“PANDA Strikes Back!”
Writer/artist: Graham Pearce
Publisher: Pier-C Comics
(£1 from Graham Pearce, c/o 42 Talbot Road, Preston, Lancashire, PR1 9QX)
The creator of this comic contacted me about reviewing it with an email that was very self-deprecating, almost apologetic in tone, apparently trying to convince me that while this wasn’t a particularly intelligent title, it was nonetheless good fun. I think Pearce is being unfair to himself and his comic with such an attitude; satire and spoofing is easy to do, but it’s remarkably difficult to do it so well that you hit the mark almost every single time, and that’s what he does here. I gather that the series as a whole has a similar format to The Simpsons spin-off comic Radioactive Man, in that each issue is set in a different comic genre and/or era, and this issue finds us in mid-Eighties Marvel UK territory, specifically the British GI Joe equivalent, Action Force. It’s all absolutely spot-on, and it’s wonderful to see how much attention to detail there is. The format of the comic will be immediately familiar to anyone who read a Marvel UK title back in the Eighties, even down to the sidebar they used to stick in on the first page of the reprint sections of those comics, which featured some generic action scene and a text recap of the previous issue’s reprint chunk. There’s even a one-page ad for this comic’s sister title, a comic about a race of Transforming robots from another world…
Pearce also has fun with the homoerotic undertones in Action Force, a series that was full of butch men in uniforms with big tufty moustaches, and the twin ninjas Grey Wolf and White are a wonderful send-up of the ninja-based excesses of the original series. The panda-themed terrorists show us just how ridiculous the idea of animal-themed terrorism really is, while at the same time going into enough detail as to transcend a simple joke at COBRA’s expense and to actually be internally consistent; the various acronyms all mean something, for example.
But it’s not merely a spoof of a particular genre of comic, as Pearce throws in some social commentary too, largely at the expense of the sinister U.S. government and the clueless American media. We get a “European” combat team featuring a member from the Indian sub-continent, an evil arms dealer let go at the end of the day on the understanding that he sells his goods exclusively to the U.S., and the reluctance of Mike Battle and his squad to enter combat until they’re told that there are untapped oil wells on the terrorists’ island.
The art is simple and cartoony, but it’s well suited to the writing, and Pearce’s storytelling skills are strong. When the script calls for a bit of visual humour, the art doesn’t fail there either, and I laughed out loud as “Pandolf” was revealed. That said, there are a couple of moments when it’s clear that the art has been rushed, and the simple look of the main story means that it doesn’t really contrast as it should with the Combat Colin parody on the inside back cover. That one-page strip is limited in effectiveness as it is, being a spoof of a comedy strip in a spoof comedy comic, but without the humour provided between the contrast in art styles, it really does fall rather flat.
This comic is great fun. It really is quite hard to make comedy work, but Pearce does an excellent job here, largely because he doesn’t stick to one type of comedy. Relying on merely spoofing Action Force would have been risky, but bundling that up with some neatly observed social satire, good visual humour, marvellous attention to detail and some cracking dialogue, there’s hardly a duff note. He aims wide and hits every mark. Good stuff.
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