Thursday, November 09, 2006

Treehouse of Horror #12

Treehouse of Horror #12, 2006, Bongo Entertainment
contributors: Terry Moore, Kyle Baker, Eric Powell, Karen Bates

First of all, let me just say, if The Simpsons can air their Treehouse of Horror special the weekend after Halloween, I can read and review the Bongo Treehouse of Horror special a few weeks later, okay? Further, this issue sustains this week’s dueling themes of kids’ comics (Krypto the Superdog) and Thanksgiving-geared reviews of comics somehow associated with food (Stray Toasters). See, on the cover of this issue, Kodos (or Kang – I can’t really tell them apart) dons a chef’s hat and presents the Simpsons’ heads as meatballs in a plate full of spaghetti. Although none of the stories in this issue actually reflect this cover image, it’s the closest I can come up with in a pinch. Kyle Baker, Terry Moore, and Eric Powell are prominently billed as the key contributors to this special, and rightly so, as these creators are hailed for their distinctive respective artistic integrity. I must confess, I was interested what the Simpsons would look like through each of their lenses . . .

. . . and what I beheld was unexpected. In the first story, “Homer’s Ark” by Terry Moore, a drunken Homer is struck by lightening and receives a message from God to build an ark and preserve life on Earth so He can spray the planet for cockroaches. Of course, like Noah, Homer is criticized for his effort, until the holy spray actually begins to flood Springfield, and the typical mob crash the flying ship with their attempt to jump onboard. Moore’s gags are too random to strike a consistently funny cord, and some of the comedic timing is too strategically paced – i.e. three panels per gag – versus the rapid fire of the TV show’s laugh a minute delivery. For instance, on one page, God transforms a cockroach into a Hershey’s kiss, and when Homer pops the treat into his mouth, a three panel sequence on the following page illustrates God’s changing the candy back into a bug and Homer’s spitting it out. The scene didn’t read right; The Simpsons isn’t Sunday comic strip material. Nor is it effective when it’s drawn like one; Moore’s interpretation of Fox’s faux family deviated from the franchise’s typical look, implementing too much agility and true-form proportion to maintain the integrity of The Simpsons air. I hate to sound so narrow-minded, but I was too distracted to enjoy the story overall. Bongo has gone to such great lengths to preserve the Simpsons’ look in their ongoing titles, I’m surprised even a heavyweight like Moore could stretch the bounds this far. If any other artist, especially an unknown, submitted material like this, would Bongo have embraced it as excitedly?

Kyle Baker’s contribution, “Blood Curse of the Evil Fairies,” is a much more Treehouse of Horror-like tale, simply stretching the bounds of the Simpsons-verse to create a tale of fright and disbelief without completely losing the franchise’s essence. In this story, Bart reinterprets one of Maggie’s storybooks so that Homer captures and unwittingly kills a magical fairy, whose friends soon seek a violent revenge. I chuckled a few times during this tale, particularly when the feisty fairies transformed the Simpsons’ home into a monster house and Marge exclaims, “Homer! The walls are breathing! The floor is throbbing! You’re going to wake the baby!” The tale comes full circle, as Bart reinterpreted the storybook in the first place to avoid Nelson’s taunts, then in the end, Nelson is ironically terrified by the story he inspired. At first glance, Baker’s style could be considered just as incompatible as Moore’s, but a closer look – a steady read – assures that Baker’s source material must have been the first two seasons of the TV series, which, as fans may remember, had a definitely different look and animation style than the dozen plus seasons afterward. The characters are expressive without losing their identities in Baker’s style, and in fact, his generally satiric tone surprisingly fits the end result. The work does seem rushed, as does Moore’s, so I wonder how whole-hearted their efforts for this special were. Still, three stories in three different styles establish an interesting Elseworlds-esque impression, perhaps the kind that the TV show should more strongly consider.

That said, Eric Powell’s story pushes the envelope more so than the other two tales combined. He retains his style, best known from his work on The Goon, while maintaining the Simpsons’ look, and in fact his use of color and shading adds a depth these characters rarely experience, so I’m less critical of the piece’s appearance than its content. Yes, it’s what happens in this story that concerns me, that perhaps should have encouraged the publisher to add a readers’ warning to the cover of the issue. In “Willie: Portrait of a Groundskeeper,” Bart and Millhouse order a chest hair growth hormone from the back of Maximum magazine and then stash the issue before Principal Skinner can catch them. Willie finds the mag and, in the depths of his loneliness, tries to order a mail order bride but apparently dialed the neighboring emu farming ad instead. Innocent and funny enough, but when the emu arrived . . . Willie has sex with it, Homer kills and eats it, then a vengeful Willie kills and eats Marge, before Bart’s chest hair springs to life and chokes his dad’s attacker. Of course, most of the really controversial material occurs off-panel, left up to the readers’ imagination, but when Willie lights a cigarette in bed with his beaked bride and asks, “That’s right, birdy, who’s yer poppa now?” the mind doesn’t have far to leap. I wasn’t really offended by the story, just disturbed by the thought of who else could’ve read it. Powell’s tale conjures thoughts of what a true adults-only Simpsons yarn would be like. Now, that would be scary.

I picked up Treehouse of Horror at Borders earlier tonight, along with another kid-friendly title featuring food on the cover, so we’re definitely building a momentum. After last night’s Stray Toasters experience, I’m trying to add some coherency here. If three stories about a deistic cockroach spray plague, vengeful fairies, and emu-inspired bestiality and cannibalism can’t do the trick, I don’t know what else will.

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