Wednesday, January 14, 2015

SKATEMAN

What's got eight wheels and kicks you in the face? Give up?

What is there left to say about the comic book that’s roundly considered the worst example of the medium ever produced? Well, clearly there’s a lot left to be said, because the internet never tires of talking about Skateman – and then again, I’m not sure everything’s been said about it full stop. Did you know, for instance, that it’s kind of racist? Oh, you did. Okay, well we’re done.

Actually, I’m not sure that Skateman really is the worst comic in the industry’s history – to its credit, you can at the very least say that it lacks the cynicism that’s abundant at any forty dozen mainstream corporate crossover events from the big two industrial intellectual property factories. I mean, it’s batshit, racist, dumb, violent and confusing, but at least it’s earnest.

It's a fair question.
The art’s a bit of all right, too, coming as it does by way of Neal Adams and his Continuity Studios. Adams continues to be a tricky customer to nail down in comics history – besides having literally redefined the visual language of comics in the 1960s and 1970s, fostered a multitude of important young talent, lobbied tirelessly for creator rights and provided a high-profile window into comics via the world of advertising and marketing, he’s also famously helmed some of the most breathlessly abstract, confusing and vulgar comics in history by way of the Continuity Comics titles, Batman: Odyssey and the like. I mean, he also believes the Earth is inflating but, whatever, I wish more comics pros’ biggest issue was that they believed in junk science. Imagine if that was the worst thing you could say about Julie Schwartz or Brian Wood, you know?

Skateman, however, is a particular nadir for Adams’ portfolio. Allegedly created as a product tie-in to some roller skating company who had the inclination to have their product associated with mob hits and hot pants – and who wouldn’t – the single issue opens with a face kick and closes on an explosion. Just like Hamlet.

Billy Moon, Vietnam Vet and martial arts enthusiast, finds himself at loose ends when he returns from his tour of duty. His best pal Jack gives Billy a new lease on life – via the world of roller derby! A tale as old as time!

It turns out that Billy’s a whiz at smashing into dudes on skates - so much so that he gains the unwanted attention of the mob. Billy’s refusal to kowtow to the Goodfella types results in an in-rink injury which leaves Jack dead – and it looks like Billy’s the culprit! Cries of “MURDERER!” echo throughout the roller derby rink, America’s most revered tribunal.

Billy’s escape into the loving arms of his dutiful girlfriend Angel is short-lived, inasmuch as she’s promptly killed by gangsters. I don’t even … Billy’s a jinx, man.

It's poetry, of a kind.
As we all know from personal experience, frame me for the murder of my best friend and force me out of the sport at which I was a superstar, shame on you – arrange to have my girlfriend killed by bikers and expect me not to dress up like a ninja carhop in order to extract vengeance, shame on me.

Well, shame on Billy, because it’s not until his NEW girlfriend Jill is abducted by bikers on behalf of “shit”-trafficking foreign drug lords that Billy things to put on the form-hugging white denim short-shorts of justice.

Billy adopts the most terrifying vigilante garb in the history of the genre – an orange bandana covering his face, red shirts, white booty shorts and roller skates. Combining the deadly skills he developed while serving in Vietnam with his own martial arts prowess AND roller-skating, the most versatile and devastating of all the types of skating (ice-skating can cut you, sure, but it’s not much good for a high-speed chase through Los Angeles), AND assisted by local amateur skater street kid and (ahem, Billy’s word, not mine) “Beaner” Paco, Billy becomes SKATEMAN. Which is a terrible secret identity, someone call Daredevil, this guy’s an idiot.

One of the highlights of Skateman is Billy’s dialogue, a violent sort of beat poetry loaded with ham-fisted mixed metaphors and tone-deaf tough guy prosody. “Hands off jerkhole” he yells to a man into whose face he’s forcibly pressed his skates, “We’re forming a union! My foot and your face!” Loading his young sidekick Paco with a box full of hand grenades,  he directs his charge to assault the crooks’ headquarters by telling him “You make the difference” and adding, solemnly, “Haul ass.”

Your hero, ladies and gentlemen.

Skateman ends in the execution of a climax, the explosion of a warehouse headquarters for the drug-running street gang in question. There was clearly meant to be more to the Skateman story – by which I mean “another page,” but it ends on that explosion and we settle for some backup material which never gets any particular love.

The first backup is "Futureworld," featuring art from a young Andy Kubert. The story focuses on a post-apocalyptic future where a single courageous youth - Korlak - must brave the wastelands and terrible dangers of two panels worth of flying a big zeppelin to get to "The Great Machine."

The "Great Machine" turns out to be an old Nuclear Power Plant, which we know because Korlak exclaims, upon seeing it, "Th-the Great Machine! It lives! A WORKING ATOMIC REACTOR!" Of course, in his very next word balloon, he muses "I have never seen such contrivances." Then how did you know it was a nuclear power plant, you dope?

The next story is "The Rock Warrior," which is what I intend to name my first born. Here’s the plot, as best as I could determine: Edgar is a boxer, Om is an inventor. They used to be partners in adventure until Edgar settled down and had a daughter, Angie. Om accidentally drops his newest invention – a handheld personal teleporter – right into Angie’s infantile mitts, which sends ‘em on a tour of the universe’s most dangerous spots.

Luckily, Om’s twin brother THE ROCK WARRIOR is floating around out there too, so they destroy a missile with lasers and come home. Enh, sure, it sounds like nonsense, but if we put it on the CW, we could power at least a half dozen dedicated Tumblr accounts.

...And then there's this densely-packed printed toilet paper of pure nonsense.
Angie’s last words in this book are “WOK WAH WAH” which, legitimately, I didn’t realize was baby talk for “Rock Warrior” until YEARS after I’d read this story. Haul ass, I guess, I make the difference.

5 comments:

James Fletcher said...

I only ever heard of Skateman through reputation, so up until I assumed that he was a skateboard-based hero. I had no idea that it was dumber than I thought it was.

neofishboy said...

"Angie’s last words in this book are “WOK WAH WAH” which, legitimately, I didn’t realize was baby talk for “Rock Warrior” until YEARS after I’d read this story."

Mind. Blown.

This is just like that time in my 30's when I was watching Young Frankenstein for the hundredth time. Frau Blucher is leading Victor and Inga up the stairs when she whirls around and says, "Stay close to ze candles. Ze staircase ... can be treacherous," and I realized for the first time "Oh my God! The candles aren't lit! That's the joke!"

BillyWitchDoctor said...

This and Ren & Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon demonstrate why it's not always a good idea to let creative types run off-leash.

So many swears! I guess that's how you can tell it's supposed to be "serious" and even "mature."

Well, at least Paco doesn't talk like Speedy Gonzalez. Or (yeesh) Vibe. (It's the freaking 21st Century and if you meander over to Cracked you'll still find guys who, because it didn't insult them personally, don't understand what was so wrong about the Frito Bandito. SIGH.)

That cover! With "WORKERS STRIKE" spray-painted on the wall and Cap'n Capehead there making a crack about a "forming a union," I've presumed for years that Skate Man Registered Trade Mark was a skull-smashing vigilante strike-breaker. Now I know he was even worse, and the last burning question in my life concerns that little springy spiral coming off of General Arrrruf's heel down there.

Anyway, now that our whites are whiter than white with Woolite...has G&F ever discussed Zwanna, Son of Zulu? It's pretty damned astonishing in its own bigoted right, and its creator is a gold mine o' giggles.

neofishboy said...

Gah! Froederick, not Victor.

bitterandrew said...

Skateman becomes even more hilarious when your spouse played roller derby for half a decade, though Blue Streak earned the bulk of her quad-rockin' ire.

Popular Posts