Pop Culture Gadabout
Saturday, June 30, 2007
      ( 6/30/2007 07:01:00 AM ) Bill S.  

"I'M GONNA GET MY NOOGS TOGETHER!" – Every once in a while, going over the new releases wall at ye local comics shoppe, you come across a surprise. This week, for instance, I saw and bought a "new" copy of a reissue that (it sez here) originally was published back in 2003: Steve Gerber & Gene Colan's Stewart the Ran. Originally published by the now-defunct Eclipse Comics back in 1980, the B-&-W comic was the team's attempt at coming up with a more "adult" (cf. there's swearing and ya get to see some nipples) variation on their funny animal satire Howard the Duck. Reading the 48-page work for the first time in over two decades, it's obvious why Stewart never made it past his first appearance.

Simply put, this is one sour comic. As a comic book satirist, Gerber has never exactly been Mister Subtle – his sledgehammer writing is more attitude than analysis – but with Howard, both writer and artist were able to play off the contrast between the curmudgeonly world view of their anatidae protagonist and his innocently cartoonish appearance. Turns out this contrast helped to alleviate Gerber's misanthropic tendencies: making your hero an ungainly rat shifts the focus in ways that work against both the satire and the story. I never, for instance, bought the ease with which Stewart's two primary human companions, lady rancher Rose and her Hollywood screenwriter daughter Sonja, accepted the "parahuman" rodent Stewart into their world. Hello, the guy’s a big rat!

As for Gerber's satiric targets: some of the material (e.g., a disco zombie) wasn't exactly fresh when Eclipse was still a working comics company, while a smirky creation called the Drug Fairy is just as thuddingly obvious as you'd expect it to be. ("Hetero backlash!" the creature shouts after Stewart calls him "Tinkerballs.") The story's primary villain, a smarmy self-help guru named Wayne Fossick, still holds up, primarily because the character's blend of incomprehensible psychobabble more than once echoes the precepts of Scientology.

Colan's art (inked by one of his most sympathetic collaborators, Tom Palmer) is always fun to look at, though, here too, he brings an extra dose of grimness to the proceedings. Still, I was amused to see several waist high nekkid shots of Fossick's zombies in the middle of the story. With their desiccated faces on top of still-nubile bodies, they came across even funnier to me in the wake of the recent controversy over Marvel Comics' Mary Jane Parker zombie cover. Too bad Gerber does nuthin' with 'em – would've been a treat to see these creatures shambling down Hollywood Boulevard . . .
# |

Pop cultural criticism - plus the occasional egocentric socio/political commentary by Bill Sherman (popculturegadabout AT yahoo.com).

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