Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Monkeybrain on the Brain: Knuckleheads

When Monkeybrain debuted in July 2012, I took a little time to feature a review on each of the debut titles, which I called "Monkeybrain on the Brain." Now it's home to Eisner winners and creators ranging from Kurt Busiek to Jen and I figured that now would be as good a time as any to revisit the line.

Over the course of November, I'll be featuring different Monkeybrain titles, both new and old. You can find them under the Monkeybrain tag, which includes links back to the ones I did initially.

Written by Brian Winkeler
Illustrated by Robert Wilson IV and Jordan Boyd

Trevor is your typical loser who plays too many video games--and just so happens to have a set of crystal knuckles that give him undetermined power. Paired with a smarter (but powerless) friend, a pizza delivery guy who's probably fired, and a really attractive British woman with a hankering for drink, this group of oddballs have to save the day--if they can.

That's the premise of this cute and quirky series, whose fourth issue is out today. Written in the same vein as Valiant's Quantum and Woody, Knuckleheads ensures you know it's not going to take itself seriously by beginning with a "hero" that's using his powers to steal Netflix and win at video games. It's only when a giant monster takes out the power grid and denies him his gaming time that Trevor kicks into gear, doing a horrendous job of saving the day.

Based on an idea that Winkeler and Wilson IV worked on years ago but weren't able to get traction, this rebooted story (The New Knuckleheads?) is a lot of fun to read. Trevor is a lot like Booster Gold, as written by Giffen and DeMatteis back in the 80s, trying to use his powers to get ahead in life but able to do the right thing when push comes to shove, combined a bit with that pair's take on Guy Gardner's crude demeanor. We're only into the start of the second story, so it's hard to tell how he'll progress, but so far he's an unlikable yet compelling character, the kind that's fun to see get kicked around a bit until he learns better.

The rest of the supporting cast is strong as well. Trevor's roommate, Lance, serves as his conscience, throwing out wisecracks to keep Trevor on the level while still being agog at his abilities. The pizza man, who it literally "the Black Guy" (in a really funny sequence of verbal wordplay) plays the straight man, caught in something he hadn't planned on when bringing the pair their food. Emma, the "hot British chick" is a bit more of a cipher right now, used mostly to make drinking jokes, but she's got an acid tongue and it's nice to see this series isn't going to be just a bunch of guys punching stuff and cracking jokes. (It might be a bunch of guys and a girl punching stuff and cracking jokes instead, which is completely acceptable!)

When reading Knuckleheads, the first thing that will draw your attention are the eyes of the characters. Robert Wilson IV crafts eyes that are wide and piercing, staring either at the action or the reader. He gets a lot of mileage out of them as a result. Their size lets him move their pupils freely, whether to be scared, angry, happy, or any other emotion Wilson needs. From there, he builds out the characters and scenes, using the eyes as a centering point for viewing. For example, in issue four, the three other characters, in a three-panel set, stare at the reader who is looking at them from Trevor's point of view as he disgusts them with his eating habits. Their eyes center on Trevor/reader, really making the slow-burn comedy (which culminates in an animated Trevor running to the bathroom) work.

Overall, Wilson IV's art reminds me of what might happen if Rafer Roberts cut down on the multiple lines he uses to create characters. They share the same rough hew and focus on eyes, but Wilson doesn't have the extra pencils and inks that give Roberts his distinctive look, nor does he veer off into Kirby territory. His characters move and react a bit more like, say, Mike Allred, than a traditional superhero piece. I really like how big and bold all the scenes are--action and reaction are right up in the reader's face. Combined with some amusing design features (Trevor protects his identity by keeping the same clothes he used to hero in but wearing an oven mitt) and strong coloring from Jordan Boyd, this one has visuals that are as strong as the story.

If you want a serious story, Knuckleheads isn't for you. If you enjoy comics that don't take themselves too seriously but have a storyline to back up the jokes, then this is a comic you need to try. Just be careful if you read it in public, because I'm pretty sure you're going to laugh out loud.

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