The Comic Book Club: Superman #700 and Bart Simpson #54

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EVAN: JMS’s story bears out my worst fears about his take on Kal-El. He seems just too slavishly devoted to the idea of Superman as symbol. It’s the Bryan Singer problem: if you come at the symbolism too heavy, it just looks embarrassingly insecure. “Hey, everybody! Look how deep Superman is!”

The problem with this approach is that he’s gotta be a character first and I feel the investment isn’t there yet. This story does too little to put us in Superman’s head as to what drives him to make this decision.

DOUGLAS: Meanwhile, over in Bart Simpson #54, we’re getting an “indie cartoonists” issue, with stories by Peter Kuper, Sergio Aragonés, Evan Dorkin and Carol Lay. Kuper’s story is the most effective one here, I think–Bart’s trip into the machine is obviously a homage to the gizmo in Charlie Chaplin’s Modern Times, but is it me or is the final scene a variation on a bit from Marc Hempel’s Gregory? (That’s a comic I never hear anyone talk about any more!) Or are they both variations on something else?

(More on Techland: Announcing: Techland’s Scott Pilgrim Book Club!)

The Dorkin story is surprisingly bland and unfunny for him, though, and its central gag (video game packages are too hard to open!!!) is Andy Rooney stuff. That Carol Lay piece seems like a premise in search of a functional gag, too.

GRAEME: Bart Simpson was just… odd. The Carol Lay story is about a future chainsmoking Maggie who travels back in time to tell Bart his future? Really? That and the Peter Kuper story just felt off, in a way that the Evan Dorkin and Sergio Aragones stories didn’t. Yeah, I get that the Dorkin story may have felt a little soft compared with some of his usual solo work, but I could see a throughline between, say, Milk and Cheese and this. (The Sergio story was… well, a Sergio story. It didn’t have anything particularly Simpsonsesque about it at all.) While I like the idea of letting “alternative” cartoonists loose on this most mainstream of cartoons, the results were just kind of bland.

DOUGLAS: They’ve done it before a few times, especially in the annual Treehouse of Horror specials. Last year’s was by the Kramers Ergot crew, and was as far over the top as I was hoping this would be. Gilbert Hernandez has done a couple of Simpsons stories, too.

MIKE: I really failed to see the appeal here to anyone of any age or background. This is technically marketed as a children’s title? The first story, where Bart is incapacitated for the majority, came off as a bad trip. Douglas, you know better than I do about references to Chaplin, but if this was an homage it was a love/hate letter to psychedelic drugs.

The one-pager by Sergio immediately transported me back to my childhood where I would read every single inch of any MAD magazine I could get my hands on. Of course, the tiny margin cartoons in that mag were much, much racier than baby Maggie having sandbox adventures. If nothing else, the nostalgia was a nice experience.

Finally, the Comic Book Guy story. This is pure fan service. As the tubby protagonist reenacted various famous pop culture death scenes, I was wondering how many of them would be relevant to a young child? Who is this book for?

DOUGLAS: I suspect the intended audience for Simpsons comics is pretty much the same as the intended audience for the Simpsons TV show–which is to say that it’s meant for adults, but is more or less kid-friendly. And of course the Comic Book Guy preview is fan-service: I don’t think some of it would work on the TV show, but anyone picking this up in a comic book store would be likely to get at least some of the jokes. (And I know I missed some of them.)

MIKE: Didn’t mean to say I didn’t like Comic Book Guy dressing up as a detonating Death Star. Easily my favorite panel of the whole book. Had a very “Be Kind, Rewind” feel to it. What did they call it? Sweding?

EVAN: Like most everybody else, I was disappointed by the Bart Simpson issue, too. I like Peter Kuper’s work a lot but it seemed to be missing the angularity that I usually enjoy. Aragonés always makes me giggle, though, and I thought the manic energy of his line makes a good match for the Simpsons universe.

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