When people ask me what the hardest things to teach teenagers is as an English teacher, they are often surprised when I say it’s satire. People assume grammar rules, essay writing, or Shakespeare are much more challenging topics for young learners, but no, it’s satire.
And really, when you think about it, this makes sense. In order to recognize satire you first need to know what the heck it actually is, how it functions, what its goals are, and that’s before you get to the actual work of satire itself. Unless you understand the issue at hand, including the many and varied problems with it, you’ll never really understand what the author is trying to say.
The other problem with understanding satire is the double edged sword of comedy. There is nothing harder to write well than satire, because the comedy goblin is always attacking you at the edges. Satire is supposed to include hyperbolic exaggeration, and that hyperbole frequently is designed to produce laughter directed at the object being satirized. Laughing in the face of something is a powerful tool, and can do more to tear down a system than any other force brought to bear.
But that comedy goblin is a greedy beast, and demands more and more laughter to satiate its hunger. As a result, poor satirists will often go too far with the jokes, focusing more on getting laughs than on actually pointing out real problems or issues. This ends up making the work feel toothless, and that it’s just a funny parody designed to get some cheap laughs and amuse instead of actually do anything beneficial for society.
It’s a bit like comparing John Oliver’s show to the later entries in the Scary Movie franchise.
Which takes us to Ahoy Comics. You see, while there are a lot of books out there that attempt to “deconstruct” superheroes, the sad fact of the matter is that, while many of them are brilliant, thought provoking examinations of superhero psychology, they are also dour as heck! I mean, my god, when was the last time you read a book that took a hard look at superheroes that wasn’t a complete downer?
And I get it, Frank Miller and Alan Moore kind of set the tone for this kind of work forevermore, but come on! Superheroes are, at their very core, an inherently goofy thing. Tom King can write eighty issues about the deep and tortured psychology of Batman, but at no point did he every really discuss how ridiculous it is for a grown man to dress up as a bat and beat up the mentally ill!
And again, I get it, we love our heroes and hate to see them made fun of. Just look at the online backlash when Peacemaker made jokes about the SnyderBoy’s beloved heroes. We don’t like to see how ridiculous they are because for some reason that makes us feel like they are being disrespected, and perhaps we are being disrespected too, when the exact opposite it true. Satire requires understanding, and it’s only because we have such a deep love and understanding of these characters, and because we know so much about them, that we can appreciate, and even laugh at some of the ridiculous aspects of their characters. We can celebrate that comics are weird and superheroes are goofy and still respect comic books as art and comic book writers as legitimate authors.
We can laugh together about how weird comics are, and still love everything about them.
And Ahoy Comics gets this. They have quietly and consistently put out some of the best, most brilliant, most insightful superhero parody I have seen in the last 30 years.
And you know what? They’re damn funny too.
They lampooned Batman, both the Adam West and the Michael Keaton, in their brilliant series The Wrong Earth and its subsequent follow-ups. They dissected an emotionally unstable Superman with PenultimateMan, and looked at superhero worship with Second Coming. Each book took a hard look at what it is that makes these character who they are, and yes, there were a lot of laughs along the way, but at no point did I feel like the characters that inspired these parodies were being disrespected ,or that I as a comic reader was being mocked.
Indeed, it’s only because they have such a love of these heroes and such a respect for their readers that they are able to produce such fantastic satire. They respect what their audience knows, while at the same time get us to laugh along with them about some of the the more ridiculous elements of comics today. This, in turn, can be a wonderful tool to help people stop being so dour and serious about comic books and comic related media, and teach us to embrace the bizarre and ridiculous.
Now they are expanding on their universe with a new title, My Bad, a brilliant send up of classic comics that is as insightful as it is hilarious. So let’s dive into this series and see what it is that makes Ahoy Comics the top of their field when it comes to superhero parody, and maybe we’ll all learn to laugh together again.
Here’s the blurb: A sharp super-hero spoof from a stellar team that includes co-creators of Irredeemable and SECOND COMING! In Gravel City, the super-villain Emperor King has devised not only a sadistic death trap for his arch-enemy, The Accelerator, but also the means to penetrate the top secrets of his other arch-enemy, The Chandelier! IMPORTANT NEW COMIC BOOK UNIVERSE BEGINS HERE, we say sarcastically!
First off, let’s talk about how this book is set up. Rather than a single story, each issue is divided up into multiple, smaller stories that are ongoing throughout the run, and honestly, this is a good move. One of the biggest issues with satire is that if it is dragged out too long it can start to feel forced. By keeping the storytelling tight like this it allows the plot to move quickly, the jokes to land solidly, and then moves on before you get bored with the premise. The issues flow at a good clip, and yet you don’t feel rushed or cheated.
And speaking of storytelling, you have an incredibly solid team behind this book. Mark Russell takes the lead here, and knowing his background, that’s not a surprise. Russell has been instrumental on a number of parody books in the past, with his Flintstones series being a standout, so he knows what he is doing with this genre. At the same time, the contributions of previous collaborator Bryce Ingman and artist Peter Krause bring this world to life with brilliant designs and fun, ridiculous characters.
This is parody done right. The heroes are ridiculous, but they never feel unbelievable. There is a reality to this world that these characters fit into well, and even the outrageous moments of comedy feel earned and realistic within this reality. Characters are both mocked and treated with a degree of reverence that is often lacking in other superhero parody, and it shows the genuine care that went into this book.
Like I said, the book is divided up into multiple ongoing stories, each tied together with the unifying thread of the character Emperor King, a send up of Lex Luthor with a dash of Batman’s rogues thrown in for good measure.
In the first story we meet the character of The Chandelier, a clear parody of Batman. He’s a self-obsessed, paranoid lunatic in a ridiculous costume, and yet, at the same time he takes himself so seriously that you can’t help but believe that in this world he is genuinely seen as a legitimate (although deeply flawed) hero.
Emperor King sends him a birthday gift, but sends it to his secret identity. This sends Chandelier spiraling into madness, trying desperately to understand how Emperor King figured out his secret identify, what he hopes to gain from that knowledge, and ultimately, why did he buy him a salad shooter?
Meanwhile Emperor King is dealing with his own problems when his killer death trap, meant to finally eliminate his greatest foe, accidently snags a low level, traffic safety themed hero instead. The two have a hilarious conversation with each other, all while the trapped hero Rush Hour does whatever he can to survive.
My Bad is what comics are all about. It’s bright, colorful, fun, and just a darn good read. Ahoy Comics has consistently put out brilliant series after brilliant series, and this latest book might be the best so far. If you’ve never picked up a book from them before I highly recommend you check one out, especially The Wrong Earth, PenultimateMan, and My Bad. These series’ are love letter to comic book fans, and you be glad you gave them a chance.
Alright friends, that’s it for me this week. Until next time, stay safe!