"Legends of the Bartman Family"
Writer/Artist: Ty Templeton, Guy Incognito(c)
Well, this was a weird one. Let's get some of the seeming contradictory points out of the way first. As one may surmise from the comic book's cover, Bart once more assumes the guise of Bartman. Now, Bart also known as El Barto serving justice is a difficult concept to wrap one's head around unless one follows the television series. Bart's not really a bad kid. As Marge said, he has "a spark." In two alternate futures, Bart leads an upstanding citizen's life: either as the head of his own demolition company or as a Supreme Court Judge. A second point is Grandpa Simpsons' colorful life. While it is doubtful he had ever been Able-Bodied Boy and more likely he merely dressed up like Bart does--though Bart strangely fights crime for real--he really was in the military and could be considered a war hero. So, it's just possible that there is half a grain of truth in Grandpa's tale.
The plot concerns a riddle leaving kook who seems bent on stealing kids' electronic toys--almost like the Ghost from The Flash. That's not much of a plot, and Ty Templeton forgoes the usual sharp focus he bestows to his Adventureverse tales. The television series goes off tangent, out to left field and relishes contrivances. So does the comic book series.
Templeton takes full advantage of the sort of anything goes nature of the show early with page two. Here, the Ed Wood inspired Chief Wiggums questions his son Ralphie. A couple of things come to mind when reading the section. Templeton shows the bond between father and son as well as Ralphie's charm. He speaks accidental poetry with innocent observations on adults and the night when later talking with Bart and the walking double-entendre Houseboy (Milhouse).
When Bart, clearly not "the world's greatest detective," fails to solve the riddle, he returns home to find Grandpa--whose reasons for being in Bart's room are mighty dubious. Grandpa relates to Bart his days as Able-Bodied Boy--possibly paying homage to radio hero Jack Armstrong, the All-American Boy. The flashback begins appropriately with a spoof of the Robin drum entrance and follows through with the ludicrous consequences of a shared super-hero universe. Unfortunately Alan Moore beat Mr. Templeton to this insight with his superb Top Ten, but there's no shame in being beaten by the likes of Alan Moore.
What really killed me about the Able-Bodied Boy flashback was its periodicity. Templeton makes the riddle dropping akin to the way the Joker used to operate back in the forties. He possessed his own ego station and usurped the airwaves to make threats on the radio. If his demands were not met, victims with ghoulish grins would be left dead in his wake. A whole truckload of pulp hero and period comic book pastiches pass Able-Bodied Boy, and the Mystery Gunman strikes. Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha-Ha. These scenes will go way over the heads of younger comic book readers, but for we older curmudgeons, they're priceless.
Grandpa's stories on the series tend to fly away under their own power, and Templeton's character in the comic book is no different. The flashback veers off course with an outre Hindenberg joke and then unionized sidekicks. "Wha?" This is the reaction one usually has when watching a Simpson's episode. So, top marks to Mr. Templeton for inducing the same at sea feeling for the reader.
Anywho, the kook in question seems to become a generational type villain with a gene for eeeeeeevil being passed from father to son, or is that mother to daughter; I'll not tell. Naturally heroing doesn't skip any generations, and Homer and Templeton pay wacky tribute to the original Red Tornado. This part of the story must at least be considered apocryphal with respect to the other outlandish sections since Homer's role in the modern tale later contradicts Able-Bodied Old Man's recollections. So where does this jaw-dropper lead? To a surprising fairplay twist that's a gag on immortal villains and wacky doomsday weapons.
Mr. Templeton does double duty for this issue. He captures everybody in the Matt Groening style, and given the broad cast including a plethora of extras, it's a wonder he didn't collapse from exhaustion. He does more than merely meet the criteria. He plays with the artistic conventions of the super-hero genre. Thus, we have dramatic shadows in scenes where drama isn't required and is in fact undermined by the effeminate portrayal of Houseboy. Very few of the costumes possess flair and seem to be designed by the Five Blind Guys for the Straight Guy. The suspiciously named Guy Incognito provides awful, eye-jarring colors for the Mystery Gunman. Such elements would be detrimental in a serious super-hero story, but in a spoof, it's "sauce for the goose." Mind you the Avenging Pistol's outfit--homage to the Black Terror--isn't so bad.
I would have to say that this issue of Bart Simpson Comics isn't as laugh out loud funny as previous issues in this series or the other Simpsons books. It is however throughout amusing, smart and inventively sends up the super-hero genre without denigrating the subject.
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