Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Neverending Fray: All hail King Groo

Groo the Wanderer #75
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1991

As the finale to my introduction to Groo, this issue works well enough, although approaching it as one issue of a long series makes it seem more decent than exceptional. It's actually kind of an odd finish to this storyline, ditching the regular amnesia-based shenanigans (after restoring Groo's memory in time for him to save Grooella from the beheading that he ordered) of the last two installments in favor of some jokes about Groo being a king, then throwing all the many pieces that played into the story into a box and shaking it up, ending in a chaotic reversion to whatever passes for a status quo in this series.

There are some funny bits here, like a scene in which Groo leads an army to rescue Rufferto, only to meet up with him before he gets a chance to do any rescuing:

Or a fitting comeuppance for Pal after all the cranial trauma his schemes have caused Groo:

But most of the issue seems to be just moving things around until the story can reach and endpoint. That's fine, and a complicated plot with lots of moving pieces can be fun, but it's one of those cases where Groo himself can kind of get lost in the midst of all the business going on around him. Putting him in a position of leadership is a tried and true formula for laughs, but having him actually crowned as a king and then not really doing much with it (he issues one silly royal decree and runs around with an army without actually getting into any battles) seems like a missed opportunity.

Interestingly, since this was my first exposure to Groo, I think the supporting cast and the world around him made as much of an impact on me as he did, which is probably why I keep track of all the recurring characters that show up. But as I read through the series again, I'm finding that my favorite issues tend to be the one-offs that fit a simple story in a short space, prominently featuring Groo as he gets up to whatever nonsense he encounters that month. I still like to see supporting characters show up from time to time, but these sorts of big blow-outs with the entire gang tend to push him to the sidelines and limit him to looking on in confusion at whatever everyone else is doing, which I always find to be a shame. But that's the nature of a long-running series that provides its creators with plenty of material for all sorts of different types of stories. Not all of them will work equally well or tickle the fancy of every member of the audience, but the Groo Crew's success rate is so high, and the inclusion of always lovely art and at least a few laugh out loud jokes, that it's worth coming back for every opportunity for more. I know I'll be reading them as long as they keep making them, and it's all thanks to this story right here.

Next: "The Mines of Minas"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Taranto, Pal and Drumm, Grooella, and Sergio and Mark, plus a brief appearance from Rufferto's original owners. And Sage appears in the Groo-Grams header:

Hidden message(s): It's upside down on this banner:

Moral: "The learned man makes a mistake but once...but the truly stupid keep practicing until they get it right."
Spanish words: King Cetro (whose name means "scepter") is still hanging around, and while it's not a word, Sergio has a thought balloon with an upside down question mark on the recap page, making for some Spanish-language punctuation.
Running jokes: Mark brings back an old joke in his appearance on the recap page by mentioning that he is going to have lunch at Canter's Deli. The gag about how many issues the story was going to take finishes up on the title page with a "Part Three of Three (looks like we're going to make it...)". Drumm thinks "What pirates?", and he's disappointed that he can't call Groo a mendicant because he is king. King Groo decrees that people can only eat cheese dip. When Pal loses his memory, Drumm tries to convince him to buy him a house.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Nicenellyist (nicenelly means "prudish" or "modest", so maybe Mark is trying to tone down Sergio's constant ribaldry)
Letter column jokes: Several people write in with Grooisms: Lee Good (who also stumps everyone trying to find hidden messages by listing his hometown as Neddih Egassem, WA) tells of a complaint from his boss about the phone in the office ringing too much by saying "It seems like every time I hear that darned phone, it's ringing!", Anthony Tucci mentions a time his boss began the day by saying "Let's get started so we can begin." and Jim Yates relates a time he had some jelly beans on his desk, and a coworker said "Don't let Kevin know you have these because he eats them like candy." Somebody calling himself "Kelek the Necromancer" refers to Mark as Ziggy (short for Zigfried, presumably) and asks a numbered list of questions that includes where he can buy back issues of Groo and Elfquest, what movie Groo has on his videotape, and why Groo doesn't wear shoes. Mark responds that Elfquest issues can be found at all the best comic book shops, and the other places carry Groo, and he says Groo doesn't wear shoes because there's no Foot Locker near him (and he also makes a very 90s joke about Groo having "The Pump" in his head), but most interestingly, he names Groo's video tape as To Kill a Stranger, which stars Donald Pleasence, Dean Stockwell, and Sergio Aragones. He also notes the existence of Norman, Is that You?, which stars Redd Foxx, Pearl Bailey, and Sergio Aragones, and says that if Warren Beatty made movies like these, he'd be drawing comics for a living too. Judah Konigsberg suggests having Groo meet somebody as dumb as him, and Mark says that they would, but he's too busy in Washington, and suggests filling in your favorite elected official. Keith Churchill asks why Spider-Man has five comics each month and Groo only has one, and Mark replies that it takes Spidey five times as long to screw things up. Finally, another Statement of Ownership (average sales: 88,983; sales of most recent issue: 91,000) makes its appearance without any comment from Mark, which is a shame.
Miscellaneous: In the "things you never expected to see" category, here's the Silver Surfer on a jet ski:

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Art What I Like: One Piece Is Awesome, Example #1

When shonen manga is good, it can be sublime, pleasing that part of the brain that just wants pure action and adventure, presented in a dynamic, page-turning manner that provides excitement and laughs. Eiichiro Oda's One Piece does all that as well as, if not better than, any other shonen manga I've read, which is probably why it's pretty much the most popular comic in the world.

Here's an example of one thing that Oda does so well. He comes up with some pretty ludicrous concepts, as in this scene from the fourth volume of the series in which one of the good guys, Zolo, who fights using the "three-sword technique" (he holds one in each hand and one between his teeth), is facing off against a pair of ferocious cat-themed pirates. But as silly as all this is (and it's really only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to this series), the goofy concepts are treated completely seriously in terms of physical, life-threatening danger. So, when Zolo and the cat brothers charge at each other, this happens:

I love the timing there, with the second page coming after a page turn, so you see the ferocity of the attack and how it has sent the characters flying in an explosion of speed lines. And on the facing page, we see all the other characters observing the fight, their expressions frozen as the brothers fly through the air before crashing to the ground painfully.

It's only three pages out of a fight that takes up nearly two volumes, but it's a perfect example of how much Oda sells every moment, providing tons of laughs with his wacky concepts or exaggerated character reactions, but still managing to thrill with action that leaps off the page. It's awesome.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

The Neverending Fray: In which I learned that it's possible for Groo to be even more brainless

Groo the Wanderer #74
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1991

This issue continued my introduction to the world of Groo, and while as a whole, it suffers a bit from "middle chapter syndrome", it's got plenty of funny stuff, especially the opening page, in which Sergio and Mark speak directly to readers to recap the first chapter of the story:

This scene makes for a great introduction to the kind of meta-world of the series, with Sergio and Mark playing characters themselves, acting in the roles of the wacky artist who barely speaks English and his sarcastic, erudite partner, the two of them functioning as ringmasters to the crazy circus of the comic. I do remember asking the friend who loaned me these issues who this Mark guy was; Sergio is obvious enough, since his name is right there on the cover of each issue, but Mark's role was less obvious, since he only gets acknowledged with silly jobs in the credits and as the guy who answers the letters in the letter column. I figured it out soon enough, which is good, because these sorts of introductions became a regular thing, especially after the book expanded in later issues, eliminating ads and including an introductory strip on each inside front cover.

As for the story itself, it features more amnesia-related shenanigans, as Taranto and Pal struggle to control Groo, hoping to either steal Rufferto or seize control of King Cetro's kingdom, respectively. Rufferto gets a good gag in which he tries to restore Groo's memory, only to further injure the poor fellow who was unlucky enough to accompany Groo on a mission:

And this also leads to a good gag based on Drumm calling Groo a mendicant:

Grooella also gets a little bit bigger of a role here, leading the army that is fighting against King Cetro (and contributing to an amusing running gag in which both she and Cetro say that while his men are out of food and water, the worst thing they have to face is being uninspired due to the lack of his royal scepter) and eventually running straight into Groo, who, in what seems to be the true objective of this storyline, gets crowned king of Cetro's kingdom. Groo being in charge of anything is a good starting point for comedy, so putting him in charge of an entire kingdom seems like guaranteed laughs, although we won't get to see the true results until next issue.

The other interesting thing about this story is the treatment of Groo's amnesia, or rather the character of "Amnesiac Groo". This could have been played as a sort of opposite personality, with him suddenly becoming smart and/or refined, but maybe that would have been too goofy and "unrealistic". Instead, he has pretty much the same level of intelligence, but without Groo's particular personality quirks, style of speech (he can't refer to himself in the third person when he doesn't know his name), likes or dislikes, fighting skill, temper, or much of anything to distinguish him from a random stranger who just happens to wear orange and carry samurai swords. In fact, he seems pretty boring, aside from when he ends up endangering other characters, but this does provide a good cliffhanger, as he orders Grooella to be beheaded when she disrespects him, the king. That's probably the best example of how different his personality is, since normally he's friendly and generous to every familiar face, no matter how they have wronged him in the past, so it's striking to see him so callously order the death of his sister. Will he go through with it? Tune in next time to see!

Next: We find out whether Grooella loses her head in "The Scepter of King Cetro, Part III".

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Taranto, Pal and Drumm, and Grooella, plus Sergio and Mark. And a statue of Usagi Yojimbo can be seen among the decorations in Sergio's studio:

Hidden message(s): It can be found within the plaid pattern on Mark's shirt in this panel:

Moral: Still no moral, since the story isn't over yet.
Spanish words: In addition to King Cetro (whose name means "scepter"), Sergio says a bunch of Spanish words in his broken English, including hola ("hello"), dos ("two"), and cabeza ("head").
Running jokes: I didn't mention this last issue, but the title of the story was listed as "Part I of Three (or four...we'll see how it goes...)". That joke continues this month with a "Part II of Three (we think)". The poem on the title page mentions that Groo sinks a lot of ships. Groo's amnesia provides an opportunity to bring back the old joke about him possibly eating Rufferto. Somebody mentions the blue thing on Groo's chest, which is sort of a reference to the regular letter column queries about it. Drumm gets excited about calling Groo a mendicant, and is promptly pulverized.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Jongleur (a medieval French term for "juggler")
Letter column jokes: This issue's column is devoted to "strange letters", which are the weird, nonsensical bits of absurdity that many readers send in. These include Martin Mix threatening to publish his own letter if Mark doesn't (and calling Mark Zigfried as well); Dan Stephens claiming that Groo's nose is depicted 1,018 times in The Groo Chronicles; Justin Horn claiming to be psychic, proving it by predicting that Mark won't print the letter, and trying to influence Mark to cover Sergio's car in Vaseline and flour; Paul Allen saying he was going to enclose $50 for charity, but sealed the envelope before he could include it; Seth DuMONT predicting the rise of the Internet by contributing a letter full of intentionally incorrect spelling and punctuation and randomly capitalized words; Hutch Harris complaining about the letter in issue #66 in which somebody claimed to sneeze on elephants for a living, since he considers it a hobby and wouldn't dream of charging people; Diana Tepper saying that Groo is dreamily handsome, macho, and stylish and trying to convince Mark to make him a teen idol; and Mike Utley repeating the word "thingee" over and over.
Miscellaneous: Check out this guy's awesome early-90s style:

Hey, wait a minute! A snowboarder featured in a gamed called Ski or Die?! As a lifelong skier, I find that very offensive.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

The Neverending Fray: I had to start somewhere

Groo the Wanderer #73
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1991

For me, this issue marks the beginning of an obsession: it's the first issue of Groo that I ever read. A friend loaned it to me, along with the next two issues, which formed a complete story, and I was immediately hooked, finding the inspired goofiness of the story hilarious, especially the way it was centered around a protagonist who was unbeatable in battle, but also remarkably stupid and prone to charging off into unpredictable adventures and encountering all sorts of complications along the way. The non-stop wackiness, chaotic violence, and occasional wordplay appealed immensely to me at that age (I think I was around thirteen), and I've been glad to find that my appreciation of the character, the world the creative team has build around him, and the incredible artwork has only increased with time.

In retrospect, this story is a good one for somebody who is new to the series, as it features many of the series running jokes, has plenty of scenes of Groo rampaging through vast hordes of soldiers and thugs, and includes several supporting cast members and references to previous stories to suggest a rich world surrounding its main character. Plus, it's really, really funny, featuring the Groo Crew's take on one of the hoariest of cartoon cliches, amnesia caused (and fixed) by a bonk to the head. This happens to Groo when, after charging into a battle and randomly attacking both sides at once, he is recruited by the king leading one of the armies (we find out later that the other army belongs to Groo's sister Grooella, although she doesn't really get involved in the story until the next issue) and sent to retrieve the king's royal scepter. But after acquiring his cargo, the king's scheming advisors pull a pretty classic cartoon gag:

And the adventures in amnesia begin. Soon enough, Groo happens across Pal and Drumm, who, after testing his identity by calling him a mendicant and seeing how he reacts, determine that this can't be Groo. Rufferto, meanwhile, runs into Taranto and his gang, and since he's carrying Groo's swords (which his master had discarded while in the throes of identity crisis), they assume Groo is dead and decide to return the dog to his former masters and collect the reward for his fancy jeweled collar. When they all run into each other, they decide to enact further money-making schemes by passing what they think is a Groo look-alike as the real thing, but after charging a village to prevent Groo from destroying it, they make the mistake of allowing him to be bonked on the head again:

When they all realize that this is actually Groo, the real craziness begins, with Taranto trying to remove Groo's memory so he can take advantage of him and Pal finding out about the king's scepter and trying to restore his memory so he can seize it and gain control of the kingdom. Which leads us to the issue's hilariously slapsticky last page:

There's something about the cartoon violence of that sequence, with the main character of the book suffering from massive head trauma and the resultant brain damage without actually being damaged beyond a bit of a daze, that brings a good portion of the series' humor into focus. Groo is dangerous, slaying many people throughout this story and standing up against multiple armies of soldiers without receiving so much as a scratch, but as we see here, it's all just cartoon violence with little in the way of consequences, so while it gets established that people's lives are constantly being disrupted by Groo's actions (and everything thing else that goes on, like constantly warring kingdoms and bands of roving thieves and marauders), it's kind of all in good fun, with nobody actually being killed (even the piles of Groo's victims, which he says he has slain, are usually shown as injured rather than dead) or permanently injured. Except, that is, when it's funny, like with this guy who was also injured in the drawbridge incident:

The Groo Crew manages to walk a very fine line here, making the violence "count" only when necessary, either to sell a threat as something to be feared, or just when it can evoke a laugh. But as much as the danger is downplayed, it's still real enough to bring a visceral feeling of fear and tension to scenes like this one, in which one of Taranto's men is tasked with calling Groo a mendicant in order to prove that he isn't Groo:

There's plenty more really funny stuff in this issue, like Drumm repeatedly calling Groo a mendicant, since he can get away with it for once, only to meet the obvious result when Groo regains his memory:

I always like the silhouettes Sergio does, and this one is no exception, as Groo and Rufferto just completely wreck a bunch of people in the background while Taranto catches up with the plot in the foreground:

And I've always been partial to this scene, in which Groo tries on the helmets of the opposing sides of the armies, which provides the benefit of being attacked and giving him someone to slay:

Maybe I'm biased because this was my first issue of Groo, but it, along with the rest of its multi-part story, is probably one of the best of the series' entire run, offering a sample of almost everything the series does so well and spurring readers to come back for more. It was the beginning of an obsession for me, and I'm glad to say that my continued attempts to obtain more, ever more, of these silly comics that follow such a lovably mindless force of destruction have been worth all the energy I've spent on them over the years. I don't think I'll ever get tired of reading about Groo, and if I ever want a reminder of why, I know exactly the issue to read.

Next: The nostalgia continues with "The Scepter of King Cetro, Part II".

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Taranto, Pal and Drumm, and Grooella.
Hidden message(s): It's formed by the designs on Pal's scabbard in this panel:

Moral: No moral this month; we'll see if the final installment of this story has one.
Spanish words: King Cetro is appropriately named for this story's macguffin, since his name means "scepter".
Running jokes: Almost all of the series' various running gags get crammed into this issue, starting on the first page, when Groo recognizes a pleasant smell and thinks it might be either cheese dip or mulch (it turns out to be the smell of a fray). Rufferto bites several guys on the ass. Groo gets called a mendicant by a bunch of different people. Drumm says he is Pal's friend, "even if you did not buy me a house!" Later, he thinks "What pirates?"
Mark Evanier's job(s): Enhancer
Letter column jokes: This issue's column is dedicated to Grooism contest entries (none of which ever received their promised certificates, even though Mark claims they'll get them as soon as he and Sergio get around to designing them). Ben Chamberlain tells of a time a teacher of his told a story about her parents being killed by guerrillas in "some country engaged in civil war"; a classmate raised his hand and asked "Did they kill you too?" Chuck Dillon mentions a time he ordered a small milkshake at a fast food restaurant, and the cashier said, "We only have one size, so what size do you want?" Benjamin Truesdale offers a suspiciously familiar story of a classmate who was doing a report on ancient Greece and said such silly things as "Homer wrote The Oddity" and "Socrates died from an overdose of wedlock." Jamie Mottola relates another classroom anecdote, in which a student responded to a query about the capital of Canada with "C". Michael Ho's classroom story features a teacher for a change, who, when doing a slideshow in which some slides were in the projector sideways would turn the projector on its side, and when a slide was upside down, he turned the projector over, which caused all the slides to fall out. Andy Boudreau, who had already had a Grooism featured in issue #56, writes in with another funny thing his friend's wife said: after locking her keys in her car, her husband showed her how to break in with a coat hanger, and she said, "Hey, that's neat. I can keep the coat hanger in the trunk in case I lock my keys in the car again!" Andre du Tait tells of a cousin who was taking a cooking class, and when instructed to add a teaspoon of water to a recipe, asked "Is the teaspoon of water heaping or level?" Finally, Corwin Bleys implicates himself by mentioning a time he and a friend saw a commercial during a college football game saying that one of the schools was a Top Ten University, and he asked, "I wonder how many Top Ten Universities there are?"
Miscellaneous: More video game ads: this NES peripheral really seems like it wouldn't work very well, based on how hard it would be to aim and how presumably poor any voice recognition would be (and if the picture is any indication, it makes you really sweaty):

But I love this silly ad for the full-contact basketball game Arch Rivals:

Just look at how happy those guys are to get beaten up! And that guy's green mohawk! And that the team is named the British Knights! And what is that guy doing with the hoop? So many questions!

Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Neverending Fray: It's a shaman, not a superhero named Sha-Man

Groo the Wanderer #72
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1990

This issue has a pretty classic Groo story structure, in which somebody plans for Groo to do something Grooish, but he confounds expectations and ends up causing their ruination. In this case, it's a creepy shaman who bears a striking design, with lots of ugly tattoos, a beak-like nose, a snaggletoothed mouth, a weird staff, and some hermit-style tattered rags. He gets upset at a town when they refuse to allow him to bilk them out of money by asking them for tribute payments to stave off a disaster that he predicts, so when he runs into Groo, he sends the wanderer in to wreak havoc on them. But as we know so well, to the point of predictability, planning for Groo to do something always brings disaster, and sure enough, he becomes a hero by driving off some other invaders, and even though the shaman directs him to cause all sorts of other disasters, they all somehow result in him saving the day and becoming a hero.

This is all kind of rote and obvious for Groo (but no less funny than usual), up until there's a bit of a twist when the shaman gives up on ever getting Groo to ruin the town. At that point, the role of the person planning on Groo doing something beneficial shifts to the town itself, which Groo immediately destroys, albeit in a manner more related to societal chaos and institutional oversight than the usual physical damage. It makes for a nice bit of irony, and another reminder that Groo is destined to bring ruin to all that he touches.

As a character who shows up to encounter Groo for one issue, the shaman works well enough, but it's obvious why he didn't stick around in a recurring role, since he just does what most supporting characters do, which is interact with Groo and meet failure. He does have some interesting qualities, providing a bit of a critique of religion/superstition when he says things like "All I am trying to do is to bilk them of all their worldly belongings! And they act as if that were a crime--!" And I like his alliterative attempts at curses, when he says things like "May you have boils on your behind!" or "May you have pimples in your pudding!" But he's not exactly a visual that one wants to see more of, and probably not one that is all that fun to draw either. The most interesting thing about him is probably the crazy demonic visions that he produces on the cover, but he only does that in one panel of the story (as some sort of hallucinogenic coercion, I think), and since it is established that he doesn't actually have any supernatural powers, there's not really much else that can be done with him.

As a one-issue character though, the shaman works, and he gives Groo some funny stuff to do, like when he is sent to "spread havoc and destruction" in the town, only to find that some marauders have gotten there first:

All in all, it's a pretty fun little issue, featuring all the usual gags and plenty of funny Sergio art. I especially like this moment, in which Groo and Rufferto try to help build a bridge:

Dogs acting like people! Yes, Sergio draws funny stuff. I'll always take more of that.

Next: It's time for me to get nostalgic with "The Sceptre of King Cetro, Part I".

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: None, but Alfred E. Neuman makes an appearance on the cover:

And here's a weird bit that I thought might be a Simpsons reference (which would have been interesting, since Sergio has been making Simpsons comics in recent years), when Groo topples an idol that bears a passing resemblance to Bart Simpson, revealing a nest of snakes that the townspeople beat to death with sticks:

This sure seems like a nod to the "Whacking Day" episode of The Simpsons, but that episode didn't come out until 1993. I guess I'll just assume the writer was a Groo fan.
Hidden message(s): I didn't find it, although there is one panel in which the markings on the shaman's staff form what looks like a "TH", in which case the rest of the message might be visible in subsequent panels. I couldn't spot any more letters to complete something like "E HIDDEN MESSAGE" though. UPDATE: As kipper notes in the comments below, it can be found on the letter page by taking the first letter of each of the non-indented lines, starting with the second paragraph of the first letter:

Moral: "Even the worst guesser is right once in a while."
Spanish words: The Duke of Mayate appears to be named after a derogatory Mexican slang term for either dark-skinned people or homosexuals, derived from the name of a dung beetle. Yikes.
Running jokes: Rufferto bites several guys on the ass.
Mark Evanier's job(s): Wizard of Words
Letter column jokes: The ongoing joke of Mark plugging his Hollywood Superstars series reaches something of an apotheosis here, with the letter column covered up by a four-panel strip in which Sergio discovers that Mark has been moonlighting:

Note the Groo-Grams header, in which Sergio and Groo have been sidelined in favor of Mark being treated like a movie star. I don't know if the portions of letters that we can see are real letters or ones that were made up, but in one of Mark's responses to an obscured letter, he congratulates somebody named Sid for finally figuring out what the blue thing on Groo's chest is.
Miscellaneous: I've never heard of this NES game, but as far as I know, it has nothing to do with either the Street Fighter or Final Fight series:

And I'm kind of creeped out by Mario and Princess Toadstool's intrusions into kids' baths to plug their hair care products:

Help a brother out: Salgood Sam deserves to finish Dream Life

I've been a fan of the artist Salgood Sam (a.k.a. Max Douglas) for a few years now, at least since reading the excellent graphic novel Therefore Repent!, for which he provided the art. For the last couple years (at least), he's been working on a book called Dream Life: A Late Coming of Age, which features more of his stunning artwork, and he's on the home stretch, hoping to have it finished and printed in time for the Toronto Comic Arts Festival in May 2013. In order to make that goal, he's asking for some help, so if you've got any funds to spare that can be put toward quality comics, please drop by his site and buy something from him. He's got all sorts of neat stuff for sale, including original artwork and commissions, and even the art from an unpublished Ghost Rider 2099 story written by Warren Ellis!

Right now, you can get a free sketch with any order over $40, but even if you don't want to spend that much, you can pick up digital copies of the aforementioned Therefore Repent! or his anthology series Revolver. Every little bit helps, and if we can do anything to assist in getting artwork like this out into the world, I think this Internet thing can be called a success.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Neverending Fray: They're all gonna laugh at you!

Groo the Wanderer #71
By Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, Stan Sakai (lettering), and Tom Luth (coloring)
Published by Epic Comics, 1990

This issue presents the flipside of the previous month's story, in which Weaver the writer, shamed by his failure to sell Groo as a heroic figure, realizes that he can salvage his reputation by holding Groo up as an object of ridicule, writing a comedy book about the wanderer's many screw-ups. And sure enough, he finds great success, although as we know, one should never base any plans whatsoever around Groo, since he'll find some way to make them pay for it. And he certainly does so here, although it's a bit of a twist on the usual version of events, in which he does something unexpected and ruins people's plans; this time, he acts exactly as one would think he would, showing that people's perceptions of him as a bumbling fool are not exactly correct. No, where they expect a silly clown, he's more of a force of pure destruction, unleashing a fabulously exaggerated torrent of chaos upon request (after an exquisitely timed delay that even includes a sort of sidelong, "Can you believe this?" glance at the reader):

I love the sheer exuberance of the destruction, with soldiers flying 20 feet in the air upon Groo's attack, and the sequence going on longer and longer, with the scale of destruction getting larger and larger, and ending with a hilarious image of Groo standing on top of a huge pile of bodies:

It's pretty amazing, and I can also see it as sort of an acknowledgment of the kind of humor that fills this series. This comic isn't just about making fun of a dumb character, it's about reveling in the chaos and destruction that follows him everywhere he goes. It sure wouldn't be fun to spend much time around him, but it's never less than entertaining to see what happens to those who do.

I also enjoy the characters of Weaver and Scribe here, with Weaver especially coming off as a self-important parody of a writer (a nice poke at Mark Evanier), someone who is desperately trying to make the world conform to his perceptions of it, and barely noticing what is actually going on around him, as in this great scene from early in the issue, when he is devastated by his previous book's failure:

And Scribe is pretty great too, the ultimate dedicated servant who keeps following Weaver and faithfully transcribing his words, even in midair. I love the way Sergio gives him a minimal expressiveness, registering only slight surprise, concentration, or annoyance until he hears some really alarming news. It's lovely work, lovingly based on Stan Sakai as much as Weaver is on Evanier.

Yep, this is a good one, with plenty of humor that comes from Groo's words and actions, and especially from those who react to him. As a mission statement that Groo cannot be harnessed and made to fit someone else's perceptions of him, it's hard to beat.

Next: "The Shaman"

This issue's stats:
Recurring characters: Weaver and Scribe again, and another Groo-Grams header stuffed (literally!) with supporting characters:

Hidden message(s): It's written in this book that the king is reading:

Interestingly, it appears to read "the hidden message in the page of the book", which makes me think that those were the instructions that Stan Sakai was given when lettering the issue, and he decided to take them literally.
Moral: "We laugh at stupidity because the alternative is to cry over it."
Spanish words: A sign points the way to "ahi", which means "there".
Running jokes: Groo thinks "Did I err?" and he gets called a mendicant. He also sinks at least one ship. Rufferto bites a guy on the ass. There's also a joke continued from last issue, in which Groo says, "A book? That is one of those things with words in it, is it not?" And Stan Sakai's inclusion necessitates an appearance by Usagi Yojimbo:

Mark Evanier's job(s): Semasiologist ("One who studies semantics")
Letter column jokes: In lieu of letters this month, Mark spends the entire column railing against the San Diego Comic Book Convention's decision to award the 1990 Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award to Sergio (he's so upset, he can barely bring himself to plug Hollywood Superstars). He finds the entire idea preposterous, and argues against it by providing the Webster's Dictionary definition of "humanitarian", which surprisingly includes "3. one uninvolved in the creation or production of stupid comic books, esp. Groo the Wanderer.", then describes what he imagines the decision-making process to be, suggesting that people argued for people who treat lepers, doctors who achieve medical breakthroughs, and people who provide for poor children, before settling upon the guy who draws Groo. He describes the awards ceremony, in which Sergio himself presented an Inkpot Award to MAD Magazine publisher William M. Gaines, accepted the award on behalf of the absent recipient, and spoke about Gaines in a very unflattering manner, making jokes about his weight, his stubbornness, and his legendary cheapness. Later, when the Clampett award was announced, Sergio was in the middle of signing something for somebody, and he enthusiastically joined in the applause before realizing that it was directed toward himself, then accepted by saying "If I had known I was going to get this, I wouldn't have said all those rotten things about Bill Gaines." It's a good story, and the way Mark draws it and his mock outrage out to fill the whole column is a great fit for the played-up antagonism that exists between the series' creators in these letter columns.
Miscellaneous: I like the claims of amazing graphics in this ad for the Game Boy game Gargoyle's Quest: