Monday, December 31, 2012

The Hypo: -chondriasis, not -thermia

The Hypo: The Melancholic Young Lincoln
By Noah Van Sciver
Published by Fantagraphics

Abraham Lincoln has become such a near-mythical figure in American history, the Great Emancipator who held the country together through a Civil War and wrangled world-shaking political victories through sheer force of will, all while speaking eloquently, charming everyone with his easygoing nature, and maintaining a signature beard-and-stovepipe-hat appearance, that it can be difficult to remember that he was an actual person, with human emotions, desires, faults, and flaws. But Noah Van Sciver does just that with this book, which follows the future president early in his political career as he tries to eke out a living in Springfield, Illinois while also attempting to woo the lovely, politically-aware Mary Todd and battling crippling bouts of depression.

That last subject might be the most intriguing element of this story, since mental health is still not very much discussed or understood even in the modern day, so acknowledging that one of our greatest leaders suffered from the debilitating effects of mental illness makes for a fascinating chapter of history. Van Sciver's art is perfectly suited for such a tale, his jittery lines filling pages with the lovely, dirty details of life in the 1830s, along with lovely flourishes of well-defined atmosphere like swirling clouds of tobacco smoke or complicated wallpaper patterns that mirror characters' chaotic emotions. He gives his characters a wonderful expressiveness, especially Lincoln, who usually looks awkward and uncomfortable, his shoulders slouched, his head tilted at odd angles, his expressions regularly stricken with fear and uncertainty, and sweat often beading on his brow. There are flashes of the man he would become in moments when he tells a story about his military service or comes up with a scheme to get out of a duel, but he's startlingly unformed, nearly unrecognizable as the famous historical figure we supposedly know so well.

The most striking sequence comes when he breaks off his engagement with Mary Todd and falls into such a severe depression that he can barely function, which Van Sciver punctuates effectively with scenes of Springfield falling into decay, then brings front and center by conveying the horrors of the medieval "medical treatment" that he goes through, which involves bloodletting and the consumption of mercury. It's a rough read, with Lincoln's mental and physical anguish thrust into the reader's face, his pain so visceral that one can't help but experience some of it sympathetically.

The eventual recovery, and the following scenes of Lincoln reuniting with Mary and ending up in the aforementioned duel following some unwise attacks on a rival politician come off as quite cathartic, a positive ending that points toward a happy future and greater political success. But Van Sciver makes sure we don't forget that mental illness is something that doesn't just go away by including an epilogue that illustrates a poem attributed to Lincoln, in which a suicidal man contemplates plunging a dagger into his own heart. All in all, the book is an excellent trip through a little-told chapter of a famous man's life, one that humanizes him and enriches his story, providing some insight into what made him into the leader he became and reminding us that he was as human as the rest of us.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The Neverending Fray: Groo vs. homelessness (and also homes)

Groo the Wanderer #60
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Janice Cohen (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1989

This issue is one that tends toward social commentary, taking on the issue of how society deals with the problem of homelessness, with the most pointed satire all included in one single panel:

That is, society doesn't know how to deal with homelessness at all. That's the most direct discussion of the issue, but there are several other points throughout the story when the rich claim the the jobless are just lazy moochers, and the poor state that they just want to survive like anybody else. This seems like a common approach whenever the series addresses some sort of social issue, and unless it's an overt put-down of some sort of evil, the best thing to do is probably point out the inherent ridiculousness of the way people deal with the situation (with some pointed ridicule of the powerful, blinkered individuals who either cause or exacerbate things), and then unleash Groo to commit his usual acts of mindless chaos. As one would expect, there are few answers provided, with one country attempting to ignore the problem, and the leader of another promising food and homes for anybody who needs them, leading to what one assumes is his downfall when Groo leads the population of a ruined kingdom to his doorstep on the final page.

(There is also a bit of a one-off joke about a country's foreign relations that has me wondering what current events of the 80s inspired it:)

The rest of the issue sees Groo wreaking havoc on the system, trying to find a job in a kingdom full of people who are out of work, and eventually barging into the palace to talk to the king, who gives him the task of running all the "unwashed bums" out of the kingdom. This leads to some amusement, as Groo insists that the badge bestowed upon him makes him infallible:

Soon enough, he somehow gets the people to riot and destroy the rest of the kingdom, which is one way to equalize the distribution of wealth. It might provide some moments of catharsis for those on the bottom of the heap, but dragging everyone into the ditch isn't exactly the best solution to their ills. That's the way things generally go in Groo's world though.

As a whole, the issue has its moments, but it's kind of an odd duck, with Groo mostly acting at people's behest or reacting to others. He's happy to attack the downtrodden when hired to do so, until they tell him to knock it off and assure him that they don't exactly enjoy being homeless and unemployed. He attempts to find a solution, or at least get the different sides to approach each other, but in the end, after everyone tries to ignore the problem, the only thing left for him to do is attack anything he sees and tear everything down. Actually, that's not a bad metaphor for the way society works, although it's rarely one mindless mendicant instigating such volatile change. The mob violence is pretty apropos, however.

Hmm, this ends up being kind of a downer of an issue. It does have its jokes though, and there's one panel that amuses me to no end, as Groo takes umbrage at being called homeless (as a wanderer, everywhere is his home) and departs proudly:

If you ask me, that image is downright sublime. May Groo always wander proudly, beholden to none, ready to take on whatever he meets. And after that, he can do what he does best!

Next: "The Horses of Caballo!"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Some familiar faces can be spotted among the massive crowd on the final page, including the Groo Crew:

William B. Gaines and Al Jaffee (and maybe some other members of The Usual Gang of Idiots?):

Little Lulu:

Momma and Pogo:

Snuffy Smith:

Usagi Yojimbo:

And probably plenty of others that I missed or didn't recognize.
Hidden message(s): I didn't find one, but I'll take some credit for spotting so many characters above.
Moral: "Solve a problem before you become part of it."
Spanish words: King Saco is named for the word for "sack". His country, Harina, means "flour". The neighboring kingdoms of Rueda, Puerca, Bota, and Talon mean "sow", "wheel", "boot", and "heel", respectively.
Running jokes: Groo's disgusting table manners get spotlighted on the cover. An old joke gets resurrected when Groo gets hungry and looks at Rufferto as if he might eat him. Groo starts to tell someone he is the Prince of Chichester, and he beats someone up for calling him a mendicant, even if it is accurate this issue. When the people follow Groo's suggestion and do something stupid, he asks "Did they err?" and then later, after screwing things up even more, he thinks "Did I err again for the first time today?"
Mark Evanier's job(s): Land Baron
Letter column jokes: Joe Bianca contributes this month's Grooism contest winner, telling of a time that he and a coworker were moving some trucks, and somehow a piece of over-ripe fruit caused the coworker to drive over a parked Buick. Joe Angerson contributes a numbered list of questions, including what exactly Mark does, whether Minstrel ever talks "normal", and what a first printing of Groo #1 is worth. Mark answers the first question by saying that he stands behind Sergio with a ball peen hammer and whacks him on the head whenever he has put enough people in a crowd scene. He then works a ball peen hammer into most of the other answers, saying that Sergio wields one to keep Mark writing the Minstrel's poems and people pay high prices for Groo #1, but mostly because they are being threatened with a ball peen hammer. Lon Wolf, who Mark says is famous due to having some letters read in a viewer mail segment on Late Night with David Letterman, suggests a bunch of possible titles for Groo spinoff comics, with my favorites being Grooverine, Mendicant Monthly, and Mulch Ado About Nothing.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

The Neverending Fray: Religion poisons everything

Groo the Wanderer #58
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Janice Cohen & Deborah Leigh (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1989

It's time for more social commentary in this issue, as Groo and Rufferto wander into a village whose local deity resembles our favorite pooch, in a nice bit of Mayan-influenced design:

The people decide that Rufferto is the living embodiment of their god, but since he only speaks by barking, his wishes are difficult to interpret. This gives Groo, in a surprising display of intelligence, the idea to have his every wish granted by telling people what Rufferto wants. And thus goes the rest of the issue, as Groo, and the priests of the town, start interpreting Rufferto's wishes as whatever benefits them the most. They decide to build a larger temple, which will provide them with more luxuries, and in order to get the materials and money needed for construction, they attack other towns and forcibly convert them to their beliefs, then tax the people to raise funds. This last bit provides another welcome moment of commentary, one which is as relevant in 2012 as it was in 1989:

Eventually, one of the priests declares himself Rufferto's interpreter, making him the de facto ruler, since everyone who disagrees with him a a blasphemer. By this time, Rufferto is tired of life as a deity, especially since the priests won't let him participate in frays with Groo, so he wanders off, and nobody notices. By the time he and Groo are reunited and return to the village, the people have completely changed their interpretation of their god's appearance, and they no longer recognize Rufferto as his earthly avatar. It's a pretty amusing look at how people can twist religion into whatever form they wish, and how that religion can mutate into different forms to the point that it's unrecognizable. The whole thing is a farce, befitting this sort of nonsensical, Grooish treatment, and this issue does a wonderful job of pointing that out. When it comes to satirical views of modern society filtered through the world of Groo, this issue is currently the one to beat.

Next: I don't have issue #59 (yet!), so next up is #60, "The Mendicants".

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: None.
Hidden message(s): I spotted this one almost by accident. It's upside down at the bottom of the title page, formed by these blades of grass:

In a different sort of hidden messagery, Rufferto is mistaken for the god Sufur, which could be "Rufus" spelled backwards. I'm taking a wild guess that this is the name of somebody's dog, since a rival village's god is named Odif, or "Fido" backwards. Also, a toppled statue of another god resembles Usagi Yojimbo:

Moral: "Too many believe only in the belief."
Spanish words: The land of Taza is named after the word for "cup". The quarry of Piedra is aptly named for the word for "stone".
Running jokes: Groo interprets Rufferto's first godly request as a desire for cheese dip. While they don't specifically comment on it, some spectators are pretty disgusted by Groo and Rufferto's table manners:

Mark Evanier's job(s): Verger
Letter column jokes: Mark reveals the locations of the hidden messages in issues #43-55, and in an aside, he notes that issue #53 was their "every-century Giant Spider Issue", meaning that we should watch for the next one in issue #1252, coming in June of 2089. Rodney Schroeter contributes the issue's Grooism, telling about a time he and his wife were eating dinner at a restaurant with one busy waiter, and after they ordered and finished their dessert, the waiter asked them if they would like dessert. Johnny Ogar asks, in a numbered list of questions, what color Groo's hair is (Mark says it's Mulch Brown), at what age Groo started wandering (find out in the second Groo graphic novel, The Life of Groo), and how many kopins equal a U.S. dollar ("all of them"). Finally, John Coleman tries to revive a one-issue running joke by contributing a letter consisting solely of the question "Start what?"

Thursday, December 13, 2012

The Neverending Fray: Groo causes trouble even from a distance

Groo the Wanderer #56
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Janice Cohen & Deborah Leigh (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1989

This seems like something of an inventory issue, a story Sergio and company had sitting around to pull out when they needed it. It's a Minstrel issue, and not one in which he interacts with Groo directly, but one of the ones where he tells a story about Groo for people's amusement. There's a decent twist though (and one that, for as much fun as he makes of Groo, brings the Minstrel's own intelligence into question), in that instead of laughing uproariously at Groo's stupidity, the people get angry and throw the Minstrel into prison, since they were the victims of said stupidity, and don't appreciate their bad fortune being turned into entertainment. And then, once in prison, Minstrel tries to entertain his fellow prisoners by continuing his story, but it turns out they are in prison because of Groo's actions in the story, so they also get pretty angry. Finally, he is brought before the king, and he finishes his story, but while it doesn't anger the king, it does remind him to tax his people, which leads to a familiar motif for a final page, but with the rhyming troubadour being chased out of town in the place of the series' star.

One would think the Minstrel would wise up and stop telling this same story once he realized he was among the people who were the victims of Groo's ineptitude, but maybe he has a storyteller's particular compulsion to finish telling a tale once he has started. The people do seem particularly thin-skinned, since even if they don't like what happened in the story, Groo still does some pretty funny stuff, like struggle to remember his orders:

The rest of the story is pretty standard Groo antics (if maybe slightly dumber than usual, which might be explained by it taking place before he was joined by Rufferto, which made him a bit less self-centered and stubborn). He's a soldier sent on a secret mission that he manages to screw up several times over, and then his attempts to continue following his orders long past the point when they mattered either inconveniences or destroys the lives of everyone in the kingdom. Good times, as usual, if a bit unexceptional. The main interest in this issue is seeing the Minstrel get a bit of a taste for the kind of treatment Groo usually receives. And he's generally an enjoyable character, in both words and appearance. It's always fun to watch the changing decorations on the end of his lute, with my favorite one in this issue being an image of himself that realizes when he is in trouble and tries to run away:

I still prefer the post-Rufferto Groo, the one that is more likely to try to help people in need, whether his actions make their lives better or worse. But I expect we'll get more of that next issue. In the meantime, wisen up, Minstrel!

Next: The next issue I have is #58, "The Idol".

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Minstrel. And look, there's Chakaal up in the box in the corner of the cover. And it's been a while since an appearance by the Groo Crew, so here they are doing a tumbling act:

Hidden message(s): The letters are hidden among the leaves of this tree:

Moral: It's provided in the Minstrel's last rhyme: "To talk about the Wanderer is dangerous to do/It can be just as deadly as to find yourself with Groo!"
Spanish words: A character named Gabo might be named after a nickname for Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Lord Miojo might be named for the Brazilian brand name for Nissin Instant Noodles, but it's more likely a portmanteau of "mi ojo", or "my eye". Likewise, Lord Tuboca, taken as "tu boca", means "your mouth",  Lady Suboca would be "su boca" or "his mouth", and Lord Supelo is "su pelo" or "his hair".
Running jokes: "Did I err?", although it's the Minstrel who says it, rather than Groo. Once again, a letter column joke makes its way into the comic when somebody asks why the thing on the end of the Minstrel's lute keeps changing. In a variation on the "as any fool can plainly see!" joke, somebody says "As anyone with half a brain is aware...", prompting Groo to think "I was unaware of that!"
Mark Evanier's job(s): Poet Laureate
Letter column jokes: Mark crowns the first winner of the Grooism contest: Andre William tells of a friend's wife who, when her family would waste half-eaten oranges, said "Oranges don't grow on trees, you know!" Too bad Andre never got a certificate. In other letters, Gerard Jones praises Groo, comparing it to his own series, The Trouble with Girls, making sure to mention the latter as many times as possible, and still asking for a plug from Mark, even offering to mention mulching if it would help. Finally, George Caragonne, in an attempt to keep his letter from being printed, asks for the definition of "mulch", what the blue thing on Groo's chest is, what is REALLY in the flask on the end of the Sage's staff, the name of the Sage's dog, if Sergio will draw him a full-color lithograph of every character that has appeared since issue #22, and several other ridiculous demands, but Mark prints his letter anyway.
Miscellaneous: I like this ad for a wireless Nintendo controller:

Look at all the stuff it lets him do, like knock down giant wrestlers and dodge disembodied dragon tails!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

The Neverending Fray: Groo vs. nature

Groo the Wanderer #55
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1989

This issue falls under the category of satire/social commentary, in some cases a little less pointed than that sort of thing could get later on in the series, but in others being pretty spot on. Going by the cover, one could guess that this story is all about Groo wreaking havoc on an Edenic paradise, and that's certainly the case, although he manages to do so in a variety of ways, not just through the wanton killing of animals. After washing up on the beach of a tropical island, he sets about gradually ruining everyone's lives, mostly because he doesn't understand their peaceful, money-and-government-free, nature-coexisting ways. He upsets the delicate ecosystem first by burning down a field of grass, but then by trying to control the populations of animals that were affected, which leaves certain predators without prey, causing them to attack the populace or spread disease, and any further attempts to offset his mistakes (usually by wiping out some other species) just makes everything worse:

This all gets a bit complicated, with Groo's blunders causing chains of events that makes the island's ecosystem seem especially fragile and easy to disrupt, but what's probably even more effective is Groo's introduction of commerce and tribal rivalry, as he sets two different villages against each other, convincing them to build fences to keep each other out, which generates distrust and eventually sends them to war against each other. He also forces them to form governments, recruiting men to help him build the fences and demanding payment, which necessitates the collection of taxes and the need to vote to decide who should be in charge of these decisions. Before long, the island is a capitalist nightmare, its blissful state of paradise ruined, with Groo chased away and hated even though he "was just trying to improve things." It's a pretty amusing look at how foreign the values of Western civilization can be to "simpler" societies, and how corrupting those influences can be when forced upon said societies by outsiders.

Luckily, it's all pretty funny, as Groo blunders around in confusion, barely able to comprehend these people's way of life, but genuinely trying to help out, even though his attempts solve whatever problems he has caused through violence just make things worse. Even the stuff he kind of does right, like build fences, turn out pretty ridiculous:

It's a solid use of Groo's semi-fantastical world to make a point about ours, and that's the kind of thing I love about this series. I look forward to more of the same.

Next: "A Minstrel's Tale"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: I don't think he'll be returning, but a little island boy seems to be inspired by the Malaysian cartoonist Lat (which Wikipedia confirms):

Hidden message(s): I didn't find it, but I'm sure it's in there somewhere. UPDATE: Issue #58 reveals the location, and good god, it's hard to see. It's carved on some decorative rods next to this house:

Moral: "Destroy the little and you destroy the large."
Spanish words: The island of Felicidad is named for "happiness".
Running jokes: In an example of a letter column joke migrating into the comic, little Lat asks what the blue thing on Groo's chest is (in fact, that's a one-issue running joke, with him asking about everything Groo mentions, culminating in the mid-battle question "What is aargh?"). Somebody gets disgusted at Groo's table manners. Groo thinks "Did I err?" and, in a variation on a regular catchphrase, says "You take us for the fools we are!" Rufferto bites somebody on the ass.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Ecologist
Letter column jokes: There are some decent jokes this month, with the most notable coming from a letter by B.K. Newcomb, who asks (in a numbered list of questions) who the babes who appear on the title page are (Mark says they're Sergio's excuse to write live models off on his taxes), why there isn't more blood and guts in Groo's frays ("red ink is too expensive"), whether Sergio has spots ("Yes, and when you connect them all, they form a picture of Tom Brokaw"), and whether this should be his last letter ("Yes. Or maybe stop one earlier"). Vivek Sharma, who was apparently the "Balloon Kid" from last month's column says he is writing his letter in class when he should be studying for a test the next day, which means Mark and Groo are causing juvenile delinquency, illiteracy, and the decline of the country. Surprisingly, Mark has no rejoinder, which seems to confirm his duplicity in this national emergency.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

The Neverending Fray: Groo vs. lots of boats

Groo the Wanderer #54
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth Greg Wright, Marcus McLaurin, & Mike Rockwitz (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1989

Putting Groo on a boat is usually a good recipe for comedy, since he's inevitably going to find a way to sink it. This issue takes that premise and gives Groo a whole fleet (two of them, actually) to go nuts on. It starts when Groo wanders into a harbor (commenting on a detail-packed title page that is filled with nautical detail, he says, "I think they have ships here!") and ends up getting recruited into the navy of a country that is about to attack its neighbor. But when the neighboring country finds out their enemies have Groo among their number, they decide to confront them, even though they have a much smaller fleet, counting on Groo's legendary boat-sinking abilities to even the playing field. Of course, anybody who plans for Groo to do something is inevitably doomed to failure, since he's always going to find some unexpected way to muck things up. And he certainly does, although having Rufferto along makes things unpredictable, since the dog has the opposite tendency, seeming to always keep ships afloat when he is aboard. This leads to a chaotic mess of a battle, in which nobody can stop Groo from jumping from ship to ship and indiscriminately sinking anybody and everybody:

It's all rather amusing, with some nicely-timed gags:

And some great art by Sergio, like this scene of some guys being struck by lightning, complete with the classic cartoon visual of their skeletons lighting up from inside their bodies:

Aside from the boat-sinking, it's a pretty normal issue, with some good moments, like an admiral asking Groo how great a swordsman he is, and Groo saying "This great!" and just attacking all the soldiers around him. I also like this opening page, in which Groo outsmarts both Rufferto and himself when trying to figure out which way Chakaal went at the end of the last issue:

So yeah, good times all around. Groo plus boats is a pretty consistent formula for comedy.

Next: "The Island of Felicidad"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Captain Ahax! I think this is his first appearance since one of the Pacific issues that I don't have. He mostly just gets reintroduced here as a captain in the navy, sure that Groo is going to sink his ship, and then going kind of crazy once Groo sinks not just that ship, but every ship. He'll appear again before too long.
Hidden message(s): It's written in the wooden slats of this crow's nest:

Moral: "Just because you believe it does not make it so."
Spanish words: The lands of Tenedor and Cuchara mean "fork" and "spoon", respectively. And while the word "armada" has become common in English, it was originally the Spanish term for "naval fleet".
Running jokes: Groo says "You take me for the fool I am!" and "Did I err?" When trying to remember who Ahax is, he thinks "Maybe he is the Prince of, that is me..." And of course, the whole issue is based around the gag of Groo sinking ships.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Shipmaster
Letter column jokes: Mark lists some rules that readers must follow in order to get their letter printed, although only one or two of them are actually true. Those would be "don't ask for a sketch from Sergio" and "don't try the Steven Ebner tactic of sending in a poem every day until your letter gets printed. The others, "don't be funnier than us", "no mulch jokes", and "no intellectual content" are either facetious or will end up getting broken at some point in the series' run. Mark then prints letters that meet his rule, including one from Peter Kendall that takes a theory that one can get an idea of an artist's looks by studying their characters, and concludes that Sergio must be a horribly ugly creature that shouldn't be allowed to walk the earth. Somebody calling themselves "The Balloon Kid" sends in a letter consisting solely of laughter, which is pretty silly. Chris Hennessy asks why Rufferto has a black eye, and Mark says it "comes from asking nosey questions." Erik C. Miller's letter simply says, "Please don't print this letter." And Dan Wheeler contributes a letter full of non sequiturs, "singing" a Groo-themed version of the Rawhide theme, asking for more blood and violence, making bizarre statements about magnetic checkers and feeding cats, and laughing maniacally. What a weirdo (just like everyone else who reads the comic).

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

The Neverending Fray: People buy stupid things (like Groo comics)

Groo the Wanderer #53
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1989

As generally seems to happen with guest stars who hang around for more than one issue, Chakaal has apparently run through her useful stories, at least for the moment, so this issue sees her and Groo finally part. Not by his choice though; even though she tries to get them to go separate ways, he quickly ignores her bidding, much to Rufferto's chagrin, which gives us a nice little meta-gag as the latter bumps his head on a panel border:

The two wanderers end up on one last adventure after they discover that somebody has been raising dragons and selling them to gullible towns to use as guard-beasts. That somebody? Pal and Drumm, who have traveled to a distant land in order to get away from Groo, only to stumble into his path, as usual (I expect the rest of the supporting cast will do the same soon enough). Chakaal and Groo set out to bring them to justice, and so, the rest of the issue consists of chases, dragon fights, and other such silliness, as Pal and Drumm set some dragons free to terrorize local villages so they can get away, Groo and Chakaal run back and forth chasing either them or the dragons, Rufferto gets in a fight with a dragon, Groo sinks Pal and Drumm's boat, etc. Good times, with some rather nice, expressive work from Sergio, as in this page in which Rufferto is being chased by a dragon:

I love the way he smashes into the bottom of the panel there when he hits the ground. I also like this silhouette panel, which sees Pal and Drumm stranded on an island with their remaining dragons:

And this panel, in which Chakaal breaks some sad news to Rufferto, has a great reaction, with his spots leaping off his body in distress:

I continue to like Chakaal's characterization, especially her growing acceptance of Groo as a companion, even if his idiocy drives her crazy. Their final departure ends up being one of those misunderstandings where she thinks he is dead, but I wonder how long the Groo Crew could have kept them together before it got old. I also found this panel, in which she apparently finds Drumm attractive, rather interesting:

She does immediately dismiss him as an idiot, but it's nice to have an affirmation that even badass warrior women have desires. She's definitely a good addition to the cast, although I don't think she shows up very many more times.

Finally, the final page of the story is an especially nice one, working as a sort of callback to the end of issue #39, when Groo was reunited with Rufferto:

It's a rather nice moment on its own though, with those sunset colors giving it a warm glow that emphasizes the happy reunion. That Groo/Rufferto bond has really become the heart of this series. On to more adventures, you two!

Next: "The Armadas"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Chakaal, Pal and Drumm.
Hidden message(s): In this panel, the words "The hidden" are hidden in the designs on the sheath of Pal's sword:

I don't know where "message" is, though. A couple pages later, it looks like at least some of the letters from the word might be hidden on Pal's sheath, but it's hard to tell, especially with the 25-year-old paper and printing quality. Oh well. UPDATE: According to issue #58, the message does continue on further panels in which Pal appears, so it looks like this one has the "Mess":

And this one has the "age":

Moral: "True friends are friends to the end...and even after that."
Spanish words: None.
Running jokes: Groo is still asking Chakaal to marry him, and Rufferto still hates her. Groo says "Did I err?" and Pal says "What pirates?"
Mark Evanier's job(s): Dragon Wrangler
Letter column jokes: Reader Jeff Hill wonders why he hasn't seen any letters printed from somebody in Oregon, prompting Mark to say that they had received plenty of brilliant, fascinating letters from Oregonians, but were waiting for one as pointless as Jeff's. He then goes on to demonstrate how to get your letter printed in Groo-Grams, providing several examples, including a bit of nonsense from Steve Altiere who calls the comic a disgrace and says it makes him want to eat avocados, a request from Chris Teather to tell his wife to do her share of the ironing, a question from Gene Yu about whether Mark writes for the Garfield and Friends cartoon that allows Mark to plug one of his other projects, a note from Paul Freeman that agrees that Sergio should cut down on Minstrel appearances and save Mark from writing so many poems, a threat from Tom Hammond to drown Mark in cheese dip, mulch, and goat horn stew if his letter doesn't get printed, and, finally, a good straight line from Lon Wolf, saying that he has been reading Groo for a while but only recently heard that it was a humor magazine and wonders if that is true. Next month, Mark will demonstrate how not to get one's letter printed, which will presumably result in a column full of people asking for sketches.
Miscellaneous: This is one hell of a weird toy ad:

I guess this was the 80s, when all toys needed elaborate backstories that would hopefully lead to tie-in cartoons, but this is just all over the place. Gravity-controlling evil ninjas in the center of the earth, spin-fighting, flying spaghetti, it's just nuts. Now I wish I had some. 

Thursday, November 29, 2012

The Neverending Fray: Not exactly Groo vs. Spider-Man...

Groo the Wanderer #52
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring), with "art assistance" by "Granny Aragones"
Published by Epic Comics, 1989

Now here's a darn good issue, full of all the requisite jokes, a good conflict for our "hero" to face, a plot that features a guest star without sidelining Groo, lots of fun action, and some excellent monster art by Sergio. It's a pretty ideal issue of Groo, if you ask me. As you might guess from the cover, the plot involves Groo and Chakaal fighting a giant spider called the Araña, which they do in order to keep a village (which is unintuitively situated right next to the beast's lair) from offering human sacrifices to it. There are many good jokes, like Groo's continual failure to grasp why Chakaal is so upset about the ignorant practice of human sacrifice (which isn't all that ignorant here, actually, since it keeps the spider from attacking the rest of the village, although their practice of kidnapping sacrifices from a neighboring village is pretty immoral). He gets some great lines in:

And so do the people around him:

The plot that he and Chakaal eventually come up with involves getting the spider drunk, but that all comes from Groo imbibing too much during a village meeting, which gives us the treat of seeing him act even dumber than usual due to inebriation, including an attempt to bond with the spider:

And really, I think I just like Groo's drunk face in general:

Sergio really gets a chance to cut loose with weird art here, giving the spider some personality when it gets drunk (look at those multiple sets of woozy eyes in the panel above), but making it monstrous and gross, with limbs spurting viscous ichor when severed and webs spraying out of disgusting orifices:

And I love the detail on display in the bone-filled lair, with a variety of weird shapes all piled together, creating an ominous atmosphere:

I also like his depiction of Chakaal, who, while skimply-clad, isn't one of the bimbos or wenches that often populate the background of the series, but a capable warrior, believable as somebody who could take on an army or a giant monster as well as the title character. In fact, while Groo is usually depicted cartoonishly, with limbs flailing about wildly, able to defeat all opponents more as a force of nature than of skill, Chakaal has a realistic physicality and a real sense of balance and motion as she fights:

It's always impressive to watch Sergio work, and this issue is a pretty great example of just a few of the things he does so well. More, please.

Next: "Dragons for Sale"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Chakaal, and the Groo-Grams header this month also has a bunch of guest stars:

Hidden message(s): It's written in a spider web in this panel:

Moral: "Ignorance weaves a web from which none can escape."
Spanish words: Araña means "spider", of course, and the village of Tela is named after the word for "fabric". Groo gets drunk on alipuz, which is Mexican slang for an alcoholic beverage.
Running jokes: A drunken Groo laments that people call him "slow of mind", and when trying to recall something that he wanted to tell Chakaal, he thinks it might be "I am the Prince of Chichester."
Mark Evanier's job(s): Araneologist
Letter column jokes: Reader Kim Metzger angers Mark by suggesting that the Minstrel get his own spinoff comic. William Bussard writes a letter consisting only of the sentence "I am the Prince of Chichester!" which prompts Mark to reveal that the phrase was coined in an attempt to embarrass Daniel Chichester, the Associate Editor of Groo, as though being the Associate Editor of Groo was not already embarrassing enough. Tom Hutchins mentions stumbling across a late-night viewing of the Will Shriner Show which featured Sergio and asks if he was able to sneak a plug in for Groo. Mark says he did, which explains why the show was canceled. Herman "Hermit" Wilson writes that in order for Groo to meet Comic Book Barbarian Regulations, he must say "What manner of wizardry is this?!" or "You fiend!" (and "fiend" must be underlined with a wavy line). Mark says that he doesn't scare them, but this panel did show up in this issue: