Axel-In-Charge: Facing the 'Divided' Marvel NOW! Future
The Bomb is a trade paperback collecting the four issues of the series and a “swimsuit special.” The individual issues came out in 2006, this trade originally appeared in 2008, but it was recently resolicited (reprinted?), possibly to coincide with the new series, Fearless Dawn. She originally appeared here, don’t you know. The Bomb was written and drawn by Steve Mannion, published by Asylum Press, and produced by Atom Bomb Comics. Lots of fingers in the pie, eh?
If you’ve never heard of Mannion, the cover of this book gives you a pretty good idea of what you’re going to find within. The main story (there are others) concerns a teenager named Prissy Jones who loves comics and one day sends away for the Joe Jeeder Miracle Strength Kit! When it arrives, she bulks up (well, sort of, as her physique never actually changes) and knocks down the school bully, Betty Magillicutty, with one punch. Through the intervention of fate, she gets her own superhero costume (it’s kind of funny, actually, as Mannion links fetishism with superheroes quite deftly) and embarks on her own career. We find out in issue #2 that this comic takes place in 1939, and the Nazis have just invaded Poland. Prissy decides to fight the Nazis who appear in her own hometown! The head Nazi, General Fritz, later busts out of prison and attacks Prissy’s home. Oh, and somehow she becomes best friends with Betty, who also dresses up and busts evil. Plus, there are other stories starring pirates, including Sea-Goin’ Lil and Captain Brownhole Jones; and the silent adventures of Jungle Chick, who’s always beset by dinosaurs yet always triumphs. It’s quite the grab-bag of goofiness.
Mannion is totally unconcerned with the stories making any sense, as we can see from the switch of Betty from bully to best bud. After the Nazis start the war, they’re still holding political rallies in Prissy’s middle American hometown? I don’t think so. In issue #4, it’s implied that the General has been in prison for 15 years, but Prissy and Betty haven’t aged and Prissy is still living with her parents (I read it that he was sentenced to 15 years and busted out before the sentence could barely begin, but it could really be anything, as Mannion is, as I mentioned, unconcerned with making sense). At the end of the book, we get some short strips in which Mannion “explains” how Betty and Prissy came to be friends, but like much in the book, it doesn’t really explain anything. But that’s okay. There’s plenty that’s fun in the book, from Prissy’s mom thinking her daughter is hiding boys in her bedroom (and, consequently, remembering her own misbegotten youth) to the giant British robot that is supposed to destroy Brownhole Jones. Mannion chucks everything he can think of into this comic, and the result is a stew of weirdness that isn’t supposed to track logically. We’re supposed to just sit back, relax, and watch as he melts wax.
Essentially, this book is a way for Mannion to cut loose, artistically. His art is completely cheesecake, but in a very 1940s kind of way, and it’s weirdly innocent. The biggest problem with the art is that Prissy and Betty are definitely teenagers, so the way Mannion draws them is kind of icky, even though it’s just lines on a page. I mentioned that in the latest incarnation of the character, Fearless Dawn #1 (which I reviewed last week), he mitigates this by aging her sixteen years, but in this book, it’s always in the back of my mind, especially when our two heroines show up in their underwear (it’s 1940s underwear, but still). It’s not completely a deal-breaker, though. Mannion is having a grand time drawing this, and each page is packed with fun details. This looks very much like Mad magazine, with wild things happening on each page and in each panel. Everything, including the violence and the cheesecake, is so cartoonish that it’s hard to take it too seriously. Mannion is quite fantastic at exaggerating everything, from facial expressions to punches to the situations in which he puts his characters. I don’t know if I should be offended by its depictions of the female form, but I can’t stay mad at it! Part of it, as I mentioned above, is that the women don’t look creepy in a Greg Land kind of way – they have curves where they should, and don’t look like they would turn down a fine, carb-filled dinner. And Mannion even alters his style in different stories, making some of them (Jungle Chick and “Chicks on Bombs,” for instance) much more silly than even the Fearless Dawn story. It’s really a fun book to, once you’ve read it through, just open and look at the page on which you landed. You’ll always find something interesting to look at, even if it’s an impossibly pneumatic heroine!
I was disappointed that Mannion chose to describe Jungle Chick as a stupid girl who gets bonked on the head and becomes even dumber, because there’s no indication in her actual adventures that she’s an idiot (plus, I’m probably overly sensitive to the idea of people getting bonked on the head, but that’s just me). Other than that and a lack of good editing (there are several spelling mistakes and some awful grammatical ones), this is a fun, goofy book that hearkens back to the heyday of cheesecake and wacky humor magazines. I can’t rave about it because the stories are so slight, but Mannion’s art is extremely fun to look at.
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