Thursday, January 8, 2009

Groo: Hell on Earth

Groo: Hell on Earth
written by Mark Evanier/drawn by Sergio Aragones
Dark Horse 2009

Garrett Martin: It's been so long since I've read a Groo comic (easily twenty years) that I have no idea how Hell on Earth compares. It definitely has a lot of what I expected: deceptively detailed cartooning, goofy running gags, a blatant moral, and the world's ugliest cartoon dog. Aragones's art is kind of amazing in that it's so immediately familiar and the action so clearly defined that you can unwittingly glide through it very quickly, despite being thoroughly packed with tiny details and background sight gags that take genuine concentration to fully discover. The humor's mostly groan-worthy, but intentionally, and it's all very amiable. I don't remember old Groo being quite this moralistic, though. Have you read Groo before? Do you recall if it was usually this forthright in its message?

Hillary Brown: I haven't ever read any of Aragones's Groo stuff, so I can't weigh in on that, unfortunately, although it does seem that this particular topic (global warming) attracted more attention and controversy than any previous Groo story. Maybe it was just well timed, what with An Inconvenient Truth and Katrina and so on kind of waking people up and simultaneously bringing the real crazies out of the woodwork. I have pretty much always been an Aragones fan, though, as far back as I can remember, not only obsessively poring over his tiny marginalia in MAD, but also keeping an eye out for compilations of his work. He's definitely one of the treasures of comics and is rightfully recognized as such, despite his silliness. I definitely had to strike a balance with this book between trying to see every detail in every panel and wanting to keep going with the story, and it's by far the longest narrative work I've read that he's had a part in, so I was impressed to see that it holds up over pages and pages. Not that he's the writer, but still. As far as whether it's too moralistic, that's a hard question, especially when one agrees with the moral being preached (I certainly do), and I think it's very well put, in terms rather like Pascal's wager: that is, what does it hurt? What, really, do we have to lose relative to what we have to gain from not polluting everything around us? It was definitely a surprise that the book contained anything of the sort, as it certainly looks like pure comedy from the cover (and, obviously, it does contain a running explosive cow fart joke), but I'm not sure that it bothered me. It reminded me, if anything, of Larry Gonick's educational work, which manages both to be funny and to communicate something of importance at the same time.

GM: The environmental message didn't bother me at all; I was just surprised at how thoroughly the book focused on it. And yeah, I too agree with the moral. I was gonna say that I don't remember Groo being political like this, but then I remembered how ridiculous it is that this has become such a politically charged issue. It's sad, but some of the angry letters Evanier refers to in his afterword resemble comments I heard from family members over Christmas. It's ironic that the Sage's big lightbulb about solving the issue involved taking the message to children, since I doubt too many kids these days would ever be in a position where they could read this comic.

HB: Well, yes, and while the children are our future, I'm not sure the argument that they're who you should be arguing to holds up logically. I mean, the best time to start planning for your retirement (i.e., future) is basically right after birth, but you don't see too many six-year-olds starting Roth IRAs with their lemonade stand money, right? I agree that it's depressing the way science has become politicized, but I don't know if we'll be moving away from that state of affairs any time soon. So what else is there to say about this book? I liked it a lot, but I didn't, like, love it, and that might be because it's a little juvenile and a little simplistic, but I also assume it's kind of for kids.

GM: I agree about the logic, or lack thereof, of the Sage's plan. If conditions are already as dire as presented in Hell on Earth, do they really have time for those kids to grow up before the problems need to be seriously addressed? But I can forgive Aragones and Evanier for ignoring the internal logic of their own comic. After all, it's Groo, where logic has never been a priority. And yes, it's always been fairly simplistic and juvenile. Like I said, my memories are foggy, but I'd occasionally buy issues of Groo for years when I was younger. I was excited to read Hell on Earth, and definitely enjoyed it, but it's not quite as funny or charming as I expected. The art, as we've mentioned, is amazing, and there are some great gags in here, but it's a lot like picking up a current issue of Archie or Mad; I love it for the nostalgia, and for the consistency of vision, but I don't love it on its own terms. I would recommend it to fans of Groo, and if my nieces or nephews were 11 or 12 instead of 6 and younger I'd give my copy to one of them, but I don't think a typical adult who doesn't have a preexisting love for Aragones or Groo would think much of it.

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