Thursday, June 16, 2016


This is beautiful.
Keith Giffen made great hay of the Silver Age silliness which persisted into DC's Bronze Age, with his satirical sort-of superhero Ambush Bug. When the Crisis erased every Super-Turtle and Egg-Fu from continuity, Giffen made up for the loss by creating a Mylar Age parody of gun-toting superkillers with his over-the-top Lobo.

What, then, does he do when the characters Lobo was parodying began to out-Lobo Lobo? Why, join 'em, of course, and out-out-Lobo them all. Ta-da, here's Trencher!

You say that now ...
While Image Comics had prided itself on giving vibrant young creators a voice in the industry -- allowing them to test the limits of mainstream comicking with their own, often-underripe but nonetheless enthusiastically told ideas -- one of their best decisions was to extend that same offer to some industry vets. Giffen was among the crew of long-time Big Two creators who were given an opportunity to Do Their Own Thing under the Image brand. Naturally, fitting in with the high body counts and voluminously expended ammo of Image's core titles, Giffen went for ultra-violence on a level which made his past efforts seem like Bazooka Joe comics.

Ironically, Trencher -- a rehashed Lobo, to be blunt about it -- was an otherworldly agent sent to recover undeserving souls which had been wrongfully reincarnated. That Trencher carried at least some of Lobo's DNA was undeniable, particularly if you trace his lineage through Giffen's Lunatik as well.

Luckily for the intent of the comic -- endless fight scenes and gritty wisecracks -- most of these wrongfully reincarnated souls also possessed superpowers worthy of a knock-down, dragout battle with the title character. The nuclear-powered Cher Noble, a one-time hero named The Nasal Python armed with prehensile nose hairs, a vomiting super-villain called The Hurler and so on peppered Trencher's rogues gallery. As did a few equally (if intentionally, in some cases) absurd heroes.

The book was also pleasingly agnostic
about shadows and negative space.
Originally set in what passed for Image's shared superhero universe, Trencher made explicit reference to an inevitable crossover with Spawn (which never happened), battled Supreme and crossed over with Shadowhawk. When later issues saw the character resettled at British publisher Blackball, it was other indy superheroes -- Doc Stearn, Mister Monster, to name a high-profile example -- who filled the roles of Trencher's opponents.

Trencher came out at a time when Giffen's style resembled what it might have looked like if Mondrian's principle medium had been scrambled eggs. Any given page -- laden with explosions, gunfire and bloody teeth -- resembled what I imagine it might look like if a whale's large intestine could chew bubblegum. Everything looked like an excised tumor covered with scrubbing bubbles attending a rave. If the ocean were made of skinned grapes, you got yourself there a visual metaphor for Trencher.

And I loved it. It's not a style in which every comic on the racks should be drawn, but it was a vibrant alternative to much of the other, more-ill-informed illustration styles to be had out there. That being said, it's annoying that whoever lettered the book neglected to outline the fonts before sending the files to the printer, so everything in the first issue reverted to Myriad Pro and the leading was totally fucked. I won't name names, but it made for a wretched read.

Whither the future of Trencher? None, according to Giffen, which seems fine. Whatever Trencher was a reaction to -- a reaction to a reaction to a reaction, in fact -- its time has passed, and also I can't imagine selling a new audience on that drawing style.

Lookit this glorious nonsense.


Count Otto Black said...

"Trencher" is a late medieval English word meaning a flat circular loaf, not unlike a nan, on which meat was served at banquets. The idea was that afterwards, the gravy-soaked trenchers would be given to the beggars at the castle gate, thus simultaneously fulfilling the Christian duty to be charitable, and avoiding the need to wash up (in the Middle Ages, nobody ever washed anything if they could possibly help it, including themselves).

Of course, exceptionally greedy guests sometimes got carried away and ate the trencher, which was borderline between bad table manners and evidence of an admirable zeal for getting the most out of life. Hence the English phrase "a good trencherman", a polite way of calling someone a glutton, which, though it is now almost entirely obsolete, persisted for centuries after the trencher fell into desuetude and people forgot what they were, or that saying this about somebody literally implied that he would eat not only everything on the plate, but the plate itself!

Which seems very much like the sort of thing this character might do. I wonder if his name was just meant to be generically gritty-sounding but meaningless, or if Keith Giffen knew this obscure old word, and intended to convey a mental image of Richard III chewing crockery? I hope he did.

Calamity Jon said...


Unknown said...

When I read Trencher I seriously wondered about the mental stability of the poor colorist forced to fill in all those bizarre lines. Had the book continued mental institutions would have been filled with broken, babbling, drooling wrecks of cartoonists.


Greg S said...

Count Otto's post is correct, if possibly a little overstated. In the time period referenced, a trencher was just as often a wooden plate or bowl. Also the "middle ages people never washed themselves" thing is not quite as true as historians once believed.

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