Several weeks ago, when Ambidextrous was testing the waters within the confines of the Silver Soapbox, I presented an article called The Great Acclaim Confession that dictated my appreciation for the short-lived second incarnation of Acclaim Comics. If you don’t believe any reasonable comic patron would admit something so strange, browse the archives for conclusive proof.
Three of the company’s properties were detailed at length and the quality execution that garnered by cynical attention was briefly discussed. Believe or not, one of the main players was intentionally left out of the equation, because the dreamer in me conjured a much more elaborate set-up for the following piece, but circumstances and reality intruded quite quickly…as it often does.
Still, I feel the question must be posed. Whatever happened to Quantum and Woody…and why would comics be a better place if it was still around? Those unenlightened gather round, I’m preparing to introduce you to one of the finest superhero tales of our modern age, history in the making that went largely unnoticed. Meet Quantum and Woody, and apologize for taking so long to make their acquaintance.
Quantum (Eric Henderson) and Woody (Woodrow Van Chelton) grew up together, nearly inseparable despite the vast differences in skin color and temperament. Now, before you get the wrong idea…they were not a couple. They were the closest of friends. One day, Woody disappeared from their sheltered upper class life, abandoning his best friend forever. But they were not a couple.
Now these two former best friends are re-united and stuck with each other for the rest of their lives, while trying to make sense of their fractured friendship as superheroes. But they are not a couple. The question is…can Quantum & Woody, and their pet goat Vincent, handle the new responsibility thrust upon them, or will they drive each other crazy?
It’s the world’s WORST superhero team!!!
The preceding is based on the series description contained on the back of the series’ first trade paperback collection from Acclaim Comics, and from there a potent mixture of brilliance and insanity ensues from the minds of Christopher Priest and M.D. Bright.
When the saga begins Eric and Woody have been re-united by tragedy when their fathers are killed in a mysterious plane crash. Fifteen years have passed since Woody moved away and left Eric alone, and time has apparently not healed this wound. After the two young men are fingered as suspects in the tragic accident, Eric sets out on the trail of the true killers, bringing the wisecracking Woody along for the ride, and picking up a pair of control bands found in his father’s personal items. An outburst coupled with a lab explosion binds them together forever…forced to touch their control bands every twenty-four hours lest their bodies revert to pure energy, causing them to vanish into nothingness.
Cool set-up right? Realizing that one cannot survive on premise alone, the execution is what truly made Q & W stand tall among their competitors on the racks. The focus was shifted from flashy heroics and grimacing villains, placed solely in the hands of the main characters that served to literally write the story by themselves.
The audience, while fascinated by the danger presented by the duo’s latest adversary, really wanted to know whether Eric and Woody could clear through fifteen years of baggage and repair their fractured friendship. Woody is comic relief to Eric’s straight man, and the results are a mixture of in-jokes and shared experiences splashed onto the stage of costumed heroics.
Utilizing humor in the midst of a superhero epic requires a delicate balance, that if breached will result in an unintended tumble into the realm of idiocy, where the characters are no longer taken seriously, and where once a book was cool…it’s now become silly. When a superhero comic becomes silly, it will soon meet the untimely horror of cancellation. Which is probably the reason why many writers shy away from blatant humor in their works, relying solely on biting sarcasm, which isn’t the same thing. Quantum and Woody expertly used humor as a storytelling mechanism, and not merely a tone of voice that causes the characters to fire sarcastic remarks at each other. And made this task appear easy.
One is hard-pressed to identity the most hilarious predicament faced by Q & W over their book’s life-span. Could it be the lab accident that bonded them together in the first place? The drop of Kool-Aid that leads the heroes to Malaysia and a goat named Vincent? The television deal with the two lesbian co-stars? What about when Eric and Woody switch bodies?
The only thing more impressive than the comedic elements are the moments of poignancy and maturity that provide balance to the mix.
Race is an aspect that many comic writers have not appropriately addressed in this medium, and most likely can be attributed to the demographic that the majority of creators fall into. Not a criticism mind you, just an observation. Christopher Priest, who now writes a little book called the Black Panther for Marvel Comics, served as co-creator for this title, and happens to be black.
This provided him with a point-of-view that remained evident whenever the two lead characters discussed the politics of race, and the ability to ignore stereotypes and the ethnic typecasting that writers with a minimal amount of first-hand knowledge sometimes portray. Eric Henderson was a well-educated black man from an upper class background that attended the finest schools, wore the finest clothes, and lived the finest existence. Woody Van Chelton, though spending his childhood in the same environment as Eric, was relocated to an urban loft during his teenage years. Watching his mother succumb to drug addiction and the murder of a close friend matured him in a manner that Eric’s prep-school education couldn’t accomplish. The stereotype is turned on its ear, and Eric doesn’t spend his time speaking in Ebonics or some other ridiculous dialect meant to highlight his ethnicity and he doesn’t reside in some dark inner-city. The game is changed and the characters seem that much richer because their personalities weren’t swiped from the nearest television program or after-school special.
Priest also sowed the seeds for a narrative style that would follow him over to Marvel’s Black Panther. The easiest comparison would be to Pulp Fiction, in which the story is related in chapters that may or may not occur in chronological order. Each chapter is given a clever name based on its content, and only when all of the pieces are presented in front of you does the story truly reveal itself.
If you’re a fan of the superhero genre and well-developed characters, I highly encourage you to seek out Quantum and Woody. Check your back-issue bins and your online retailers for either the serialized form, or the four trade paperbacks that were released: Director’s Cut, Kiss Your Ass Goodbye, Holy S-Word—We’re Canceled, and Magnum Force. I recommend the trades of course, but do what you can.
It’s been a couple years since the last issue of Quantum and Woody saw print, and the possibility that Priest will pick up the ball and release more material involving the duo is enough to keep hope alive. Quantum and Woody was a title quite unlike any else on the stands when released, and even in today’s marketplace…would still provide a decidedly different flavor to your comic reading experience.
Next time: This damn industry is looking better every week. Come back next time and learn why it’s so damn hard to be cynical when there’s so much cool shit going on. It’s Unbridled Enthusiasm folks, get it before it’s all gone…
Note: What series do you still wish was percolating the stands? Stop by the Ambidextrous message board and be heard. I promise not to swear at anybody… 😉