The Webcomic Overlook #172: The Paul Reveres
On June 4, 1942, American and Japanese forces met at a small spot in the Pacific Ocean close to Midway Island. The Japanese were planning on a sneak attack, even going so far as invading Alaska’s Aleutian Islands as a diversion, but codebreakers on the US side figured out Japan’s plan to take over the little island to extend their defense perimeter.
The two carrier fleets exchanged blows for three days, clashing in the air and on the seas. Torpedo bombers from both sides tried to break enemy perimeters to sink the other side’s ships. The tide turned, though, when Admiral Chester W. Nimitz whipped out his Gibson Les Paul and broke out a guitar solo so devastating that four Japanese carriers spontaneously exploded from the sheer awesomeness.
The battle was lost, and subsequently the remaining Japanese fleet retreated. Historians compare this moment to Gettysburg, when Winfield Scott Hancock of the Union Crew owned George “Charge” Pickett in a devastating rap battle.
OK, so that never happened. Historians have always glossed over the impact of guitars, drums, and keyboards in warfare. Never fear, though, fans of military history/pop music mashups. Tina Pratt’s The Paul Reveres exists, where the American Revolution if fought through music… and for some weird reason, I have a feeling that there’s standing bet on the internet somewhere to see who can make the most adorable interpretation of the War of Independence.
Way back when I reviewed The Dreamer, I mentioned that the Revolutionary War was “the sexiest war ever fought.” How else to describe a war where everyone wore frilly shirts, crisp military uniforms, and fancy wigs? What you probably didn’t know was that it was also the most kawaii. I guess that’s to be expected in our post-Scott Pilgrim world. In The Paul Reveres, the characters all look like super-deformed anime characters with big dewy eyes, blush-prone complexions, and lips that can go from really huge to tiny, pouty fish lips.
Googling The Paul Reveres returns this description: “A webcomic about the American Revolution imagined as the ultimate battle of the bands with punk rock and awesome hair.” I’ve got to admit, it’s the sort of description that gets the imagination going. How is Ms. Pratt going to handle this? Is the Revolutionary War going to be contextualized in a modern setting, like that funny WWII chatlog that’s been floating around the internet for some time? That would be pretty sweet!
Or, I don’t know, a battle of the bands set in high school, only with the bands dressed up in Colonial garb like The Who did way back in the late 60’s?
Oooh! Better yet … maybe it’s about a little horsey named Paul Revere, riding across the land, kicking up sand, with the Sheriff’s posse on his tail because he’s in demand.
Well… while I can’t say that the world of The Paul Reveres is unimaginative, it is a little confusing.
Our main character is Paul, frontman for the band called The Paul Reveres. It consists of a womanizer, an obese drummer, and a flaming homosexual. Being that they’re the comic relief characters, that’s pretty much the depth of their character traits. The obese drummer stores pies in his drum, and the freckled dude dry humps Paul every chance he gets.
You might imagine that Paul has much in common with the silversmith and part-time dentist who rode to the street to warn everyone of the the incoming British forces. Well… he does have the same name, and he does do the ride. Beyond that, though, he doesn’t strike me as the heroic type. In fact, he something of a weepy crybaby.
It’s not unheard to make a hero a little whiny, since it fits in with the first stage of the Campbellian hero’s journey. The unwilling, frightened protagonist is satisfied with his everyday life when, suddenly, he gets reluctantly sucked into a call to adventure. Some grouchiness is to be expected. Usually, though, there’s some sort of sign that our hero has qualities that make him destined for greatness. Paul is too comically cowardly, too soft, and too whiny. So when he, all of the sudden, takes initiative and steals the stage from the British punk bands, it doesn’t seem like a natural extension of his character at hall. He is equally unbelievable as both a military war hero or the leader of a rock band.
Not that it matters, because the reasons that Paul is fighting for is pretty confusing. A lot of it has to do with the universe that Ms. Pratt created. It’s nominally comedic, but making absolutely no sense at all. The world of The Paul Reveres is basically colonial America, only instead of muskets, everyone has guitars. Conflicts are solved through impromptu concerts, with small bands from the American and British sides duking it out on stage. It’s a cute concept, but it doesn’t really work. Are these concerts stage to sway public opinion of whose music is superior? What does this have to do with independence? And yes, despite replacing guns with guitars and featuring officers with mohawks, shaved heads, and multiple piercings, the British are still shown to have a military presence in Massachusetts.
It only gets more confusing and nonsensical as the story goes on. At one point in the story, Paul and his comrades take a small boat past a small fleet of British ships. We’re told on one page that the British have the best navy in the world. Alright, that makes sense why the group is shivering in fear as they pass by. But on the next page we’re told that the Somerset is a floating concert hall.
Wait. So what are they afraid of? That the British are going to challenge them to an impromptu rock duel? The Paul Reveres shows that there aren’t any real life-or-death consequences in these “conflicts.” You rock out. The crowd cheers for the winner, sometimes with their underwear. The losers go home pretty much unscathed.
So is Paul worried about losing the love and adoration of rock fans? Maybe he’s mad that he’s not getting as much tail as Benedict Arnold, his rival who looks like a white-haired Sonic the Hedgehog. (Oh, why must Benedict Arnold’s good name be drug through the mud like this?) That’s not very heroic. In fact, it sounds kinda vain. Even IF the whole rock-and-roll scenario is more about swaying the minds of people rather than armed military combat, Paul still has little to be afraid of. It’s in the dead of night, and no one’s around except Paul’s group and the British officers. Who’s around to have their minds swayed by a guitar duel?
I guess that since this is set in the American Revolutionary War, we’re supposed to assume he’s fighting from independence. Independence from what, though? British punk music? Or is it for the same reason that the Founding Fathers fought for independence… you know, to be free from the refusal of Assent To Laws, namely taxation without representation and trial without jury. I suppose we’re given some scenes about about military quarter and search and seizure of weapon stockpiles… but how serious can you take those allegations when the British army and the American militia are outfitted with guitars?
It makes the Yankee reactions seem totally dickish. Which would make sense if The Paul Reveres were arguing on the side of the British… except that they’re also depicted as rude louts as well. They’re all jerks.
Maybe the moral of the story is that the French should’ve taken over while the two sides were bitching like drama queens?
At this point, you’re probably saying to yourself, “Let go of it, El Santo. This is just a comedy comic. It doesn’t need to make sense.” But that’s the point. What bothers me is that I’m thinking of these things in the first place. Scott Pilgrim and his katana battles against the evil exes may have been silly, but at least the rules and the goal (becoming Ramona Flowers’ boyfriend) made some sort of sense.
Besides, the comedic aspect is nothing to write home about. Outside the core “the American Revolution … fought with guitars!” gag, the rest of the gags are the predictable litany of textbook anime gags. There’s a dog that bites hands, and characters flail around like they’re in Azumanga Daioh. The onomatopoeia gets cute by verbalizing things like “MONIES!“, “GIRL TRIP!“, and “POUNCED!” Paul even fulfills the standard anime trope of being a socially stunted male character who cannot talk around women. I guess if you’re the sort of person who loves to use the “:3” emoticon, then this may be the kind of humor for you. It’s personally not my cup of tea, I guess. Even then, though, the comic repeats the same gags so often that it becomes incredibly odious.
On the plus side, King George III does dress like David Bowie… and while Bowie gags aren’t exactly a novelty these days, the sheer oddness of seeing Ziggy Stardust in the American Revolution got a genuine expression of wry amusement out of me. Hey, maybe if King George really was David Bowie, we wouldn’t have been so fired up to stick it to those bloody Brits and their unreasonably high prices on friggin’ tea.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)