The Complete normalman

Posted: Wednesday, July 18
By: Michael Deeley
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W: Jim Valentino
A: Valentino, with William Messner Loebs, Don Simpson, Larry Marder, Bob Burden, Dave Sim, Murphy Anderson, George Perez, Brad W. Foster, and Steve Lafler

Pub: Image

Reprinting stories & material from: ‘normalman’ #1-12 & 3-D Annual; ‘normalman- The Novel’; ‘normalman-Megaton Man special’; ‘normalman 20th Anniversary special’; ‘A-V in 3-D’ #1; ‘Cerebus’ #56 & 57; ‘Journey’ #13; ‘Epic Lite’ #1; and various promotional materials & pin-ups.

When a book includes the comic’s letterhead logos, you know it’s complete!

‘The Complete normalman’ collects every story and piece of art about normalman, Jim Valnetino’s average guy in a super-powered world. The original series see normalman crash land on the planet Levram, a world where everyone has superpowers. The constant fighting sickens norm. His attempts to return to his home planet are frustrated by side trips into other dimensions. Norm ends up back on Levram, but ultimately returns home. The two specials published after the series’ conclusion feature parodies of real-world comics creators and the comics industry.

The short: This book is hilarious!

The long: Valentino created a single narrative continuity where satire is integrated into the story. Levram isn’t just populated by specific character parodies. The entire society is a parody of comic book traditions and clichés. There’s also a meta-textual element in the way each issue is an homage/parody/rip-off of a famous comic book’s style. Elements of that comic are incorporated into the story and the larger continuity.

For example: ‘normalman’ #11 is based on Howard Chaykin’s ‘American Flagg’. ‘Flagg’ had government-sponsored gangs fighting each other for ultra-violent reality TV shows. Normalman learns Levram has a similar policy. A global game show was created by the last government as a way to control the superpeople. The supers fight for fame and popularity on this TV show. But they’ve been fighting for so long the urge for violence has replaced the urge for sex! The supers are almost completely sterile. Norm is the only non-violent person on the planet, making him the most desirable man on the planet. Norm is the only character shown having sex, bedding two women in this issue alone. So, Valentino takes a plot element from ‘American Flagg’, incorporates it into his fictional world, extends it into a commentary on the psycho-sexual nature on comic book violence, and all while copying Chaykin’s art style. Ripping someone off is easy. Taking that same idea into a new direction takes talent!

And this happens in almost every issue. Norm’s wife Sophisticated Lady, inspired by the glamorous femme fatales of 50’s comics, came from the EC comics issue. The Asterix the Gaul parody shows how norm accidentally created the super-people of Levram. The normalman-Megaton Man special is a high-speed trip trough a variety of comic books and their respective universes. This is a humor-based universe shaped by parody and satire. I’ve never seen anything like it.

Speaking of never seen, we get an issue of ‘Journey’ starring Wolverine MacAlistaire, a 19th-Century frontiersman created by Wm. Messner Loebs. Normalman stops by on his trans-dimensional tour, and helps a Native American find the bones of his grandfather and peace of mind. Loebs’ art looks phenomenal! MacAlistaire is a rugged yet quirky hero who takes things as they come. His experiences with normalman leave him confused but ultimately non-plussed. I want to read more of this series! It was last published by Fatagraphics who’ve let it go out of print. Can anyone contact Mr. Loebs and ask about the possibility of bringing ‘Journey’ back into print?

In addition to ‘Journey’, we also get guest appearances from Fred Hembeck, Cerebus, E-Man, Cutie Bunny, the Flaming Carrot, Mr. Spook and Beanworld. It’s like an independent comics jam! Between ‘normalman’ and the web, you’ll be introduced to new and original characters that have disappeared from comics shelves. You also get the feeling that indy comics creators were a community. Everyone knew each other and were on friendly terms. Ideas and favors were traded freely. They were united by a common passion for their work. That passion is lacking at the big publishers.

Valentino’s ability to draw in another artists’ style is exceeded by his own cartooning skills. He draws lively characters leaping and zooming through the panels. They’re full of energy even when they’re standing still. His style comes through even when channeling another artist. Valentino is an excellent parody comics artist. I wish he’d continued making humor comics instead of launching ‘Shadowhawk’. In all honestly, these comics are better. Better drawn and better written.

Sorry Jim, but you’re a very funny guy.

While reading this collection, I was struck by two very depressing facts. One is that I got nearly ever reference made. I recognized what were supposed to be homages to Eisner, Steranko, and Chaykin. I knew the original characters being lampooned. I recognized the pros being roasted. I got all the jokes because I’ve wasted my life reading comic books! I could even identify which panels were inspired by specific classic comics. The only thing more depressing is how these comics are as relevant today as they were 20 years ago! The same story clichés and inherent ridiculousness of funny books can be found to today’s comics. Nearly every pro skewered in the specials is still working today. You will recognize the styles and comics being satirized because you’ve read them! Valentino was inspired by the same classic comics that inspire us. You probably own those comics in TPB form. It’s like the comics industry hasn’t changed in the last 20+ years. What a depressing thought.

‘The Complete normalman’ is a very funny book that’s much smarter than it seems. It’s a satire of the genre and the industry, while also an homage to those legendary characters and creators that made us love this crap. It’s a universe founded on humor and grown through parody. It’s the tale of a world where everybody fights yet nobody struggles. It’s the saga of an ordinary man rising up to meet extraordinary circumstances; a struggle that he would neither have nor overcome if he wasn’t ordinary to begin with. It’s the story of a man who was always extraordinary because he was “normal”.

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