One Punch Reviews #37: American Barbarian
When I first got into comics in the early 1990’s, everyone in the comic book press seemed to be overly worshipful of one Jack Kirby. I couldn’t understand it. Kirby’s art looked out of date and cheesy. He always used some, to my mind, pretty off-putting poses. Like where a dude’s mouth goes wide open like a frog’s. Or where a guy’s stretched out arm looked flat and badly proportioned. And the colors were just so loud and garish.
It took some growing up to finally understand why Kirby’s so revered. It’s because his artwork is so dynamic. A guy throwing a punch becomes a work of art. Plus you gotta love how he made the grotesque come to life. I appreciate his style more nowadays, especially since everything in superhero comics seems to be photoreference this, photoreference that.
Do you know who else admires Jack Kirby? Tom Scioli, creator of American Barbarian. Sure, it’s a goofy title that makes it sound like the latest webcomic thing of mashing together two unlike things and making a comic about it (Thanks a lot, Dr. McNinja). And, yes, there are a whole lot of goofy touches like a giant villain who dresses like a pharaoh and has tanks for feet. But when you think about it, would an American Barbarian seem out of place next to a Grim Reaper who wears skis or Mad-Hole, Country of the Screamers?
Set in an uncanny, apocalyptic future where men have red, white, and blue beards, American Barbarian begins when seven brothers engage in an ancient ceremony. They pull at at a tangle of swords, and the sword they remove represents their role in their generation. Rick, the youngest, pulls the hardest, and he manages to take the entire tangle for himself. Rick’s father takes this as a good sign and shows Rick his true destiny: the Star Sword.
Rick’s mettle is put to the test when Two-Tank Omen, an invader with tank-feet, arrives with his horde. (His arrival has been foretold on the lower part of several pages.) Rick’s brothers had previously grown jealous of Rick’s technicolor dream-beard, and they’d locked him in the family cellar just as the Omen’s horde attacks. Rick can only watch with a growing panic as his father and brothers valiantly defend the castle. Rick manages to escape, but it is too late: Omen’s horde has slaughtered Rick’s entire family. Now Rick must use his cunning as well as his strength. He needs to figure out how to gain Two-Tank Omen’s trust, and then get the revenge he so desires.
The Kirby-style art isn’t just a gimmick. It brings an innocent sense of fun to the entire comic. We’re treated to enjoyable cutaways following Rick’s progress through a mobile battle fortress. And dare I say that the aesthetic is incredibly mesmerizing? It makes you want to know more about this strange new world, no matter how goofy the premise is. That’s why some of the best gags happen when Scioli purposely yanks you out of his comic and into reality. For example, there’s a moment where Rick, after seeing his dead family, scratches “Revenge!!!” on his fingers. The next page changes art style to something more “dramatic”: a watercolor of Rick staring at his hands with shock in his eyes. And then, at it’s most dramatic … we suddenly get a photographed pair of hands with the letters of “Revenge!!!” scrawled in marker. It a great “Gotcha!” moment, reminding you that you’re still reading a humor comic.
Unlike a lot of mash-up-title comics, Scioli seems to take his premise with just the right measure of seriousness to keep the ongoing storyline intriguing. As a result, American Barbarian succeeds as a humor comic, an adventure comic, and yes, a Jack Kirby tribute. I like to think Jack Kirby is smiling down from heaven, in between meeting Reed Richards and tossing off the occasional sketch.
Final Grade: 5 stars (out of 5).
Posted on November 23, 2010, in 5 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, barbarian webcomic, comedy webcomic, One Punch Reviews, sci-fi webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, webcomics and tagged American Barbarian. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.