Sunday, September 17, 2006

Simpsons Comics #121

Simpsons Comics #121, Bongo Entertainment
writer: Ian Boothby
penciller: Phil Ortiz
inker: Mike DeCarlo
colorist: Art Villanuzia
letterer: Karen Bates
editor: Bill Morrison

When I was perusing the comic book rack at Borders earlier today, I was inspired to read the available issue of Simpsons Comics, in part to celebrate last week’s season premiere. Over the past few years, new seasons of The Simpsons have begun with their highly anticipated Halloween episode, and in recent memory, said special has aired on the Sunday following the harrowing holiday. This year, Fox not only beat the deadline, but they’re gaining a little momentum until then, which should be commended. Unfortunately, since I’m but one man with a few humble blogs in the door of pop culture, a comic book review is all I can offer. I think that’s more than enough.

I’ve been a Simpsons fan since their debut on The Tracy Ullman Show. I was seven years old, and like many others in my generation, I vaguely remember watching their poorly animated shorts on the obscure sketch comedy show, never suspecting that we were on the ground floor of a worldwide phenomenon. Just a few years later, “eat my shorts” became our country’s unofficial motto, and perhaps our unspoken communal mentality, as well. As much as I can reference and quote those first few magical seasons’ worth of hilarious episodes, when the series reached its teens, I became disconnected with its juggernaut mythology. Many episodes were simply sheer parody of themselves, which in my opinion is a convenient scapegoat for franchises that don’t need new ideas to maintain stability (over validity) in the spotlight of global entertainment. Here’s my personal gauge for Simpsons’ success: the higher Homer’s voice gets, the less thought went into their adventure. His buffoonish whining was a rare treat in those first few seasons, whereas his oafish self-confidence was the real comedic cause of his family’s peculiar predicaments. Remember one of my favorite episodes, in which Homer decides to ditch church every Sunday morning? “Everybody’s stupid but me,” he mused, then he fell asleep and an ash from his cigar lit the stack of porno by the couch, and consequently the entire house, on fire. That’s hilarious. Now, watching the Simpson propel themselves thoughtlessly through a secured primetime slot year after year, I wonder if Homer’s right.

That said, this issue of Simpsons Comics pleasantly surprised me. As a Simpsons story, it fit the formula: Homer has a problem, rallies the town behind him, and gets his way, which results in a near cataclysmic social breakdown, until Lisa devises a way to save the day. In this case, Homer tries to abolish daylight savings time. In an attempt to please the mob, Mayor Quimby foolishly declares that Springfield residents can set their clocks as they please; Lisa hopes that the townsfolk overlook the oversight, but before she can even complete the thought, Bart posts the opportunity on his blog, and everybody reads Bart’s blog. Soon, Barney is resetting his watch trapping Moe in a perpetual Happy Hour, the Flanders all but chain Reverend Lovejoy to the pulpit for perpetual church, and the class hamster looks like it’s ready to burst as students continually reset the clock so they have a turn during feeding time. When threatened by Big Solar, Big Tobacco’s old college chum, to repeal the law, Quimby reveals that he has used all of his annual repeals, until Lisa proposes that Quimby reset his clock to the hour before passing the haphazard law, so he can never pass it in the first place. Like every good Simpsons adventure, despite the calamity, in the end, every thing goes back to the way it was. The stage is set for next week, er, month’s chaos.

I’ve rarely laughed out loud when reading a comic book, so I declare that Simpsons Comics is a rare read, because I laughed aloud several times, which in a Borders, is undoubtedly disturbing to behold. Nevertheless, the writers and artists of Simpsons Comics, and its Bongo spin-offs, must have a gag-per-panel policy; if I wasn’t laughing at something I was reading, I was laughing at something I was seeing, thanks to the artists’ ability to sprinkle visual gags during those dry plot propelling moments. For instance, when Homer is lamenting about daylight savings time at work, radioactive ooze drips onto the doughnuts behind him. While the Comic Book Guy reads Bart’s blog, a poster behind his counter depicts Radioactive Man punching out Santa Claus, with the bold title, “Infinite Christmas Crisis!” Just the sight of Barney at the bar with a laptop is chuckle worthy. The creators are well aware of Springfield’s quirks, and they exploit them with hilarious results.

Some punchlines of note. When Bart recommends that Homer lash out to solve his problems:

HOMER: Lash out, eh? Marge, where do we keep the crossbow?
MARGE: I threw it out after the last time you took Bart’s advice!

When Jimbo sets his watch forward so he’s old enough to buy beer at the Quickie Mart:

APU: No! I may be many things, but never let it be said that Apu would allow such poison to be sold to an under-aged child. Your body is a temple! May I interest you instead in some giant sugar filled pixie sticks?

When newsman Kent Brockman chastises the newspaper boy on his “extra extra” delivery, the boy retorts, “Do I tell you how to do your job, Uncle Kent?” Hilarious. These are just a few examples of how this issue secures a smile from its readers before Lisa predictably saves the day. Is it obvious that I liked this issue?

Simpsons Comics presents an opportunity to analyze the phenomenon of TV show inspired titles, but honestly, I’d like to reserve that review for when I (hopefully) get my hands on an old issue of Marvel’s The A-Team. An old Monkees or Get Smart issue would rock, as well. Stay tuned.

Back to the Simpsons. Don’t get me wrong, now. I watched last week’s season premiere, and in preparation of this review, I watched tonight’s episode about Bart’s uncanny drum playing ability. Both episodes were funny, and I wasn’t disappointed in my half hour investments, but I can sense a desperation on the storytellers’ behalf: “Give us a break. There’s only so much we can do!” Many recent episodes depend on the legacy and popularity of past episodes for assured laughs, if only from a comfortably familiar mentality. Tonight, for instance, the Simpsons’ adventure began with the death of Homer’s “Vegas wife” from his and Flanders’ wild night in Sin City some seasons ago, a beloved tale to many Simpsons fans. Also, the White Stripes’ cameo was worth a smirk but ultimately unnecessary from even a comedic standpoint; yet, without these consistent celebrity cameos, I wonder if the Simpsons would be pop-culturally relevant anymore. At least diehard fans have a place of refuge when they long for their first family’s simpler times. It’s no surprise that it’s Simpson Comics. After all, Matt Groening began his career with the crude comic strip From Hell. Well, Simpsons Comics definitely are not.

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