May 18, 2011

,   |  

Groo: Hell on Earth

Written by Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones
Illustrated by Sergio Aragones
Dark Horse

Battle is Groo's business, and business is good--if only he can lead his new army in the right direction. As Groo wanders around in comic ways, his world is slowly changed, as a more modernized setting starts having some very familiar problems. Can Groo's friend the sage convince people to change their ways in time to save the world? Only if Groo can get out of the fray, and that's no easy task. If things don't change soon, there may be hell to pay in Groo: Hell on Earth.

I've been a fan of both Mark Evanier and Sergio Aragones going back quite literally to when I was a child (for Garfield and Mad, respectively). This is the first time these usually strong creators have put together a work that I actually disliked, which was a huge disappointment for me. If I had started with this comic instead of the many other Groo books out there, I don't know that I'd seek out more, which is a real shame

Groo at its best is a sharp satire of both the sword and sorcery genre and of human nature. Evanier has always walked a fine line with this idea, managing to give us his opinion of such things as rich businesses and corrupt politicians while still coming up with concepts that were laugh out loud funny. The jokes were always the primary thing, with social commentary backing up the banter. This allowed any reader to get the jokes, enjoy Aragones' amazing and underrated visuals, and also digest some deeper meaning from seemingly silly comics.

That's not the case this time around, as the narrative unwisely splits between Groo's comic antics and an extremely serious set of lectures by the Sage about the dangers of global warming. The sage's parts have no trace of comedy in them whatsoever, and as a result, Groo's inability to do anything right just looks like a distraction in an otherwise dire documentary.

Unlike prior Groo outings, where the serious met the silly head-on and blended seamlessly, Hell on Earth reads like very thinly veiled political opinion piece that tried to tack on a humor plot to cover the op-ed. Evanier says this wasn't his intention in the afterward, but I'm afraid that's how the comic comes off, at least to me. Much of the story is spent going over climate change issues that are right out of the New York Times science section and the moral of the story is that we have to change our ways now before even worse things happen. I'm not advocating that climate change isn't happening, but I also think Evanier is being disingenuous about saying he's not sure if climate change is real. The idea that we should address it anyway, just in case, feels like a screen to me, one that I don't even understand why he feels necessary to create.

Politics aside, this story just isn't very good. Groo is shunted almost to the side, bursting on the scene like an unwanted drunken friend at a New Year's Party, where they came after going somewhere else first. There are the patented Evanier running gags, but they do little to make the story enjoyable, because sooner rather than later, we're back to the doom and gloom. The characters we meet this time are paper-thin, used only as avatars of good, evil, or talking heads. They lack the depth needed for good satire and seem to exist primarily so that the Sage can talk to them about climate change. I know characters can be lightweight in a comedy, but a lot of these folks in Hell on Earth felt like they were filled with helium, which is a shame.

Despite a weak plot, Aragones' art is still quite strong. The Minstrel gets a different item on his lute almost every frame he appears in, crowd scenes are still deftly decorated, and the expressions on his characters' faces are as good as ever. He's still the master of his craft, and hopefully the next Groo effort will match his strong art with a return to form for Evanier's scripting.

Hell on Earth is just off-kilter, and I think that's because there's so much focus on bringing reality into the picture. Reality and Groo should shake hands, but never hug. This was like watching an after school special, staring Groo and the Sage, with the ultimate lesson being that only children (they're our future!) can save the world. Evanier can do better than that. You can do better by reading other Groo collections. Hell on Earth is a rare miss in an overall strong catalog of comedy.