December 21, 2010

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The Adventures of Unemployed Man

Written by Erich Origen and Gan Golan
Illustrated by Various Artists, including Ramona Fradon and Rick Veitch
Hachette

There's economic despair in the air, but the Just Us League will keep things running with business as usual and their spokesman, Ultimatum. He'll dole out words of wisdom to those who need it, if only they'll listen.

But when happens when Ultimatum finds himself on the wrong end of the firing line? Soon stripped of everything by various villains of credit, Ultimatum must turn to those heroes who never gave up on the common man. Filled with a new name (the Unemployed Man) and a new purpose, our hero will go up against the power structure. Can the might of the many defeat the Invisible Hand before the nefarious scheme of the Just Us League ruins life for everyone outside of the top 1% of Americans?

This is the premise of The Adventures of Unemployed Man, a story withe satirical subtlety of a sledgehammer. This is a premise by two people who are extremely angry with the way the world works, and they use admittedly well-imagined comic book creations to explain exactly what they don't like about the economic status in this country. There's no way you can miss the arguments being shown in this book, from their distaste with corporate operations to what they feel is an ineffectual Obama administration to the idea that a small group of people are getting very wealthy at the expense of the rest of us.

The argument is as plain as a wall painted white, without any nuance or attempt at balance. The corporate overlords are all evil. The common man takes no share of the blame. Everything should be available to all, without any worry about who pays for it. Repair the social safety net is a great idea, but like the duct tape used in the story to do it, any attempt to do it without giving hard looks at how to pay for it are going to fail in the end. There's just no layer of depth to this book, and while I realize it's a satire, if you are going to tread into the dangerous waters of economic peril, then you need to be ready to give a complete picture. This book is about as fair reading something by Bill O'Reilly or Michael Moore. As a person who feels it is far more complicated than either the right or left wings will tell you, I could laugh at the jokes and yet also feel rather unsatisfied at the same time.

What I was not unsatisfied with was the art. Ramon Fradon and Rick Veitch knock this one out of the park. Asked to do one part comic book homage and one part caricature of real life political figures, both artists do an amazing job of fitting the two together. While there are other artists working on this book in short bursts, Fradon and Veitch carry the load and kept me reading even when I got annoyed with the script. Fradon's Hulk-like White Rage and Veitch's Obama-as-Kirby-creation are the highlights here, but all of their other figures are good meshes between their political point and the superhero (or villain) we're meant to recall. With all due respect, Fradon is getting on a bit in years, but she still tuns in good work. As a master of style pastiches, Veitch is right in his wheelhouse here, and it shows. I give a nod to whoever asked these two to work on this book, because they were excellent choices.

I was also impressed that, thanks to outlines by Golan, I did not feel thrown from the story as the pencilers and inkers changed hands. There's a consistency here that I wish was shared by other modern comics that have several artists working on them. (DC in particular could use this as a model for how to incorporate many hands into a whole that feels whole.)

Despite my general dislike of the overall theme and the way in which the book almost literally hammers you in the face with its anti-corporate message (I can easily see this book coming alive ala a Looney Tunes short and hitting me with a big stick and tiny little animated hands), there were some things I liked about the options chosen by Origen and Golan. White Rage, bombarded by Fox News Rays, was clever. I laughed out loud when I got to a joke about Obama's staff having "Clintonite", but then the effect was ruined by needless additional comments. Super Lotto's section was so true it hurt to read, especially if you've ever lived in neighborhoods with a high level of people just barely making it from day today.

The trouble is that in every single instance, the writers push the point too far. We don't need page after page of the same idea. This would have worked much better if about half of the lines were removed or if there was more of a balance between the two sides. Without going too far into the political side of things, Origen and Golan don't ever stop to think about how the common man plays into this power struggle rather willingly, which is an important part of the picture.

Overall, Adventures of Unemployed Man is stunning visually and probably worth the read just to see how well the Fradon-Veitch team does with a script that's sadly too hard on its subject to really be enjoyable. By page 50, you'll be ready to say "enough!" which is not what most people are looking for in a parody. I know this book got a lot of positive reviews in the mainstream press, but I found it lacking the subtlety I require in a satire. If you can't be at least partially taken seriously, you're doing it wrong. Clever as this one may be in a lot of areas, the sum is just not as good as its parts. I'd leave this one at the level of library read only.