By Al Kratina
October 6, 2006 - 16:06
You have to have a sense of humor if you like comic books. The name of the media itself suggests that if you take them too seriously, you'll spend entirely too much time arguing about whether Superman could beat up the Hulk and not enough remembering to close your mouth when you breath. Sadly, a good sense of humor is not always par for the course, since I think I was supposed to laugh at the new Alpha Flight series, but every once in a while a book hits the right note and strikes a chord in the comics community. Such was the case with Dork Tower, and I hope the same will be true for Famous Fighters.
Famous Fighters consists of a series of short stories, loosely connected by themes of intense nerdiness. Exploring kung fu, Dungeons and Dragons, and all the orc-infested lands in-between, the black and white book comes across like a Demons & Wizards album that’s intentionally funny, instead of sounding like it’s been creeping around Pro-Tools with a battle axe. The stories are not interconnected, but many of the 1-pages stories revolve around Barbarian Lord, a character not unlike Conan the Barbarian if Schwartzenegger spoke better English. With clean, crisp, simple line art, and a sense of humor so dry you can barely tell that writer/artist Matt Smith is kidding and not stupid, the Barbarian Lord stories are the highlight of the book. That's not to say that the rest suffers. It’s just that the Barbarian Lord tales move at a pace similar to those animated 30 Second Bunny shorts and contain poetry about broadswords. The first Barbarian Lord story is followed by a forgettable but diverting story about a boy with a solar eclipse for a head, drawn in a messy style that looks like Calvin and Hobbes having a nightmare. Also, it has robots, or at least a guy in a robot suit. Then comes the artistic highlight of the book, a 14-page story drawn by Matt Smith and written by Tom Pappalardo, which appears to involve the Golden Age Sandman playing Pong with the devil from that Tenacious D video at a midnight crossroads, accompanied by verse. The poetry may be a little juvenile, using the word ‘bum’ entirely too often (once) for my sophisticated taste, but the art evokes medieval etchings and is quite striking. Then there’s some more Barbarian Lord, a Sergio Leone-inspired short that features the undeniable stink of Fubar around it, a few more appearances by Barbarian Lord that start too feel a little bit too much like a Strongbad internet short, then a lengthy, semi-coherent King Fu parody that manages to make about as much sense as most Shaw Brothers movies. The book ends with an all-too-brief Shawn of the Dead meets Heavy Metal Parking Lot zombie story before coming to an end after an all too quick 52 pages. The book is hilarious, but in a very strange way, relaying on an odd mix of subtlety and insanity to get its laughs.
There’s already a lot on the market that taps into this particular nerd-comedy niche, what with Knights of the Dinner Table, PvP, and the aforementioned Dork Tower, and while the strangely-textured humor of Famous Fighters may not be broad enough to break through to the mainstream, it certainly has its own cohesive sense of style, and one that certainly appeals to my particular sense of humor. The differing artistic styles evident in the book help keep things varied, while the uniform comedic style help glue the book together. It may not be as funny as Alpha Flight, but that’s a really, really good thing.
RATING: 8 out of 10