Wednesday, May 23, 2007

Megaton Man #6

Megaton Man #6, October 1985, Kitchen Sink Press
author: Donald Simpson
colorists: Ray Fehrenbach, Bill Poplaski, Pete Poplaski
editor: Dave Schreiner
publisher: Denis Kitchen

Like many readers my age, I assume, I first met Megaton Man in The Savage Dragon vs. Megaton Man #1, the strangely entertaining issue that bridged the anticipation-ridden gap between Erik Larsen's The Savage Dragon mini- and ongoing series. That issue, which, according to its authors, spent most of its time in the mail between Larsen's and Simpson's homes during pre-production, was a peculiar crossover of two characters' universes, but more poignantly was the collision and culmination of past and (then) present creator-driven comics. At the time, as a wide-eyed thirteen-year-old fanboy, I thought that the Image-conscious Larsen was giving Simpson some ink, and though that may have been true sales-wise, I now see that the Dragon was truly capitalizing from Megaton's clout as an independent comics icon, just as Cerebus offered Spawn in the early days of McFarlane's series. That issue was a proverbial cap on those secondary, black and white titles of the '80s, like the Eclipse, COMICO, and Pacific Comics types, to usher in a new era of glossy Baxter papered, multi-cover holo-foiled funnybooks, with nothing really funny about them. For a rather silly book, The Savage Dragon vs. Megaton Man #1 meant something deadly serious was happening in the comic book industry.

Fortunately, the foundation was firmly laid by Simpson and his peers from the ambitious Reagan years, and among the many independent comics I've read from the '80s, Megaton Man #6 was one of the most compelling and entertaining. See, though Megaton Man impresses as a Superman spoof by way of the Tick, his antics and adventures predate both concepts; Simpson was telling legitimate comic book stories with a Mad Magazine sensibility, and though his concepts have a tongue-in-cheek, satirical element to them, his delivery is enthusiastically sincere, mired in the dynamics any action-packed comic uses to engage its audience. In this issue, Megaton Man explores his origins (and though I purchased this issue randomly, it was a perfect jump-on point), which include innuendos from both Superman's and Captain America's beginnings. Rocketed to Earth, raised by a kindly farm couple, then affiliated and facilitated by a secret branch in the Pentagon to maintain his secret identity, Megaton Man battles a slew of macabre bad guys (one of them dubbed "Bad Guy") but most importantly himself, as the negative press fabricated by the government to conceal his heroic deeds warp his self-image. "Who am I?" MM muses at the end of this issue. "I don't know," I'd reply, "but I'd love to find out."

My favorite part of this issue is when a potato sack dummy decoy of Megaton Man is mistaken for his secret identity, then presumed dead when impaled by a missile. When the dummy's coffin is misplaced in transit, ends up in a swamp, and is affected by a coveted foliage formula, it becomes alive, though zombie-like, akin to any Bizarro or evil clone storyline ever penned. I'm genuinely interested in the fate of that dummified doppelganger -- Simpson's script is that engaging, his characters that compelling!

Don Simpson should also be commended for his art, which is certainly unique. His synthesis of Kirby and Crumb was an odd blend of self-styled satire, asserting genuine energy with a cartoon-like sense of consequence. Megaton Man is so top heavy that his invulnerability is a given, though it's also treated like the Wiley Coyote's, exhibited in situations that would never withstand the real world yearnings of mainstream superhero comics. Still, rest assured, Megaton Man isn't as macabre or surreal as the Tick; Simpson's writing creates a true sense of wonder and intrigue, while the Tick was really nothing more than a glorified Sunday morning comic strip. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

Based on this issue, Megaton Man is definitely a series I'd revisit, if only to inspect the foundation of many of the comics I've admired since Simpson's initial run. I know Megaton Man has resurfaced since the '80s, notably as a back-up feature in the Savage Dragon's ongoing series, but nothing could recreate this inaugural experience, when readers simply couldn't anticipate what they were getting into with every installment. Truly, when guys like Simpson put pen to paper, just like the cover of this issue implies, their ideas were as large as their heroes. I can see why Megaton Man was published by Kitchen Sink; Simpson threw in everything but.

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