Wednesday, May 28, 2014


Okay, bear with me, what we've got here is a story about Boxers. Not enough? Okay, brace yourself … they're also Super! Super, hey? Yeah, yeah, I thought that might get your attention...

This Sienkiwicz cover fooled a lot of people, I guarantee it.

Super Boxers debuted in Marvel Graphic Novel #8, and I suspect it was the product of a last-minute script change from a 48-page story of the series of high-end, ambitious self-contained stories itself actually jumping a shark. That may seem mean, but I remind you that I end up re-reading these things four or five times prior to each article, and at this point I'm damn near ready to kill this book with a frozen pork chop (See, then I can cook up the pork chop and feed it to the cops, thus … but wait, perhaps I've said too much).

The other way that you totally know this is
the future is that it's apparently considered
kind of "street" to wear pale magenta girdle
and booties with bare legs and a pink,
translucent man-brassiere.
Super Boxers takes place in the future, and if comic books have taught me one thing it's that the future is never any damn good and we need to hire someone to do something about it. It’s ALWAYS dystopian, ALWAYS. Which shouldn't come as any particular surprise, inasmuch as the present isn't any great shakes and it's not like the past was all red hots and rollerskates either, no matter how much the cranks on the editorial page insist that the past was totally where it was at (my counterpoint is always - HITLER! It's not like there's Hitlers in the future, right? Right … oh, wait, shit).

The story kicks into gear after a fairly unnecessary full-page all-text prologue explaining that (a) it's the future, (b) that corporations run the planet, that (c) everyone is a corporate slave and (d) they kind of don't like it. All of this falls squarely into that "show-don't-tell" category of literary criticism - i.e., you probably could figure as much out from reading the book, despite the searing abdominal pain such a chore would undoubtedly cause you.

Anyway, from there we're into the comic, where there's an interesting stylistic device employed for the storytelling. This device is called “talking down to the readers.” Every caption is some curt, snarky direction - “Watch this man. Watch him. Do you see how he moves? How his every move is like a symphony? You didn't? I totally did. You're a fucking schmuck, chummy. I don't even know why I bother.”

Legit - and I'm trying to give the writer the benefit of the doubt; figuring that it's a narrative device which has some sort of payoff, that we'll discover we've been spoken to throughout the entirety of the story by one of the characters - maybe even an unexpected character, which boy, wouldn't that be a nice surprise. Well, no. Nothing. Except that the narration stops the same time that the one of the supporting characters dies, and now I know some of you are thinking perhaps “Oh, hey, well so that guy was the narrator all along and it's a nice symmetry,” except that the narration covered a lot of stuff that fella couldn't have possibly known, so no, let's let that thought fly free like a butterfly.

Now you're up to date: Already on the first page, we're being harangued into following disheveled proletarian behemoth "Max" as he makes his way through the dystopian "Underworld" he calls home (The Underworld is basically like a ghetto, but you get to say it in a totally awesome heavy metal voice, like "The Uuuunder-guh-ROUN-n-n-n-n-n-nd!" and you waggle your tongue and make the devil sign and stuff, so it's cooler).

Wake up, blondie!
Max is a participant in illegal, non-sanctioned underground Super Boxing matches, aided by his withered matchstick of a manager and trainer, inappropriately nicknamed "Strap." If you'd like to submit your suggestion on how "Strap" got his nickname, please write your idea in the form of a traditional sonnet on a 3x5 index card and cut yourself to death with it, thanks.

+One of the other problems with the book is that it often felt as though the letterer were scripting some entirely other story than was depicted by the artist. Y'ello, fella, who's cheering here exactly?+

Max's side of the story is no big shakes, he's a straight-laced fighter who has to deal with the corrupt local officials and the regional totally futuristic equivalent of the mob (called here, "The Mob"), and he pulls narrow victories out of his ass because he's honest or something. He's also, naturally, catching the eye of representatives of the Corporate tier of civilization (cleverly nicknamed "Corpies." I won't bother to tell you what their made up name for the addictive narcotic of the future is, but it's about equally ass-backwards, as it always tends to be in these stories. Also, there's a bar called Booz-O-Rama, so we're clearly dealing with a madman at the word processor), represented at first by this character "Rolf."

Rolf is disturbing for at least a pair of reasons - I mean, there's also an hilarious bit approaching the denouement of the book where Rolf declares to Max "I'm not Corp, I'm just a corporate lawyer. Sure I'm wealthy, but I totally root for you poor people" which frankly ought to have earned him a busted nose, but that's later on - First off, Rolf is almost always depicted looking straight at the viewer. Straight on, same pose, same lighting, every single time - chin up, eyes half closed, mouth shut. You might just get the idea that Rolf was consistently drawn from a single photo reference.

Other thing is that Rolf basically looks like John Byrne.

Oh, and while I'm holding that note, let me mention that the book itself was produced by Ron Wilson - in big letters - and John Byrne and Armando Gil in little smaller letters. Still, who handled what responsibilities exactly escapes me, all I know is they could have shifted everyone's job description over one person to the left and had just as coherent a product.

No, Familiar Face did not win.
Where the story ends up is that Max has come to the attention of Marilyn Hart, a Corporate power player in political struggle with another Corporate power player, whose eyes turn to Max on account of apparently the Corporations settle their conflicts and decisions by pitting their Super Boxers against one another. And that's some solid business acumen there, making major policy decisions based on which greased-up steroidal maniac in Optimus Prime underoos can beat up the other one harder. Sure, nothing's decided by the services they provide or the cash they're pumping around, but on whether one retard can knock another nimrod down. That’s your Laissez-Faire economy at work, friends…

I should probably take a moment to mention how Super Boxing works - despite the name, the boxers aren't super, and neither is anything else in the book. Basically, the two idiots in question get dressed up in leather-padded erector set bathing suits, outfitted with boxing gloves that sort of resemble cybernetic meatloaf with teeth, and have at each other in big dusty arenas.

Add into the equation their - I kid you not - hover-boots, and you've got what you got. What with all the racing around the shallow curve of the metal walls and the pounding violence and the global politics-meshed-with-corporate manipulation storyline, you basically end up having 1972's "Rollerball" with a smaller cast and John Houseman is made to be slightly hotter. SLIGHTLY. Just a little.Marilyn ain't much to look at.

On the other hand, with a head that small,
it must have been a very easy birth.
A lot of effort went into trying to make the Super Boxers' battles seem more gruesome than those of regular boxers - the punches send the combatants flying across the ring, they smash into high metal walls, they say enigmatic things behind each others' backs and it makes the other person wonder what they really meant, and feelings get brutally hurt - but the end result is it that the fights seem all the more antiseptic for the effort.

After even the BIG fight at the end of the book, Roman and Max walk off without broken bones, bruises, or even a little blood. Well, I should probably mention that Max ends up with a black eye, but it's only there for one panel and, honestly, it wasn't there for the panel before it. Or the panel after. And come to think of it, it might've been a shadow. BUT OMG THE INTERNET THE FIGHTS ARE TOTALLY BRUTAL. You want to know how to make modern boxing more brutal? Give the guys knives. You know what they got instead? Hover-boots.

Anyway, Max ends up falling in love with Marilyn Hart, is built up against the Corporate golden boy of the Super Boxing scene, "Roman" - who gets his own sub-plot exclusively about his terrible mopeyness and self-doubt, and in the end it's just ridiculous and has no impact whatsoever - and Max makes it to the big fight only to … win! Hooray! I didn't care.

Oh yeah, and Marilyn Hart is actually like ninety but uses futuristic science to make herself look younger, which is revealed at the end of the book as if it was a major story point, but again, it actually has no impact whatsoever on the story.

Super Boxers is incredibly frustrating on a number of levels, not the least of which being that it was the unfortunate hiccup in Marvel's otherwise pretty-darn-good Graphic Novel line, any one of which may merely have read like a VERY good contemporary comic from Marvel (given that the draw of the graphic novel, at least as it seemed from Marvel at the time, was that you could totally make a comic book but it's BIGGER than usual) but which were all better than this. All of them. Even the one you're thinking of, seriously.

Additionally frustrating is the unnecessary artifice of the endeavor - so it takes place in the future under the tyrannical heel of rich people who treat poor people like crap and the little guy makes good? And it's in the future because ... I would assume so the boxers in question could wear those ridiculous spiky boxing gloves instead of something actually scary looking.

The story could just as well have taken place in the 1930's, a fact of which the creators surely aren't unaware - a good eighty percent of the fashion, architecture and slang are deliberately made to evoke the idea of the 1930's, and then a robot happens. It detracts from a story which, frankly, can't survive detraction.

Also, let me step back a moment to re-address the "Booz-O-Rama." That made me put down the book - to me, not only is that indicative of a real lack of imagination (it sounds so much like a hooch clearing house that "Liquor Barn" sounds like "Studio 54" by comparison), it strikes me as the kind of a name for a bar created by someone who doesn't drink, has never had a drink, and doesn’t have a particularly informed opinion of social drinking. “Booze-a-rama” is not the name of a dive bar where the roughest and lowest of society drink, that’s place’s like “Irv’s” and “The Red Horse” and “Bar”. “Booze-a-rama” is a fun carousel for light alcoholics, it’s barely a thing.

Oh yeah, and one last thing about Super Boxers - apparently they've been trying to make this a movie for something along the lines of twenty years. I wonder how Doom's IV is coming along?


John said...

That "familiar face" joke still cracks me up.

Matthew Johnson said...

The sole redeeming quality of this comic was that it inspired Scott McCloud's "Destroy!"

Unknown said...

Super Boxers - Utter Pants*

* Note: This 4 word review only really works if you're British (I think)

Popular Posts