Super Human Resources: Season One. Ken Marcus (story). Justin Bleep (art). Joey Mason and Antonio Campo (colors). Jaque Nodell (letters). Ape Entertainment. $12.95 US.
I really hate writing this review, because I really wanted to love this comic, and while I liked it, it did fall short for me on a couple levels. I can’t remember how it came on my radar, but when it did I visited the website (which is great), and looked for it at my local comic book shop, and when I didn’t find it in single issues, I started looking for it as a trade (and was happy to hear it had made it to trade paperback status…as that doesn’t always get to happen for more independent books). Eventually I did find one copy at my local shop, and was excited to read it. I thought this book was going to be a hilarious mix – one part Office Space (or The Office, whichever tickles your fancy) and one part Superhero parody. And it is. But only sometimes. And not consistently enough that I can fully get on board.
The art. I like it. Mostly. The character design for the most part is unique and appealing, and the book has a really strong visual identity, which unfortunately cannot be said for many many books, especially little books without giant publishers. The color was solid throughout and really worked for the tone of the book. Another plus is that the art is incredibly consistent throughout with the exception of some obvious and deliberate evolution in the character design between the first two books. It’s really hard to find consistent artwork in comics, so this is commendable. The art was so consistent in fact, it almost looked like some crazy futuristic digital effects or something – like the entire book was conceived and drawn by a machine – which gave it a perfect but sometimes soulless quality.
Ironically I preferred the slightly toned down version of the character design in the first issue to the evolution that appeared later in the collected volume, but it wasn’t a big deal. One little design nit I had with the later evolution, was that all the characters remind me a little bit of bugs because of these two lines the Bleep draws extending dramatically off of characters eyes (and heads). It annoyed me more as the book progressed, but is a pretty superficial complaint, as complaints go.
A bigger complaint I had about the art is that the inking lineweights all feel the same, or at least similar…and with so much going on in every panel, that often made it difficult to understand what was going on. I think the artwork overall could benefit from some much more confident and dramatic inking which would help the clarity of individual panels. But it’s obvious Bleep is still evolving as an artist (which is of course true of most artists) and so I’ll be interested to see where he goes.
The biggest thing that didn’t work for me in this book, is the pacing, and that’s a problem of both story and art. And it’s hard to tell who is dropping the ball here or if it’s both of them. I tend to think it’s the artist’s job to get the panel pacing right so that the words work in their most effective way, but especially on an indie book, where creators are more likely involved in the eachothers’ processes, it feels a little like a shared problem.
There are some great little jokes in the script – in-jokes that are really enjoyable if you have ever worked in an office, or read a superhero comic, and they work really well together for some good times…but several of the jokes are nearly lost to the previously stated pacing issues…and it just isn’t funny enough overall to carry the book’s other weaknesses.
I think the biggest of those weaknesses is that the characters are pretty broadly sketched, we’re never able to attach much to any of them or to care about them beyond their ability to bring home the joke. Now, character building, especially for a large cast of characters in an office setting is hard to do and takes time…it’s easy to fall into cliches and hard to do unique things, especially when you’re already deliberately playing with cliche and parody, but I feel like Marcus should have given us at least someone to root for in these first four issues. It’s obviously supposed to be Tim that we’re rooting for, but he’s such a dull guy that I can’t find much to get behind. There’s no sense of humor in him like there is in everyday characters like Jim from The Office or Peter from Office Space…but when I look around to find someone else to connect to – there really aren’t any characters worth connecting to. Except Wombat. Wombat, a blatant and hilarious Batman parody is awesome, but mostly for jokes, and not for any emotional connection.
And while EVERY book I read doesn’t have to feature or star women or be “the best thing written about women since sliced bread” I find the female characters here to be pretty lacking. There’s a fairly interesting “office manager” named Helen that all but disappears as soon as she serves her function (introducing Tim to the craziness that is SCI in the first issue); the token “hot” superhero/alien Plasmarella complete with big boobs and sexy low cut clothing; another office worker named Sarah that gets a page or two of dialogue; and in a particularly bad move, there’s a giant female called Statuesque and you never see her head. She’s usually only shown (because of her size) in the torso/ass/breasts area (and a couple times down to her feet) but you never see her head. I get the joke, and I probably wouldn’t mind it so much if there were other more fully realized female characters in the book, but as there are not, it seems like a really big misstep to me.
I will admit that it’s likely I’m overly sensitive to this issue – considering I actually write a column on CBR’s Comics Should Be Good called “She Has No Head!”. The concept for the article is broadly “women in comics” and it’s safe to say I have strong feelings about the idea of women being so insignificant in comics that they seem to be nothing more than objects of desire that quite literally don’t need heads. And so Statuesque is a really unfortunate coincidence, and I urge you to take my criticism of this particular aspect of the book with a grain of salt.
I think overall, because the characters lacked much emotional charge for me, the story also lacked an emotional charge. The basic set up is that Tim (our “hero”) is a temp sent to SCI to work in “Super Human Resources”. He is surprised and at first put off by this idea, thinking it must be a mistake, but is quickly brought into the fold of regular folks, superheroes, villains, aliens, etc. that work there. [SPOILER] The four issue plot is basically that “corporate” is trying to get SCI shut down so they can farm their work out to cheaper Indian labor. Tim discovers a conspiracy in corporates’ attempt to get SCI shut down and is able to thwart it and save SCI. At the end of the book he is (naturally) viewed as a hero and given a full time gig at SCI. But I don’t really feel happy for him…and I’m not really sure why he wants to stay there…or why they want him to stay, as other than being a hero, he hasn’t really made any connections as far as I can tell. And perhaps most importantly, other than him being a template ‘good guy’ I’m not sure why he feels compelled to save SCI in the first place. And that is a failure.
The book just didn’t work on the all the levels it needed to…and with the exception of the laughs, some of which were great, I was pretty disappointed overall. I do hope Marcus and Bleep keep working and putting out books, and I will anxiously look for their next project, if only to see the next evolution.
I’d like to give it more, but unfortunately 2.5 Stars is the official 1979 Semi-Finalist rating.
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