The Webcomic Overlook #171: Blue Milk Special
Oftentimes, Star Wars brings out the best out in people. Say what you will about Seth MacFarlane, but the guy seemed to be at his peak when he was doing Star Wars parodies on both Family Guy and Robot Chicken. Weird Al charmed millions of his fans with “The Saga Begins” … which was notably based on internet rumors and speculations about Episode One, not the official script. Turning back the clock, I remember totally marking out when Mark Hamill and C3PO showed up on Pigs in Space. And that Star Wars episode of Muppet Babies? Nothing but pleasant childhood memories.
Lucas may be something of a hack, but you have to give George Lucas credit for creating characters and scenarios that stay in that warm-and-fuzzy parts of your nostalgia forever. I think even Harry S. Plinkett would even agree to that. Star Wars was a little nerdy, but it was never as nerdy as the staid-by-comparison Star Trek. Epic and sometimes dark moments were balanced out by fun, creative touches. The movies imprinted both the iconically evil look of Darth Vader and the whimsical muppetry of Yoda into our fertile mental consciousnesses.
Star Wars humor is a natural fit for webcomics, too, with both Irregular Webcomic (featuring a long-running Star Wars parody) and Darth & Droids getting high marks from this site. We also have Blue Milk Special, Rod and Leanne Hannah’s own comedic twist on Star Wars.
Let’s take a look, shall we?
Blue Milk Special is a comedic retelling of the original Star Wars trilogy … or episodes IV through VI for you kids out there. The key difference (and main source of jokes) is that all the characters act like horny teenagers… even the old people! Wait… I mean especially the old people. The comic gets its name from the first strip, where Aunt Beru gets a Blue Milk Special from the milkman. Wink wink, nudge nudge.
It will prove to be a template for the sort of humor you’ll find in this comic: crass humor that’s only a shade away from fart jokes. You know that scene where Luke sees a hologram of Leia? He’s told it’s a porn clip. Later, we get a nice parallel scene where Luke happens upon his dad’s porno mags.
The humor can be described as adolescent at best … scratch that. Even teens have higher standards in their dirty jokes. It’s very pre-adolescent humor, where saying “porn” or having the characters swear is funny enough. For example, C3PO. He’s such a prim and proper character in the movies, but, hold on a moment, what if he totally acted like a stuck-up cheerleader? Like if he called someone a “whiny bitch”? Hilarity! Or maybe have him make an ebonics joke … because it’s apparently 1993 still!
This means we get scenes like also Kenny Baker breaking the fourth wall and flipping off C3PO from inside the R2D2 suit. Or a punchline where Vader says, “You want to play tough? Fetch Jar Jar and the ball gag!“. Yes, I know that Mel Brooks basically does the same thing in Spaceballs, but to be honest it was probably the most unnecessary (and least funny) part of the film.
Blue Milk Special’s biggest mistake is mistaking “beating the joke to death” for a “running gag.” I think one of the most tiresome gags is how Princess Leia is totally into Twitter. Becuase kids and their technology! Or when Chewbacca talks perfect English, which undermines the far more fertile humor possibilities inherent in Shyriiwook. Is having Chewie say “wacky” profane things like, “We have three Imperial cruisers on our ass!” that much funnier than “Arrrrroooooooo!”? I contend it is not! Ladies and gentlemen of this supposed jury, it does not make sense! If Chewbacca is funnier in Shyriiwook, you must acquit! The defense rests.
I’m a little torn on Blue Milk Special‘s depiction of Darth Vader. They decided to undermine the movie’s portrayal as a frightening intergalactic Grim Reaper and turned him into a boring, disinterested whiner. (Like pretty much how Lucas portrayed Vader in the prequel trilogy. Hey-Yo!) I thought that Leanne Hannah’s artwork does a decent job of making the eyes on Vader’s mask appear wide-eyed and dewy, turning it from an emotionless skull into something that looks like a big kid. However, ever Vader joke in this comic boils down to a coffee joke. Like he’s always carrying a mug around and sipping out of it. Coffee, coffee, coffee.
OK, soooo… if you really wanted coffee jokes, why give them to Darth Vader? I mean, I get it. Vader drinking coffee? Hilarious, right? But, like I said, this comic beats every joke to death, and this is no exception. It’s a joke that has a freshness date of one strip, tops. Here, it’s immediately and inappropriately tagged as a beloved character trait.
Also a trait: using cute malapropisms like “forciness,” which … ugh.
Paradoxically, Vader’s childishly innocent face turns out to be far more expressive than that of any other character in Blue Milk Special. Characters are typically depicted in a standard vertical stance with a choice of two facial expressions: a blank, unemotive face and a blank, unemotive face with bug eyes.
It’s pretty disappointing since the art for Blue Milk Special is not bad. I guess some of the credit has to go to the fairly large team of 3D modelers who contributed to the excellent renditions of the various starships. The Hannah’s aren’t slouches either though, and generally I did Leanne’s character designs and Rod’s compositions. However, this is a comedy comic. Given that almost every Blue Milk Special strip ends with a character reeling from some sort of zinger, it would benefit from a cartoonier and less rigid style beyond beady eyes and drawing over those beady eyes by drawing larger ones using the Photoshop ellipse function.
And yet, while I didn’t find much of the jokes surrounding A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back to be very funny, I thought the Hannah’s managed to strike a rarely tapped vein of Star Wars humor: the Star Wars Expanded Universe. Perhaps the movie-based jokes felt stale because they rehashed the same tired jokes that have already been told over Star Wars’ almost 35 year history. There are new things to joke about in the EU. Admiral Daala, the really terrible Mary Sue who debuted in Kevin J. Anderson’s Jedi Search book, shows up to make whoopee with Tarkin. (Incidentally, Jedi Search was the only Star Wars EU book I ever bought. Reading it made realize that, despite numerous recommendations from my college buddies, there was no way I was getting into the EU … EVER.) Grand Moff Tarkin’s wife, who debuted in the nearly forgotten newspaper strips, also drops by. There’s even an appearance by Bea Arthur herself! There’s an admiral devotion to craft the Blue Milk Special world after how Star Wars was originally conceived, even throwing in the fat Irishman version of Jabba the Hutt.
That doesn’t mean that these new characters don’t end up being the butt of unfunny crap like everyone else … but still, I do appreciate the effort.
In fact, the EU is the reason I bumped Blue Milk Special up from the Rancor pits of the 2-star ratings to the 3-stars of the Kessel spice mines. Rather than jumping into Empire Strikes Back straight from A New Hope, the Hannahs engage in an embarrassment of EU chicanery. I mean that in a good way. First, they spoof the Star Wars Holiday Special. Rather than shooting fish in the barrel (really, what self-respecting Star Wars fan hasn’t made fun of the Holiday Special already), they spend quite a bit of time mocking one of the more untouchable segments: the animated debut appearance of Boba Fett.
Then they move on to what I think is the best arc in Blue Milk Special thus far: the 1978 novel Alan Dean Foster novelization, Splinter of the Mind’s Eye. While I haven’t read the book or comic adaptation, it is fairly infamous for Luke and Leia having the hots for each other. (Lucas hadn’t conceived of Luke and Leia being twins yet, so technically it wasn’t incest.) It was also the planned Star Wars sequel if the first movie wasn’t a success; the universe depicted in Splinter is smaller, i.e. budget conscious. There’s a lot of weird stuff surrounding Splinter of the Mind’s Eye … and, for the most part, the Hannah’s deliver.
Earlier strips, as you’ve noticed, primarily dealt with tediously saddling each character with a silly gimmick and hoping the result was comedy. With the Splinter arc, the joke is that the source material is inherently hilarious. There’s some ridiculous stuff about looking for a crystal that harnessed the Force. There’s some commentary on the comic creator’s propensity for treating Leia like cheesecake. There’s the only time I thought he bug-eyed aesthetic was actually kinda funny. And there’s the strip which, for the first time, actually got me to laugh about Blue Milk Special: a heavy Imperial officer impossibly leaping in the air and jump-kicking Leia.
In other words, every joke actually felt like a Star Wars joke. Not repurposed Adam @ Home jokes. Star Wars jokes. Unlike Darth Vader being a coffee buff or Leia being a Twitter fanatic, they’re gags that felt unforced, somewhat clever, and completely natural. As a bonus, the blog posts about the Hannah’s inspiration are genuinely interesting, and you can see that care they took with matching panels in their webcomic to the scenes as portrayed in the book and in the Dark Horse comic adaptation.
Which means that while the Empire Strikes Back arc looks to be falling back on the same tired gags from The New Hope arc, a part of me is still looking forward to how the Hannahs handle Shadow of the Empire.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Posted on June 20, 2011, in 3 Stars, comedy webcomic, pop culture caricatures, sci-fi webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Star Wars. Bookmark the permalink. 8 Comments.