Review: The Delinquents trade paperback (Valiant Entertainment)

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

[Review by Doug Glassman, who Tumblrs at '80s Marvel Rocks!]

While Valiant's main publishing drive in 2014 was the “Valiant First” marketing initiative, the secondary title could very well have been “Year of the Crossovers.” The major one was the epic length Armor Hunters, but 2014 also saw the return of Valiant's future timeline as envisioned in Rai and Eternal Warrior. There was also a brilliant crossover between the very disparate Archer and Armstrong and Bloodshot and H.A.R.D. Corps, which if nothing else proved that Josh Dysart and Christos Gage can match and even exceed Fred Van Lente's wicked sense of humor. But for me, the crown jewel of “Valiant First” was the announcement of The Delinquents, the long-awaited team-up of Quantum and Woody with Archer and Armstrong.

Because Quantum and Woody came out during the Acclaim era, they never really got a chance to share the page with their wacky Valiant brethren. The crossover also softened the blow of the end of both series. While Q&W took a rest to allow Christopher Priest and M.D. Bright's Q2: The Return of Quantum and Woody to come out, writer James Asmus is returning soon with Quantum and Woody Must Die! However, Archer and Armstrong had a rather rough ending with Fred Van Lente quite plainly wanting to go in a different direction. He and artist Clayton Henry have since moved on to Ivar, Timewalker, an equally good romp featuring the reality-spanning Doctor Who-ish brother of Armstrong.

Asmus and Van Lente teamed up to write The Delinquents and it's obvious from the page that they had a blast doing so. While each writer's duo has one strict and one slovenly character, all four are different and their interactions bear it out. Despite his drunkenness, Armstrong is a good person at his core; Woody still hasn't proven that he has the same integrity. The ever-aloof Archer is even more bewildered by the actions of Armstrong and Woody, and a few bad interactions between he and Quantum slow their friendship. Archer is unfortunately the weak point here, the same as in Archer and Armstrong's later issues. His status quo shifts too quickly, while simultaneously, he stays too static as a character. At the same time, since The Delinquents takes place before the endings of both titles, it captures the characters at some of their best points in their arcs.

The plot of the book draws from Asmus and Van Lente's own brand of political comedy; don't expect any subtlety, but it's funny all the same. It helps that their target is a deserving one: it's a paper-thin parody of Mosanto. Fronted by a spoof of Jeff “The Dude” Lebowski, the “Mondostano” company is trying to control all life on Earth by replacing it with their copyrighted genetically modified versions. This being a comic book, such creatures take the form of sentient bull-men and other monsters. As part of his plan, Mondostano needs the map to Big Rock Candy Mountain, the horn of plenty from hobo lore. A map exists but it's split into two parts; Mondostano hires Quantum and Woody to find the missing half, which has been in the custody of Armstrong since his time riding the rails during the Great Depression. If you've ever read John Hodgman's The Areas of My Expertise and remember its valuable information about the world of hobos, you'll appreciate even more of the story.

Instead of tying up the already busy Clayton Henry or Tom Fowler for the artwork, Valiant brought in Kano, who has previously worked on Mark Waid's Daredevil [and Action Comics, and HERO. -- ed]. He maintains the smoothness of Henry but keeps up Fowler's manic energy. His panel layouts are complex enough to force me to read the issues in single-page view on Comixology, a level of complexity shared with Jamie McKelvie and Alex Milne. Juan Doe's fantastic game board covers for all four issues add an extra level of fun to The Delinquents. The game is fully functional, complete with game pieces; it's worth hitting a $1 back issue bin or local comics shop sale to grab the individual issues and cut out the covers and parts to play the game yourself.

The twin successes of Archer and Armstrong and Quantum and Woody proved that there still can be quality humorous superhero comics. Too often, authors play into the over-the-top nature of a character and take them too far in a sophomoric direction, which is why I wasn't a fan of Daniel Way's Deadpool or the current iteration of Harley Quinn. We need more books like Duggan and Posehn's Deadpool, Transformers: More Than Meets the Eye, and Kelly Sue DeConnick's Bitch Planet that can make readers laugh as well as think. Valiant's comedy titles were amongst the best of this genre, and while their legacies continue, The Delinquents functions as a wonderful send-off for both.
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1 comment:

  1. It's such a shame that this series didn't do particularly well in sales (actually this might be a carry-over from Q&W, which is usually one of Valiant's lower-selling ongoing series), because this book was fantastic.

    I'm especially looking forward to Quantum and Woody Must Die, because Steve Lieber is on art duties. Superior Foes of Spider-Man meets Q&W? Yes, please!