teamed up to foist upon the unsuspecting comics world, ARCHIE MEETS THE PUNISHER. This is 48 pages of Batton Lash's insane brainchild, in which the Punisher chases down a hooligan to the obscure town of Riverdale, wherein he runs across a bunch of goody-goody kids, known to a whole different subset of comics fandom. It's a book so darn odd and unexpected that the editors-in-chief of the two companies (Tom De Falco and Victor Gorelick) each wrote an introduction to the book.
The book is a slightly toned down PUNISHER, but an amazingly shocking ARCHIE. The Punisher is working with the government to apprehend a crook that looks a lot like Archie Andrews. Punisher must restrain himself; the crook must be taken alive so he can detail his operations to the authorities.
The Punisher half of the book is drawn by John Buscema, and the Archie half by Stan Goldberg. Tom Palmer inks (presumably) both halves. Goldberg is not my favorite Archie artist. For some reason, his characters always look just a bit off to me. They're usually on model and the storytelling is sound, but there's something to his style that puts me off just a little. Buscema's art looks great here. Palmer's heavy inks serve the style well, and help cement Punisher in a grim and gritty world. When the two sets of characters appear on panel together, the clash of styles is humorous, and not at all as distracting as you might think.
I can't see this book coming out in this day and age. The bulk of the action involves gunplay at a high school 50s-style sock hop dance. The Punisher goes at it with fake caterers, who are heavily armed and not afraid to use them. Miraculously, nobody gets shot, but at various times in this issue both Archie and Veronica end up with guns pointed at their heads. Can you imagine those panels trying to pass muster in these post-Columbine times? This whole issue would be deemed insensitive and pulped. Who'da thunk that I'd be looking back at 1994 as the good ol' days of innocence?!?
Batton Lash goes to town with the script, giving everyone their turn and playing around with the strange mix of styles between the companies. Highlights include Archie's grim and gritty narrating bit near the end and the Punisher in a Riverdale sweater. The crossover isn't limited strictly to the title characters, though. One can observe Millie the Model chatting with Katy Keene in Riverdale, for example. A couple of unseen Marvel characters make an appearance in the final panel. Josie and the Pussycats, of course, is the house band for the dance.
In the end, the book is a fun read with a unique blending of styles. If you can find it in some back issue bin in some dusty corner of a store or on the floor under a dealer's table at a comic convention, pick it up and give it a shot. Just bring your sense of humor with you.
I'm waiting to see how many people take the GET ALONG GANG review seriously. . .
Over 200 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML. Those columns are even migrating over here in drips and drabs. Eventually, they'll all be on CBR. I can't believe Pipeline is entering its fifth year in a few short weeks…
This year, I'll be at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego), and the Pittsburgh Comicon, which requires no second name. Hope to meet some of you there.
Finally, I write DVD movie reviews (occasionally) for the gang over at DVD Channel News. If you're into DVD, check out my stuff there. THE ROAD TO EL DORADO is the subject of my next review and should be up there early next week.
Have a great weekend and come back here on Tuesday for the 200th Pipeline Commentary and Review!