Tuesday, October 26, 2010

The Adventures Of Unemployed Man Review

Ultimatum is the "dark knight of self-help." He scours the city in search of people saving the citizens by teaching the power of positive thinking. "If you can believe it, you can achieve it!" He largely fights those who are freeloaders on the social system by trying to teach them how their destinies are entirely within their own control, and that if they aren't doing well within the American system, it's their own laziness to blame.

That is, until he encounters a woman foraging for food in a dumpster. She tells him that she DOES have a job and works hard, but is paid so little by the factory that she still has to go dumpster-diving to survive. It turns out that the factory in question is owned by the company his uncle founded and he is the mascot for. When he starts to question the Board of Directors, he's promptly fired and finds himself unable to get a job, despite his best efforts.

The story then carries on as he encounters other down-on-their-luck superheroes like Master of Degrees, Wonder Mother, Fellowman and White Rage. While he learns of their stories, the Just Us League of The Thumb, Golden Sack, Stern Bear, Stanley Morgan, the Lemur Brothers and others unleashes a Toxic Debt Blob from the Glass Steagall Containment Device that threatens the entire country. Unemployed Man (formerly Ultimatum) and his band of new-found heroes save the long-imprisoned Everyman, and try to help all of the heroes find their true calling.

As you might gather from my brief description, the plot is essentially a retelling of the financial meltdown that just occurred, using the Golden/Silver Age superhero motifs as a working palette. It sounds like a pretty cheesy concept, and in some respects it is, but I have to say that I was incredibly impressed with just how well authors Erich Origen and Gan Golan were able to weave some sometimes ethereal concepts into visual metaphors perfectly suited to the superhero genre. Here's a few examples from the heroes' origins...

Now, a lot of the gags are not subtle. Breaking the Glass Steagall Containment Device, for example. Even some of the background bits, like the Hall of Just Us has a hall of fame which includes busts of Ray Gun, Fried Man and Ayn Brand that look more than a little like Ronald Reagan, Milton Friedman and Ayn Rand. So, taken individually, some of the jokes might seem a little obvious or trite. But what really makes this book succeed, I think, is that there are just so many gags and puns packed into every page that you have to laugh at the marvel of collecting ALL of them in one story. The book is just packed with just about every metaphor and play on words that might be related to the financial crisis, and quite a number of them that refer back to superhero comics. After Ultimatum becomes unemployed, for example, the title of his comic book changes to Inaction Comics as he mopes around and reads the want ads. It's pun after sight gag after joke after clever word play throughout the whole book.

Scattered throughout the book, too, are ads drawn up in the fashion of old "classic" comic book ads. These are a little tangental to the main story, but still provide room for financial crisis related humor.

Oh, and did I mention that art credits include Ramona Fradon, Rick Veitch, Michael Netzer, Terry Beatty, Joe Rubinstein, Benton Jew, Thomas Yeates, Shawn Martinbrough and Thomas Mauer? Needless to say, the actual storytelling throughout the book is very smooth. Even more impressively, the changes in illustration style, while noticeable, do not seem to have any hindrance on the story flow. I've actually gone back to look at it several times, trying to figure out how they pulled that off so successfully. (I'm still looking.)

On the book's site, Origen states...
We want people to see how heroic they are in the face of all they’re up against. One of my roles in life has been to help people who are stressed or grieving have a moment of levity—not by being glib and acting above it all, but by being happy within the sadness and the struggle. It's being authentic, not denying reality. We want to give some soulful comic relief to people who are struggling.
While I'm certainly not struggling nearly to the extent that many others I know are, I think it's pretty safe, in this particular case, to say: mission accomplished. If you're comfortably employed right now, buy two copies: one for yourself and one for someone you know who's having a rough time making ends meet. I'm betting they can use a pick-me-up like this.

1 comment:

Michael Netzer said...

Not sure I can help explain why the style change worked, but I'll try.

Most of the book was inked by Terry Beatty, who melded Ramona's and Rick's pages into one style. My section was inked by Joe Rubinstein and it's a little different from the rest. But because I also drew several pages within the other sections, which Terry inked and made closer to the rest of the book, by the time you get to my section, you've already had a subliminal taste of my style. So it seems like a natural progression, though it differs.

Very nice and insightful review, Sean.