Review: Weapon Brown trade paperback (Death Ray Graphics)

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

[Doug Glassman ('80s Marvel Rocks!) celebrates "Indie-pendence Month" with his July reviews ...]

Sometimes you’re just led to certain comics by fate. After writing the Grimm Fairy Tales: Inferno review, I went to the same store where I picked up Wasteland: Cities in Dust last year. On the same shelf and in almost the exact same slot was Weapon Brown. I had heard of Jason Yungbluth’s twisted homage to Peanuts, but only vaguely, mostly due to the Kickstarter which enabled its small print run through Death Ray Graphics. I’m actually glad I missed out on its initial webcomic debut at Deep Fried because I know how I read webcomics: would have started reading Weapon Brown and then forgotten about it.

This trade also helps me assuage the guilt of “selling out” for Indie-Pendence Month this year; three books were media tie-ins! Conversely, Weapon Brown is much closer to the books I reviewed this time last year, with black-and-white artwork, subversive sensibilities, and the distinct difficulty a reader has in finding physical copies. There’s also a direct correlation with one of last year’s reviews. Much like R. Sikoryak’s Masterpiece Comics, Yungbluth mashes up comic strips with darker and more diverse literature. The key difference is that it’s all to set up a dystopian universe. I’ve mentioned my disdain for post-apocalyptic stories before, but spoof always overrides anything else in the genre department as far as I’m concerned.

The prologue sets the mood; as he explains it, Yungbluth is a fan of the Peanuts animated specials and of many newspaper comics. It’s a sign that this is a project created out of love . . . mostly. He still gets in some good digs now and then and pretty much every comic strip character you grew up with has been warped in this horrible future, but a lot of thought has been put into the world of Weapon Brown. It’s also not presented as some sort of “real” story behind the comics or even implied that this is the ultimate future of the funny pages. You can still enjoy Calvin and Hobbes and Beetle Bailey after reading Weapon Brown, although you might end up snickering when you remember how they were under Yungbluth’s pen. While there’s quite a bit of nudity, it mostly works with the tone, and the characters who appear naked often aren’t the ones you want to see naked.

The Weapon Brown trade is split between two main stories, beginning with “A Peanut Scorned,” the original tale. This takes up the first third and is comprised of just about every single Peanuts joke you can think of. From the kite-eating tree to Linus’ blanket, from the Little Red-Haired Girl to Shermie, from Snoopy’s dancing to “blockhead” (here used as a trigger word), there’s a deeply disturbing but hilarious gag for it all. Chuck, the titular weapon, has a cyborg arm and a bad attitude, his only friend being the one-eyed dog Snoop. How they met up isn’t revealed until the very end in an original story composed for the trade. A list of helpful annotations in the back of the trade explains some of the jokes and points out hidden references  the reader might have missed; it also provides some insight into Yungbluth’s creative process. As he explains, he really did use every Peanuts joke he could think of, necessitating a wider scope in the sequel, “Blockhead’s War.”

Note: everything I write about below really happens in this book. It’s that kind of crazy awesome.

On the surface, “Blockhead’s War” is the basic plot of every 1980s post-apocalyptic movie: a moody drifter flees a repressive government and throws in his lot with a resistance group only to leave at the end. It’s really the special touch of the comic strip characters that makes the entire read worthwhile. For instance, the powerful female warrior role often portrayed by Sybil Danning in those 1980s movies is, in Weapon Brown, filled by Little Orphan Annie, now all grown up and blind thanks to a childhood tragedy. (You will never hear the phrase “leapin’ lizards” again without laughing out loud after reading this.) An even more physically mutated Popeye is the resident strongman; Broom-Hilda is an incomprehensible sorceress. More modern comics aren’t excluded either, with Huey Freeman from The Boondocks as a key ally in Anne’s rebellion.

I wish the villains received a little more attention. Mostly it’s because one of the main villains is the Pointy-Haired Boss from Dilbert at his slimy best, leading a council with allies like Uncle Duke from Doonesbury and Mary Worth. There’s even a tiny cameo by Phil, the Prince of Insufficient Light, as a prison overseer! Said prison is part of a very long gag turning The Wizard of Id into the television show Oz, but it doesn’t quite pay off due to some timing issues. This comes down to it being a webcomic collection; it’s understandable that the pacing doesn’t always work out when you’re doing a few pages at a time. Making up for this is the primary villain, Cal, and his shapeshifting tiger. There’s a “Calvin peeing” joke shortly after his introduction in case you were concerned.

I enjoy the twisted brilliance in how certain strips are combined to enhance the setting, such as characters from B.C. and Alley-Oop all appearing as futuristic cavemen. The evil military mashes up Beetle Bailey and Crock; I had never heard of the latter, but it’s one of Yungbluth’s favorite strips. The artwork helps by providing a hint of a character’s original style while amping up the horror factor. This is best demonstrated with the sandworm-like Garf, who looks just enough like Garfield to establish the joke but modified to reference Dune and Tremors. I only had to turn to the annotations to get some of the really obscure references, like the various dogs led by Snoop.

While you can read Weapon Brown for free online, I would highly recommend financially supporting Yungbluth’s endeavors; a PDF version is only $10. It’s effectively the comic strip equivalent of League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
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