Monday, July 6, 2009

Simpsons Comics - The Radioactive Man “Event” : An Embiggening Review

This past month, Bongo Comics released “The Best Radioactive Man Event Ever!”, a 3-part crossover story in their Simpsons comics designed to mock, well….crossovers and event comics. It did it’s job and convinced me to buy three comics that are normally not on my pull list, but more importantly it delivered on the promised entertainment in a way that most “events” just can’t. Click below for an in-depth look at what happened, and some of my ranting that seeped in while I was writing :

In the first part of this 3-part mini event (Simpsons Comics #155) we see the hype machine kick into high gear in order to boost sales on the sluggish Radioactive Man title. The executives that publish Radioactive Man have a brainstorming session, but all of the ideas have been covered before. To most comic fans, these ideas will sound awfully familiar :

“Why don’t we kill off Radioactive man?” Next to a panel showing Gloria Grand cradling a dead Radioactive Man while his cape blows in the wind on a pole in the background.

“Then how about we just break his back?” Next to a panel showing Radioactive Man being broken over the knee of a muscle-bound, wrestling mask wearing villain.

“How about we change Radioactive Man’s costume?” Next to a panel showing various incarnations of his costume, including an edgy 90s Image-esque version and a blue “energy being” version.

At the end of the meeting, they inevitably run into problem that plagues their real-life counterparts, and it gets summed up rather succinctly : “The problem is with the fans. They want something new all the time…but demand things stay the same!” Get ready rabid fans, if you haven’t noticed yet this book will be harshly making fun of those individuals reading it. Enter Lindsey Naegle, who saves the day by coming up with a brilliant solution that will (hopefully) make the fanboys happy, but more on that later.

During a slow news day, major media (Kent Brockman) picks up the story that changes are coming to the beloved Radioactive Man. This section nicely mirrors the uproar back in 1992 when DC killed Superman and also in 1988 when readers decided to kill the second Robin. In both of these instances, most of the people who were throwing a fit hadn’t picked up a Superman comic in years or still thought that the much loved Dick Grayson was Robin and not the much loathed Jason Todd.

Quickly, as it often does in Springfield, panic ensues. People are infected with Radioactive Man fever and they need to know what the changes will bring. What follows is yet another sharp jab at the “collectors” who believe that they’ll be funding their kid’s Ivy League education by purchasing over-printed, company-hyped “Special Editions” and “First Issue Collector’s Editions”. Speaking as a comic enthusiast, I have no delusions that my collection will be worth anything more than the value of the enjoyable stories contained within the pages. This section of the story addresses those that blindly take the “collecting” aspect of comics a bit too far.

Comic Book Guy, yawning with un-excitement (that’s a perfectly cromulant word, by the way) stands in the backroom of his shop amidst boxes and boxes of unsold event comics with names like Final Crux, Crisis at War, Worlds in Anxiety and Identity Challenge as the mob of collectors swarms his store to purchase multiple copies for hoarding.

In part 2 (Bart Simpson Comics #48) the execs settle in to watch the carnage as everyone is talking about Radioactive Man. In their unbridled state of enthusiasm, the fans demand to know what changes are in store and can’t (won’t) wait for the issue to actually show up on the stands. As in the real world, the fans accuse the publisher of hyping events in order to sell more comics. Correct me if I’m wrong, but isn’t the purpose of a publisher to produce books and sell as many as possible to make a profit? Thought so…moving on. Fanboy frenzy in Springfield reaches its peak and Radioactive man WILL change forever!!!

On to part 3 (Simpsons Super Spectacular #9), the finale that will bring irrevocable changes to Springfield’s beloved hero. But some are skeptical, and to paraphrase Martin Prince’s speech : “ We have to face reality my friends. The law of diminishing returns has set in on the “event” comic…the “event” CAN’T live up to the hype!” How true, Martin. You can look back through the history of comics for many examples of this. Just look back to last summer as the over-hyped Final Crisis and Secret Invasion events failed to live up.

In today’s world of comics there is so much hype everywhere that you can’t help but get pulled in. In-house ads in all of your favorite titles, a constant barrage of online previews and spoiler-filled leaks, posters plastering your local comic shop and fellow fanboys sharing their excitement for their favorite upcoming event all fuel the hype machine. I’m not saying this is all bad, I am personally caught up in Geoff Johns’ summer blockbuster hype-fest that is Blackest Night. If the event delivers, which is now rare, then the hype is justified. Unfortunately you can never really tell until it’s over.


On to the big reveal so I can bring this rant-filled review to a close  What changes to Radioactive man could possibly warrant this level of fanfare? What was Lindsey Naegle’s brilliant idea? Was the hype and purchase of 3 Simpsons comics worth it? Absolutely…uber-fanboys, please stand up and lean forward to receive your slap in the face.

Blank comic books…yup, panels and speech bubbles, but no art or text for $3.99. “You don’t like what we do?” says the publisher…then draw it yourself, jackass! To quote Krusty at the release press conference :

“We’re not kidding! Fans are always complaining whenever we comic book publishers try something new. Nothing we do seems to live up to fans’ preconceived notions. With that in mind, we decided to let each reader be responsible for what they want to read! Look here…you get a logo, ruled panels, empty word balloons and we throw in numbered pages too! Now the reader can just grab a pencil and do the comic in any direction he or she wishes. It’s win-win I think!”

In the end, Bart stands up as a representative of the fans against the publisher by creating his own comic indeed! Radioactive Man versus The Big Fat Nothing. Bart’s comic goes old school and gives fans what they want…fighting, team-ups, bloody fighting, fast cars, and some more fighting.

Kent Brockman, staring straight through the 4th wall, sums up the story’s razor-sharp point : “I suggest to you, sir, that instead of staging tiresome “events” that send mixed messages, you should use your publication for what it was originally intended for…to tell stories.” Bravo Kent. Bra-vo. Although I do personally enjoy event comics for the most part, and most of my collection does fall on the corporate DC Comics side of the fence, I do wish that comics could just go back to focusing on telling good stories that are creative and fresh. Let’s loosen up the continuity shackles a bit and just get back to what comics are supposed to be : a fantastic escape from regular life when it gets dull or depressing or a little too hectic. I enjoy sitting down, opening a comic and escaping for 22 pages at a time.

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