Friday, October 03, 2008

Review: The Bomb

Steve Mannion’s The Bomb is aptly named. The book is, as the kids used to say, the bomb.

Most of that has to do with Mannion’s interests, influences and incredible illustration style (alliteration!), since his one-man anthology series was short on serious story, but jam-packed with curvy, scantily-clad classic calendar-girl types wearing costumes and fighting Nazis while romping through gag-driven stories.

Asylum Press has collected the four issues of Mannion’s self-published series, and it makes for a heck of a package.

The bulk of the story (and pin-up pages) are devoted to the story of Fearless Dawn. She’s the girl on the cover wearing some sort of black rubber batwing/antler things on her head.

Who is she, and how did she get her start?

Prissy Jones was just your average bobbysoxer growing up in a quiet small town, in love with comics and often bullied by this girl at school named Betty, who looks an awful lot like Bettie Page. Then she orders the Joe Jeeder Miracle Strength Kit from a comic book ad, and, after a little bit of training, a strange dream, and a fortuitous encounter with a suitcase full of fetish gear for costume play, she becomes Fearless Dawn.

Yeah, I don’t get the name, either.

Anyway, in her first adventure she busts up a ring of Nazis operating out of the old Saurkraut factory in town, well underway in their plan to build an army of zombie robots with the help of Betty, who is also a superhero, although her costume is really just a pair of roller skates she wears while fighting.

Mannion breaks up the make-it-up-as-he-goes-along Fearless Dawn storyline with a couple of other features, including the adventures of pirate Sea-Goin’ Lil and her captain/sometimes boyfriend Brownhole Jones, and Jungle Chick, a blank-eyed mute blonde in a leopard skin bikini who is menaced by a dinosaur that always ends up getting badly hurt.

The main feature reminded me a lot of Tank Girl, in spirit if not style—like the original Tank Girl comics, it seemed like a large part of the creative process was the artist just kinda drawing whatever the hell he wanted, telling some jokes along the way, and letting the story go wherever it’s naturally headed, no matter how silly.

Mannion’s drawing style has a lot more to do with Wally Wood than it does with Jamie Hewlett, however.

The Dawn and Lil passages in particular scream of 1950s influences, particularly EC’s Mad and the stable of artists it eventually cultivated. From the pin-up girl poses and proportions of the heroines, to the Will Elder-like level of “chicken fat” detail in the backgrounds, to the lovingly rendered monsters and the occasional horror host characters that appears and disappears, there’s a bit of post-war comics boom on almost every page of the book.

Mannion doesn’t seem to stick to the same style or process for very long either. For example, he Jungle Chick scripts are pantomime gag strips of the Spy vs. Spy tradition—dinosaur tries to eat jungle girl, something happens to prevent it, often involving blunt trauma—and Mannion seems to lean towards a Sergio Aragones look in them (His Jungle Chick character designs is particularly Aragones-like).

Some of the fight scenes in the Dawn stories—like one in which she and the Nazi general named The General trade blows with different meats—take on the loose movements of Harvey Kurtzman drawings and their cartooniest.

The net effect is a trade paperback that looks like a graphic novel, but reads like a sketchbook. Considering the amount of joy in each of Mannion’s pages—no matter what the subject he tackles, the style he’s working in or the influence he’s channeling—that’s not a bad thing at all.

RELATED: You can read the first eight pages in a preview here.


LurkerWithout said...

*schecks bank account*

Oh right...


Sea_of_Green said...

It always cracks me up to hear people griping about all the "cheesecake" in modern comics. They need to look at comic book history a little more closely -- then they'd see that comics have just come full circle. ;-)