Comedy can sometimes seem a little hard to come by in the world of comics.
I’m not saying that it’s hard to find a good laugh in the so called funny books these days. Spider-man’s entire shtick is quipping with his villains in the heat of combat, DC’s recent Harley Quinn series is basically an excuse to transport the character from one brightly-colored comedic set piece to another, and so much of the critically-acclaimed Saga’s power comes from its ability to balance heart-warming, relatable humor with wrist-slitting despair. No, I mean straight-up comedy. Not a coming-of-age superhero story with a dollop of comedy on top. Not a space opera with the occasional baby-barf joke (adorable as they may be). Just. Comedy.
That’s why I’d like talk about two comics in particular that are practicing this brand of Just Comedy in a big way.
First up, we have Superior Foes of Spider-man from writer Nick Spencer and artist Steve Lieber. Riding high off the coattails of the immensely popular Superior Spider-man in 2013, Marvel decided to expand the upon the “Superior” brand by launching two related titles in July, Superior Spider-man Team-up and Superior Foes. The former ended around the same time as the flagship series did this past April, but the latter had captured a fanbase so fervent, so overzealous, and so loyal that Spencer was given the go ahead to expand the series beyond its planned 12-issue run.
The book follows the new Sinister Six, this time made up of a group of Spidey’s villains so obscure that only the most religious fans will recognize them (also, Shocker) living the simple life of a supervillain gang in the big apple. However, when their self-appointed leader Boomerang (guess what his power is) decides that being small-time crooks just ain’t enough anymore, he leads his gang into an ambitious heist scheme that plays out like Ocean’s Eleven, except that our lead characters are all wildly incompetent.
Despite its complicated theft plot and the superhero trappings, Superior Foes reminds me more of FX’s Its Always Sunny in Philadelphia than anything else. The characters have little to no redeeming qualities and are often portrayed as despicable human beings (except Shocker), but Spencer makes you really root for these fellas. While everyone on the team is technically a supervillain by definition, the reality is that even thinking about any of them battling the Avengers or teaming up with Magneto and Ultron to take over the world is laughable because they all come off like a bunch of struggling blue-collar criminals looking to make a quick buck. With so little going right in their lives, it’s a bit exhilarating whenever one of their poorly thought-out plans they finally succeed. And because they’re all such unconscionable jerks, watching them triumph is just as hilarious as watching them inevitably fail.
The most recent issue (#13) finds our funny comical criminals immediately following the theft of a priceless painting of Doctor Doom’s face, as well as fan-favorite Shocker – here portrayed as an utter coward – trying to escape from Hammerhead, another longtime Spider-man villain looking to reclaim the cybernetically-preserved head of his crime boss. Even with a premise that ridiculous, Spencer and Lieber make this premise even more ridiculous and quirky than it sounds and I’m completely okay with that. While the pacing of this particular issue to be a tad slow and the jokes didn’t hit the mark as often as I would have liked, there were still plenty of laughs to go around. I got a particular kick out of Mach VII, a rehabilitated super villain whose only power comes from an incredibly unwieldy winged costume that provides some good physical comedy as he struggles to navigate a simple door. And as always Lieber’s understated art brings so much life to the characters. The final page stinger leaves me salivating for next month’s installment.
Next, we have the final issue of an amazing series, The Auteur #5. A comic that has garnered glowing reviews from four separate Outhousers, The Auteur has nevertheless always had a small if incredibly passionate following which makes its finale all the more tragic. I had no idea that this book would be ending on the fifth issue, so even when all the storylines began wrapping up I thought nothing of it until I saw the final, soul-rending black page with the word “fin” written in uncharacteristically tasteful font. I’m not sure if five issues was always the intention, but even if it wasn’t writer Rick Spears, artist James Callahan, and especially colorist Luigi Anderson have poured their souls into every single panel of this series.
I’m going to go a little in-depth for the final issue so I’m just going to throw out a spoiler warning for the rest of the review. If you want my short and sweet opinion on the book, here it is: The Auteur is a triumph, a disgusting mixture of high ambition and low, low comedy that is ultimately irresistible to anyone who can stomach it. Do yourself a favor and check out the trade when it hits this September.
The Auteur has never been a subtle comic. We knew that from the very first moment that we met producer Nathan T. Rex, hung-over from a mysterious psychedelic drug and so angry with his dive-bombing career that he throws a TV out of his hotel window. And so while the ending was a little obvious in its symbolism, it fit the tone of the previous four issues and gave us a rather interesting final message to chew on.
After begging, scheming, and even inadvertently murdering to complete his horror rom-com mashup movie President’s Day, Rex still seems distraught at the movie premiere after driving away his love, Madam Coconut, after spiking her drink with a spider venom that makes you bleed from your pores (what a charmer). In a last ditch effort to gain her affections, he convinces her to come see his film which she discovers is actually a feature-length declaration of his love to her. “Guys must tell you they love you all the time,” Rex whispers in the crowded theater. “I wanted to show you.” The film ends to the jeers and insults of hundreds of movie critics, all denouncing both the movie and its producer, but Rex and Coconut are too busy passionately kissing to care.
That’s a surprisingly sweet note to finish on when a substantial portion of your comic is comprised of puke and boner jokes. The theme here seems to be that a piece of art that affects just one person in a real, positive way is enough to justify that art’s existence, even if there are hundreds or thousands of others who hate it. And I think that could actually work as an appropriate metaphor for the comic itself. I’m sure there are plenty of people who don’t like The Auteur. Some might even despise it, finding its humor juvenile, its art sickening, and its characters repulsive. But those are the very qualities that I adore about The Auteur. It’s different, it’s uncompromising, and it doesn’t care who the hell knows it. Even if you hate the comic, you have to admit that’s certainly something to admire.