The Webcomic Overlook #179: The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies
Ever since Alan Moore decided to expand his League of Extraordinary Gentlemen universe beyond the era of Victorian England, fans have been speculation what other pop culture characters would work well in a crazy mash-up. Some speculation have been serious, but much has been tongue in cheek.
One of the best was an April Fool’s gag at Comics Alliance in 2010, where the writers imagined a 1980’s superteam. This League included Doc Brown, B.A. Baracus, Jack Burton, Lisa from Weird Science, and the GODDAMN MacGyver. You’d have to work hard to come up with anything more idea than that, which was a weirdly more compelling premise than, say, The Black Dossier.
But did you know that this isn’t the first time someone attempted to do an LXG pastiche in the Me Decade? I didn’t either. It wasn’t until Comixtalk linked to this piece on Newsarama that I learned of the existence of Wahab Algarmi’s The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies.
Like LXG fills its roster with public domain characters you were forced to read about in elementary school, The Society fleshes out its roster with young female characters from 1980’s sitcoms: Punky Brewster, Evie from Out Of This World, Vicki from Small Wonder, and Wednesday Addams.
OK, so why is Wednesday Addams there? I mean, the Addams Family was a product of the 60’s, and the movie series would start up until the 90’s. (And this doesn’t even count the original comic strips, which come even earlier.) Shouldn’t she be palling around with Gidget and Elly May from the Beverly Hillbillies? Maybe they could, I don’t know, try to find the seven survivors who disappeared somewhere off the coast of Oahu during an ill-fated three-hour tour.
That doesn’t matter though, because… Robot Vicki kicking ass! I mean, seriously, that’s straight out of the pages of my fanfiction! That… I haven’t … written yet. Anyway, the very idea of an emotionless (but at the same time, darkly humorous) automaton in a young woman’s body is one of my favorite themes ever. It’s probably why I really enjoyed robot Lois Lane from the recent Lex Luthor-helmed Action Comics run. It’s probably why I loved R. Dorothy from Big O, who was, let’s face it, Vicki from Small Wonder in anime form. Seriously, this webcomic already had me at “Vicki, Weapon of Mass Destruction.”
Despite my enthusiasm for the potential of seeing Vicki vaporizing her enemies with laser eyes, I still think that Society of Unordinary Young Ladies hits a rough patch early on. We start with a crack commando unit infiltrating the Soviet Union to find the missing Agent Bartakamos. OK, so far, so good. But who make up the members of this crack commando team? The cast of Facts of Life.
OK, I get that this is an 80’s parody, and we’re casting the most unlikely characters a secret agents and whatnot… but the cast of Facts of Life? Did anyone want to see this? I don’t want to offend any big-boned readers on this site, but Natalie, in particular, doesn’t look of adequate build to be go on top secret government missions. At least the core Society that shows up later seem to have superpowers naturally tied to their TV personas. It’s a roundabout way to get Ms. Garrett on the cast… though, honestly, I would have much preferred Mr. Belding with the far more athletic cast of Saved By The Bell doing the espionage work.
Something goes wrong with the mission, the girls are caught in the Chernobyl nuclear fallout, and international relations collapse between the US and the Soviet Union. I guess you could say that it turned the Cold War … hot! Desperate times call for desperate actions, and the US Government puts a new Special Ops team of superpowered girls into play.
Our main character is Punky Brewster, an orphan girl who’s haunted by nightmares. If you have to ask, “What nightmares?”, then you’re apparently someone who’s never watched Punky Brewster before. Because anyone who was a kid in the 1980’s already knows the answer to that: Punky has recurring dreams of the magic Indian cave. That episode emotionally scarred me as a kid, and it apparently scarred Mr. Algarmi too.
Punky is the team’s muscle, and she’s often seen getting the snot punched out of her. I like Punky’s character design, by the way, which is incredibly similar to the one from the cartoon with the magic badger thing. (Seriously, who watched the Punky live action show and decided that what the show needed to really hit the big time was a furry leprechaun?) She’s paired up with Evie, a teenage alien girl who has the power to stop time any time she wants. She’s also the Society member who’s the biggest departure from her TV counterpart; he originally wholesome, innocent appearance gives way to something more grungy and hard-bitten.
Oh, Evie. What as Wahal Algarmi done to you?
The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies is filled with tons of strangely phrased quotes that are supposed to trigger nostalgic memories of pop culture but are, instead, kind of awkward. Observe:
“I’m sorry Edna, but … I’m putting Charles in charge.” Insert comedic trumpet sound here.
“I told you. ‘I’m here for the DeBarge concert.’” You know, because it’s the 80’s! And DeBarge was so totally lame!
“She was born with a silver spoon in her mouth.” Wait… can they really use that line and not make it a reference to Ricky Shroeder?
On the flip side, you get some really inspired cameos, from Judge Harry Stone of Night Court to Jessica Fletcher from Murder, She Wrote… plus a ton of other ones that go way over my head. Yes, the glut of references can be unapologetically obvious … but that’s the case with Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen series, too.
If you didn’t grow up in the 1980’s perched in front of the TV for too long, then you’re probably not going to get much out of Society of Unordinary Young Ladies. You are, in fact, probably going to hate it. I predict many comments along the lines of, “Go to bed, OLD MAN!” For starters, there’s not much of a plot. Punky and Evie go on rather cliche missions where they gather more members of their team and slowly learn to distrust the government. In fact, the story sort of gets in the way. I grew rather impatient during long stretches of exposition trying to establish the viewpoints of the respective global superpowers. Just get on with the Punky Power already!
The art is decent for the most part, especially the spot on caricaturizations of the TV stars. However, I’d be lying if it didn’t bug me a little from time to time. A lot of the characters expressions, especially Charles’, default to an unsettlingly blank smile. It’s commentary on both the shallowness of 80’s sitcoms and a tie to Saturday morning cartoons, I think, but it seems incongruous with the fairly grim Ludlum-esque main story. Recent revamps of 80’s animated properties on Cartoon Network successfully changed the styles of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and He-Man to suit the more serious tones of their stories, and I think a similar stylistic choice would’ve worked here.
At the end of the day, though, The Society of Unordinary Ladies isn’t about story. Nor is it about characterization. It’s about the efficient and effective delivery of childhood nostalgia, and there, Society delivers. Now, anyone who’s been to the multiplex or turned on the radio or visited ThaGuyWithTheGlasses.com recently knows that The Society of Unordinary Ladies is hardly the only form of media that’s currently exploiting the fertile mines of the 80’s. Those, though, generally focus on the easy targets: the toys, the cartoons, the John Hughes movies. The Society of Unordinary Ladies seems to be the only one interested in dusting off these mostly forgotten sitcom characters.
While the girls are put through some rough situations, you get the sense that Mr. Algarmi really loves his subject matter. His affection is genuine and with few traces of irony. It’s fun to look back at how big a part these characters played in our pop culture universe when we were growing up. As trivial as their original sitcoms really were, the girls who make up The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies were important, and they mattered. We remember how Evie Garland won us over with her perky attitude, her smile, and her ability to awaken some funny feelings in young males everywhere.
Also, did I mention that Robot Vicki does a HALO drop and wrecks stuff? Sweeeeeet! It makes me want to read this comic with shoveling down mass quantities of Golden Crisp just to get the full effect of being a kid again.
Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)
Posted on August 24, 2011, in 4 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, comedy webcomic, dramatic webcomic, pop culture caricatures, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 21 Comments.