Angelman

Created by: Nicolas Mahler

Published by: Fantagraphics

ISBN: 1606995340 (Amazon)

Pages: 96

Genre: Meta, Satire, Super Heroes

Angelman

Everyone pretty much knows that superhero publishing is a joke, right? That storylines and characters and art choices are market-driven rather than a natural growth from organic narrative processes? That Big Corporate books (i.e. those from Marvel and DC) are mired in stunts that hope hopelessly to keep the interest of current readers while simultaneously attracting new blood? That comics sales dwindle from stagnation, a direct market, and an inability to do anything that feels real with characters whose legacy and recognizability are more important that the stories they inhabit? Everyone knows superhero comics are like this, right?

But they don’t. I doubt anyone in my office knows this—after all, they don’t read comics. I doubt my brother knows this—after all, he doesn’t read comics. I know my wife didn’t know until a few years back when she married me—after all, she didn’t read comics. Even now that she does, she spends very little time in the corner with the superheroes—so it’s pretty possible that she still doesn’t know this.11Although, since she proofs these for me, she knows by this point right here at least. My guess is that the people who read superhero books (but aren’t also in junior high) are pretty well aware of the shenanigans involved in their pastime but suffer those slings and arrows to get one more taste of their four-colour crack. And the people who don’t care about superhero comics generally won’t know about the shenanigans because they don’t care about superhero comics.

And this is, I think, the biggest problem with Nicolas Mahler’s Angelman.

Angelman by Nicolas Mahler

In Angelman, Mahler skewers the superhero industry, satirizing their ridiculous marketing ploys and the way they abuse their characters in order to just-maybe wring some profit from their heroic husks. The book follows the life and history of a new hero, Angelman, as he tries to adapt to superheroing and find acceptance among colleagues. Along the way he is constantly hampered by his writers and editors at Korporate Komics, as they seek to use him to fill ridiculous niches hoping to bring in new readers. While Angelman is given a nemesis, it quickly becomes clear that his true antagonist is the editorial team at Korporate.

The problem then is that while Mahler ably satirizes big superhero publishers—using wit and amusement as his chief weaponry—it’s never clear who will appreciate his book. Readers of superhero books are already probably well aware of his punchlines; after all, they’re immersed in the stuff. They’ll probably find Mahler’s book amusing,22And it really is amusing. Mahler’s a smart writer and his jokes betray that intelligence. In a way, Angelman does taste a little like the seasoned games player thoroughly schooling his jock cousin at risk every Thanksgiving, a kind of intellectual bullying. We all know that superhero books occupy the low end of the comics gene pool, and when Mahler pokes fun at the genetic deficiency it starts to lack a little grace. Maybe. It’s possible I’m being too compassionate. After all, superhero books, ammirite? but probably not nineteen buck worth of amusing. And people who don’t read superhero books probably won’t catch the jokes or, worse, won’t care in any case.

Angelman by Nicolas Mahler

It’s too bad, really, because Mahler is a talented creator. I very much enjoyed his slim earlier effort Lone Racer and he shows at least as much talent here—and possibly even more polish. The narrative concept that governs Angelman is really pretty genius33Each page brings to life a discrete incident from Angelman’s story (either from his narrative or his meta-narrative) and anchors the telling in footnotes that recall issue numbers and story titles related to that page’s event. Like so:
Angelman by Nicolas Mahler
and the book’s use of colour delightful. As per what I’ve seen from Mahler before, his characters are amusing abstractions, mostly noses and torsos—and sometimes even without visible arms. The book’s backmatter is likewise amusing and relevant and includes a price guide for Angelman issues, covers from the character’s short-lived series, and an afterward guide to the supporting cast’s stories.

Angelman by Nicolas Mahler

Angelman is well-published and sharply produced. Its critique just wasn’t anything I hadn’t read on comics blogs over and again for the last seven years. Honestly, it’s probably worth reading but probably not worth owning. Which seems sadly apropos in a way. I’d much rather recommend Lone Racer.  Perhaps I’ll review that soon.

 

Good Ok Bad features reviews of comics, graphic novels, manga, et cetera using a rare and auspicious three-star rating system. Point systems are notoriously fiddly, so here it's been pared down to three simple possibilities:

3 Stars = Good
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I am Seth T. Hahne and these are my reviews.

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