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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 Warhot! 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)

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About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

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.

  1. I… I really have no idea what to make of this comic.

    • me too. I remember very little of the 80s with most of my childhood planted firmly in the early 90s. I remember some of the references vaguely, but mostly because I didn’t understand them when I was a kid either.

  2. This is Cheshire Crossing, done right. Really. The art alone is already infinitely better than the “paper-doll Kim Possible” style of CC. And the whole concept is amazing in an insane way.

    I’m gonna add this to my list of comics to read through. They stay at the left side of my browser in a tab that I never close. It’s a place of honor. 😀

  3. Stealing someone else’s idea about stealing other people’s ideas. It’s like a hypno-swirl of fanfic.

    • It doesn’t bother me that much if it’s entertaining. Besides if you’re really lucky, you come up with the next Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

      • Can’t abide by it. If you’re smart enough to come up with a concept, you’re smart enough to come up with your own characters to go with it.

        • So… you aren’t a fan of Alan Moore?

          • My thoughts on Moore’s output can be summed up as, “Watchmen was a real long time ago.”

          • But even Watchmen is a crossover of characters Moore didn’t invent. This type of storytelling has been going on for a long time, well before me or even Moore. It goes at least as far back as Philip José Farmer, who placed certain pulp heroes in the same universe. I have a bunch of stories I’d love to tell that are of my own design and character, but that doesn’t mean I don’t love me some Punky Brewster. This is like my thank you letter to her for making my childhood what it was. I never intended to “steal” anyone’s ideas. Pay tribute, make fun of, absolutely. Hopefully, if you are at all interested in the 80’s please take a look and you’ll see we put a lot of care and effort into this work. With the big payoff next issue.
            Thanks for your thoughts, I love honest criticism. It’d be even nicer if you read it and tell me what you think!
            Wahab

          • Referencing earlier work has been done through out the history of art, it’s not about not coming up with something “original”, I think it’s more about understanding and recognizing the past works that have led to your own work as an artist.

  4. “Punky is the team’s muscle.”
    Even outside of nostalgia and far from the eighties, that sentence on it’s very own is comedy gold,

  5. The art is nice, but I have no clue who any of these characters are. I think I faced a similar problem with Alan Moore’s “League of Extraordinary Gentlemen” – some of the character references I didn’t catch at all, so you don’t get as much out of the story as you would if you knew these characters.

    Upon further reflection, though, wouldn’t you say that “Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi” is like “The Society of Unordinary Young Ladies?” Both stories bring characters from different stories together and allow them to form alliances. I’m not saying that they’re of the same quality, or that they should receive the same rating – I’m just wondering if anyone else noticed the similarities.

    • I can’t speak for anyone else, but I also noticed the similarities. However, I also gave positive grades to Weapon Brown, which is basically LXG for classic comic book characters. One big difference between the good ones and Powerpuff Girls Doujinshi: neither were created just so we could see upskirts of the principle characters.

  6. curse you the Santo you always expand my webcomic read list

  7. Santo,
    thanks for the in-depth review! Issue 5 is coming soon, I promise. All I can say about it is, if Vicki is your favorite….you’re going to hate me. Thanks again.

    Catch you between the commercials,
    Wahab

  8. I like the art, although I think it could use a bit more subtlety in the shading (some shades of grey between the solid blacks and the stark whites would be nice). The high-contrast lighting works well in the page you posted with the chained up and imprisoned Evie Garland, though.

    That last sentence came out way creepier sounding than I meant it to.

    The other thing I find really distracting is the absurdly long necks. Those girls have the longest necks I’ve seen outside of 19th century Japanese woodblock prints. Look at Wednesday in the last panel from the second image you posted… Jesus.

    Still, very good art.

    I have no comment whatsoever on the content of the comic, since Wednesday Addams is the only character involved I’m terribly familiar with. I am intrigued, however, by your idea of the cast of “Saved By the Bell” as super-spies. This warrants consideration…

  9. 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?

    So… Punky Brewster, yes, Facts of Life, no?

    I do not understand this logic.

    Honestly, I don’t know if it’s just that I didn’t sleep last night, but this is the first fan fiction I’ve ever felt too young to understand. Maybe if Vici had to fight a robot Urkel or a gun toting Blossom I could figure this out.

    • You got the feeling that Punky was a bit of a scrapper though. I mean, she has the name. Plus, she did survive the magic Indian cave, which the episode reminded you was not a dream sequence or a spooky story told around the camp fire but an honest to God thing that happened to those characters in the Punky Brewster continuity … thus making her a legit action hero in my book.

  10. Hello again, sorry it’s late in this thread, but my crew and I have finally finished and we’d love for you to check out the last issue as well as some short stories… I’ve moved the entire comic to a blog at:
    http://souyl.blogspot.com

    Thanks Santo for the initial review and I’d love to hear what you think of the latest issue.

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