Another month, another issue of The Ruff and Reddy Show, a comic book whose very existence continues to baffle and bemuse me. Last issue saw the titular pair do the dirty on their agent, Pamela, and take up the offer of industry veteran Aldo “Crafty” Schrafft. Will this issue be as predictable as it is beautiful (Mac Rey’s art continues to be the one shining point of the series)? There’s only one way to find out, doncha know? And here it is…
Chaykin and Rey’s The Ruff and Reddy Show is one of the strangest comics I’ve ever been asked (oh, okay – volunteered) to review, but I think this might be the issue when I finally get some kind of handle on it. The last two issues have seen our titular pairing, after a long period of separation and obscurity, reunite in a bid to relaunch their careers. That it’s taken this long to reach that point is largely down to Chaykin’s decision to turn his ‘story’ (if that’s the right word for a narrative this threadbare) into a vehicle for a satirical look at the entertainment business, whose scattergun approach has yielded entirely predictably mixed results. The end of this issue marks the midway point of this story, though, and it looks light it might actually be moving a bit more purposefully. And thank goodness for that…
Dastardly and Muttley has turned out to be one of the few winners in DC’s Hanna-Barbera range and, in many respects, I’ll be sorry to see it go. While other books mope around in the decidedly shallow waters of political and cultural commentary or attempt to impress with dark ‘gritty’ versions of beloved characters that are as charmless as they are tedious, Ennis and Mauricet’s creative take on our famous pigeon-hunting duo manages to be fun. This issue gives us a resolution and a couple of surprises along the way, including a coda that even now I’m a little uncertain about. Climb in, buckle up and strap on those goggles. We’ve got a pigeon to catch!
Given the distinctly uneven quality of DC’s Hanna-Barbera titles, Garth Ennis and Mauricet’s Dastardly and Muttley has been surprisingly fun. Having crossed paths with a reality-altering US military drone, their lives have become that weird mixture of absurd, terrifying and frenetic that can only really be described as ‘madcap’. The last issue ended with the President of the United States assaulting his political rival with a cartoon mallet live on national television, while Dick Atcherley and his dog-faced co-pilot watch on in horror. How things are going to play out is anyone’s guess. There’s only one way to find out…
My experiences with Hanna-Barbera comics have not been exactly great lately, and I was hoping that this issue would see me break out of “what the hell did they think they were doing?” mode and actually give me something that I could enjoy. I know, I know. It’s a radical concept, but, lo and behold, the Ennis/Mauricet team actually seem to embrace it, brazen innovators that they are. That’s not to say there aren’t problems this issue. There’s an awful lot of exposition going on here, but the issue is, for the most part, a lot of fun. Allow me to explain why…
You know, I love comics. Comics are the medium in which anything can happen, in which image and word can interact in quite startling ways and in which, apparently, a beloved Hanna-Barbera property can become an insane fusion of commentary on the military-industrial complex, sexism, and politics, and the kind of comedic sensibility generally found in, well, cartoons. Fancy that, eh? If all that sounds like your cup of tea, then step this way. I’ve got a comic to sell you.
Quick question. Which Marvel comic ends with the line “Oh my God. It’s wearing underpants.”? (Hint: You’re about to read a review of it.) Like all the best comedy, NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E. is a relatively short, but still memorable reading experience. Fawlty Towers, The Day Today, Father Ted – none of these classics of British TV comedy outstayed their welcome; all of them have attained legendary status at least in part because their legacy is unsullied by mercenary attempts to milk the golden cow long after the creamiest parts of its output have been savoured. (That metaphor got away from me a bit there.) NextWave: Agents of H.A.T.E. is a similar beast. Only 12 issues of it exist, but they are among the funniest superhero comics you will ever read. So buckle up, turn off your Etheric Loop Recall Televocometer, and get ready for a rollercoaster ride of… well, profanity-laced madness, mostly. Oh, and underpants. Really big underpants.
Last month’s issue ended with the (not very) shocking revelation that Colonel Dick Atcherly’s one-time flying partner, Captain D. “Mutt” Muller, had somehow fused with his dog to become a mutt-faced dog-human hybrid and was now intent on ‘rescuing’ him from a military hospital. This is the hospital in which Atcherly had woken up and been interrogated by two intelligence agents, one of whom was acting very strangely indeed. Of course, Atcherly was only in hospital because his plane had encountered a rogue drone spraying reality-altering gas around the place and become partially cartoonified in the process. (‘Cartoonified’ is now a word. Just go with it.) This being a Garth Ennis comic based on a beloved Hanna-Barbera property, you might expect a somewhat light-hearted approach to things. What was as unexpected as it was welcome, however, was the thoroughly engaging portrayal of the titular characters. All in all, issue 1 was a very enjoyable introduction to the series. The question is… can issue 2 build on that strong start successfully?
What do you mean, you’ve never heard of Battlestar? He was Captain America’s sidekick, back when John Walker was wearing the stars and stripes spandex and… What do you mean, who’s John Walker? You know. John Walker. The USAgent? US… Oh, I give up.
Battlestar was a shield-carrying super with some pretty cool moves. Although, as this issue of Captain America (issue 355, if you’re interested) illustrates, not everything goes according to plan when you’re a sidekick of someone who’s essentially a slightly rubbish knock-off of a much more iconic (and competent) character.
Issue 355 of Captain America is a curious beast. Written by Mark Gruenwald and drawn by Rich Buckler, it features a Captain America who is contacted by an old flame who wants him to investigate her runaway younger sister. Cap decides to visit Sersi to de-age (and de-power) himself so he can pose as a teenager and investigate a string of teen disappearances of which his ex’s sister’s is only the latest. Because obviously that’s what you would do in these circumstances.
Battlestar features in the issue’s B plot. He’s trying to figure out what’s happened to his old mentor, the aforementioned John Walker, who Battlestar initially thinks has been killed, but who eventually turns out to have been set up with a new identity and is now hanging out at the Avengers West Coast compound in LA. Not that Battlestar actually knows that. Instead, he tracks down Val Cooper (who could have told him but doesn’t – national security etc etc) and then decides to have a chat with the Falcon who is apparently in the phone book.
Unsurprisingly, Sam Wilson’s getting beaten up by members of the Serpent Society when Battlestar finds him. I say ‘unsurprisingly’, but, really, if you let the world know you’re a super-hero then you’re kind of asking for trouble, aren’t you?
First, we get a taste of Battlestar’s detective skills…
Then, he gets stuck in to some fighting, helping an out of costume Sam Wilson deal with a couple of weirdos who seem to be interested in the costume. That he’s not wearing. I’ve decided that Gruenwald’s writing is pretty entertaining precisely because he likes weird little details like this. Anyway, Sam skedaddles into the bathroom while Battlestar tries to get out of some unpleasant metal ribbons (he’ll probably want to use a different word when he’s filling in his Superhero Villain Encounter Self-Assessment Form) that one of the bad guys has wrapped him in. After a decidedly awkward encounter with the female supervillain in the loo in which Falcon taunts the villain for liking “rough trade” (look it up in the urban dictionary, I dare you), Falcon heads back into his apartment for these two panels…
Now, I kind of like this. First, there’s the fact that Falcon and Battlestar (I am resisting the urge to abbreviate his name to BS. I really am) are still involved in the action, the former rescuing his pet Redbird from those aforementioned ribbons and the latter still struggling with the bad guy. The “nngh” in the dialogue to indicate that Battlestar’s still engaged in some strenuous physical activity is a nice touch. So is the fact that Falcon has heard of Battlestar and they (kind of) bond over this. It makes me go all gooey inside.
Then this happens…
Words can’t quite explain how terrifyingly hilarious this is. I suspect that this is Battlestar getting just a little bit carried away in front of his new friend. Bearing in mind that he had the bad guy (just about) subdued at this point and Falcon was free to help him if necessary, I can’t see this as anything more than a horrible misjudgment on Battlestar’s part. And the banter is terrible. “I’m gonna see if you’re as hard as you say you are, Rock!” “Wha…? Wait!!” Again, it’s Gruenwald’s writing that makes this work (in a non-working sort of way). Battlestar thinking that there’s “no one below” after he’s already dived out of the window with a supervillain in tow just makes things immeasurably worse.
And the bad guy lands on his (admittedly helmeted) head. Of course, he does. Nothing can go wrong here. At all. No lawsuits. No brain injuries. No fractured skulls. Or broken necks. Nothing.
Plus, if you look closely, you’ll see that Battlestar’s elbow also takes at least some of the impact. Let’s face it. Neither of them have Superman levels of invulnerability; neither of them are coming away from this unscathed.
Except, of course they are…
Well, Battlestar is. In one of the best examples of “I oughn’t to have done that” outside of Lennie’s regrettably slow realisation that indulging in a spot of ad hoc coiffure management with Curley’s wife wasn’t a great idea, a moderately concerned Battlestar checks his foe’s limp body for damage and, finding a pulse and not finding blood, breathes a huge sigh of relief. “No blood.” We’re all good, then! Phew! Not having heard of things like internal hemorrhaging and swellings on the brain, Battlestar can get on with what he does best – fighting snake-themed villains with a moderate amount of success.
Before we look at that, though, it’s worth pointing out that, in the time-honoured manner of people all around the world who realise they’ve probably gone too far but don’t want to admit it, Battlestar lies to himself. That drop was way more than four storeys, buddy. Way more. I’m thinking at least six judging from that panel earlier.
Unfortunately, Battlestar doesn’t have time to wrestle with his conscience. Someone else wants a wrestle and it turns out to be yet another snake-themed villain who can expand his size at will and, consequently, goes by the name Puff Adder. Of course he does.
This leads to the most ignominious (and hilarious) moment of the comic (although a fifteen year old Captain America just saying no to drugs comes pretty close). Having withstood Puff Adder’s attack and holding him over his head in a classic wrestling move, Battlestar loses his grip – and his dignity – when Puff Adder expands his size, Battlestar can’t keep hold of him and our plucky hero gets flattened by the villain’s sheer weight. He then has to spend most of the fight looking on helplessly from underneath Puff Adder while the Falcon fights him. It is, indeed, embarrassing.
And that’s where we’ll leave it for Battlestar, a hero who, in a comic already brimming with bizarre twists and revelations, provides some truly classic entertainment.
And I haven’t really talked about the A plot yet. Maybe 15 year old Cap’s adventures in New York city and the YMCA will be the subject of a later blog post. Who knows?
Until then, make mine Mark Gruenwald!