We’ve actually seen elements of the plot in “Bart’s Got Wheels” before in two forms. In “Bart on the Road,” where the rapscallion used his fake ID to rent a car and go on a road trip with Nelson, Milhouse and Martin. Also, when Homer lucked into Snake’s car thanks to a Sheriff’s auction. Fortunately, there’s a lot to love in James Bates’ latest treatment.
Whereas the prior two tales weren’t exactly cold, Bate’s story is still filled with more heart. His short is essentially about Grandpa Simpson trying to do something nice for his grandson; buying him a car that reminds him of his first wheels.
Homer surprises by wanting to do his part, and he lends his considerable lack of skill in automotive repair. This involves his for example attaching a blender to the engine and catching himself on fire. The family affair becomes complete with Marge cooking up sandwiches and making lemonade and commenting about the camaraderie between the Simpson males.
The story’s driven by characteristic humor as well as slapstick. For example, when Homer finds out about a towing fee, he makes a hilarious character-specific comment that makes sense in an ass-backwards sort of way. It’s also touching that he forgoes demolishing the car when Bart protests.
Nina Matsumoto, Mike Rote and Nathan Hamill offer their usual expertise when illustrating the Simpson cast. They also excel at crafting a honey of car that bears the personality of style. Rote’s definitive linework brings out Matsumoto’s subtler expressions such as when Homer makes his outrageous comment or when Bart’s excitement about owning a car becomes palpable, and Hamill adds standout scarlets and singular yellows to the candy coats of Springfield.
In the second story Burns disposes of the child labor laws and replaces his slack-jawed employees with the kids of Springfield. Former Legion of Super-Heroes writer Tom Peyer’s concept is completely absurd and brilliant. The tactic is perfectly in keeping with Burns’ evil nature, and it sets up a splendid little war between Burns and Bart all for the sake of Lisa’s sanity. Thus, this story centers on the family dynamic while establishing a broad comic premise. Bart though not above pranking Lisa or simply being the ultimate pest truly loves his sister and will do anything to save her. His strategy comes from the mind of a kid, which is what he is, and it teaches Burns a good lesson. Bonus points for the Doctor Who reference.
Artists John Delaney and Dan Davis set this tale awash in shadow. It’s almost as if the kids took a trip down The Twilight Zone and ended up in a film noir. Art Villanueva’s colors in fact become suffused in darkness creating a striking overall effect. The contrast also accents the ominous red button as well as the revenge of tyke against tycoon.
Ray Tate’s first online work appeared in 1994 for Knotted. He has had a short story, “Spider Without a Web,” published in 1995 for the magazine evernight and earned a degree in biology from the University of Pittsburgh. Since 1995, Ray self-published The Pick of the Brown Bag on various usenet groups. In the POBB, as it was affectionately known, Ray reviewed comic books, Doctor Who novels, movies and occasionally music. Circa 2000, he contributed his reviews to Silver Bullet Comic Books (later Comics Bulletin) and became its senior reviewer. Ray Tate would like to think that he’s young at heart. Of course, we all know better.