Comics is a cruel, cruel business. Especially if you're a completely mediocre superhero whose super-powers are sensitivity, open-mindedness and being a good listener.
That's the very funny and surprisingly moving life of Angelman, a very average superhero in the heartless, bureaucracy-obsessed, completely terrible Korporate Publishing line. With his friend Captain Unread and his arch-nemesis Gender Bender, Angelman fights — almost completely in vain — to gain the attention of a completely uncaring comics market.
Creator Nicolas Mahler delivers a wonderfully deadpan satire of what life would be like as a superhero for a corporate master who creates him in an almost absent-minded and casual manner, only to end up spending lots of resources in trying desperately to get the hero to work as a member of the comics line. He captures the aimless, odd desperation of the Big Two comics companies in the mid-1970s, as the flush and energy of the '60s gave way to the dissolution and decadence of the "me decade."
The main conceit of this book is that Angelman is sort of a real character. He's manipulated and managed and ignored and abused by Korporate Publishing, and that treatment ends up taking a toll on him. He strays into antidepressants, gets lonely and even loses a lawsuit that would allow him to control his own destiny. He's almost literally a slave to the uncaring and apathetic comics market, which gives his character a wonderful poignancy and even some depth.
Mahler clearly intends Angelman to be emblematic of not just the forgotten superheroes of bygone eras; on some levels he's also a satire of comics creators whose careers seem to careen and shift from one style to the next, never really changing who they are even in the face of an uncaring public.
Angelman is a superhero as only Fantagraphics and Nicolas Mahler could present. At turns viciously funny, terribly sad and wonderfully direct, this book burrowed itself into my brain and would not let go. It's no surprise that the hero whose powers include sensitivity would have made me really interested in his story. This is a subtle and terrific graphic novel.