Friday, April 25, 2008

Barroom Brawl (GeekPunk/IDW Publishing)
Hero Happy Hour #4 When: October 2003
Why: Dan Taylor How: Chris Fason

The Story So Far...
You can get it fighting, you can get it smiting; you can get it thwarting, you can get it sporting. As a matter of fact, I've got it right now! At the end of a long night of justice; and in desperate need of a winddown; where do the weary heroes of First City go to kick back, have a frosty drink, and soak up normality in the company of their fellows?...

The Hideout Bar and Grill is open all hours, and every hour is indeed a happy one as Night Ranger, Scout, Guardian, Randal, Feline, Knightingale, Man-Woman, Psiren, Cricket-Guy, and all the other heroes, (super, or otherwise), gather after hours for drinks and merry!

Alas; it isn't all fun and games for the regulars at the bar!
Around every corner lurks another threat to First City, to the ettiquette of good shouting, and to the longevity of the pool table. When Phantom Dread and a pack of supervillains come knocking, the team is forced to serve a tall glass of frothy justice, with a guaranteed chaser of pain! The villains will need a damn good hangover cure, because after this night, they'll be driving under the influence of a severe beating!

Tale of the Tape...
ARTWORK: Cal SlaytonARTWORK: Chris FasonStrength: Guardian 6 (Invincible)
Intelligence: Night Ranger 5 (Professor)
Speed: Guardian 5 (Superhuman)
Stamina: Randal 6 (Generator)
Agility: Scout 3 (Acrobat)
Fighting Ability: Night Ranger 4 (Trained)
Energy Power: Randal 5 (Lasers)

- The Sentinel Squad are: Night Ranger, Guardian and Scout; with Randall and The Eradicator joining in.

Joseph Johnson Jr and Nicolas Newman; better known to the world as Guardian and Night Ranger; are First City's premiere defenders of truth, justice, and the punctual payment of a tab. Though their friendship is strong, the pair are decidedly different.

Night Ranger is the ultimate self-made man, possessing an arsenal of weaponry of his own design. On the other hand, Guardian's powers are borne of an encounter with a dying alien whose fantastic powers were transferred to him when the creature perished in pursuit of an extra terestrial threat.

- Phantom Dread, a mysterious cloaked individual possessing strange powers, is accompanied by fellow villains: Krimson Klaw; an armored villain with extendable arms fitted with pincers, and a penchant for solliloquy; Voodoo Guru; master of the dark arts of voodoo; and Trouble; a feisty leather clad villainess ready to dominate her male counterparts.

The Math: The Heroes Ranking: Draw (NR)

What Went Down...
The Hideout Bar and Grill comes under seige as the villains of First City descend on the unprepared heroes, led by the sinister Phantom Dread! Though in casual setting, the [super] heroes are more than ready to answer the call of justice!...

... Just as soon as they decide who's answering which call!
Night Ranger and Guardian debate ownership of villain, but in the end Krimson Klaw breaks the split when he turns his metallic pincers on the Guardian!

Night Ranger defaults to the Voodoo Guru; directing Scout and Randal to pick up the tab on Trouble and VG's undead slaves! Randal, (heroic name pending), gladly suits up for his first encounter with Phantom Dread and his ghouls.

Randal's solar powered superhuman strength makes going toe-to-toe with the lumbering undead easy; not the case for Night Ranger, who succumbs to the powers of the Guru's voodoo doll likeness! Even Scout, the Night Ranger's sidekick, is embroiled in a tale of turmoil when, looking for Trouble, he finds exactly that! Leaping onto a ceiling fan, the young sidekick wrecks the rec room, much to the dismay of barkeep.

Trouble shoots for the pocket but only splits Scout's balls with a pool cue; while Guardian suffers a splitting headache in the grip of the Krimson Klaw! Maddened by his endless spew of rhyming soliloquy, the alien powered policeman turns the tables, using his superhuman strength to toss the villain across the bar!

Randal enforces the law of the barrier of the bar, putting a stop to Krimson Klaw's unpaid binge, and mounting costs for the bar owner. As he does, the infamous Eradicator enters the bar, shocked by the scene he sees!

Notorious for shooting first, the in-your-face gunslinger goes for his dufflebag, bringing out the big guns in a spray of ammunition that causes more damage than the villains!

After shooting up the bar, denting Krimson Klaw's armor, and inadvertently disarming Voodoo Guru of his voodoo doll; Eradicator gets put down easily by the Phantom Dread, who sneaks up behind to put him to sleep with but a gesture.
Despite the win for the villains; Night Ranger is able to win one back for the good guys with one of his trademark nighterangs -- a physical assault sufficient enough to provoke the hasty mystic retreat of the dark master!

The Ranger next helps turn the tide for his fledgling sidekick, who continues to suffer the indignities of Trouble, who quite thoroughly womanhandled him.

Despite the turning tables, the war proves far from won.
The lumbing zombie gets away from the other heroes, snagging Night Ranger from behind with a death grip. The vicious voodoo creature finds a worthy grappling opponent in the trained hero of the night, who engages willingly.

Meanwhile -- Guardian and Randal pull double team duties that see an end to the pool table. The prop shot from Guardian sets Randal up for the volley, sending a spike straight to Krimson Klaw, who's crushed under the weight of the corner pocket!

While Night Ranger deals with his zombie; Guardian spins around just in time to thwart the creeping threat of Phantom Dread! With one mighty fist, the hero puts an end to the fight, sending the villain into a bullseye.

ARTWORK: Cal SlaytonThe Hammer...
Your winners; Night Ranger, Guardian, Randal, and Eradicator; with the assist from Scout! Yeah, that's right. We're a harsh taskmaster when it comes to the call, and Scout just didn't do enough to score the maximum points. Stay in school, kids!

So you might be wondering exactly what's going on. If you had cosmic awareness, you'd know Bahlactus: devourer of blogs has sent his heralds out into the blogosphere to find blogs with classic-style black and white sustenance for his Friday Night Fights! Once you've had your fill of Infinite Wars, headover to the FNF, where you'll find a space gateway to new worlds!

Throwing a twist into the classic Friday fight is a great way to give the Infinite Wars an opportunity to shine a light on titles usually overlooked. Hero Happy Hour, the cult Geekpunk title currently published by IDW, is a great example!

I had the privilage of encountering Taylor and Fason through the emerging world of the internet at a time when e-commerce seemed to be the way of the future.
I would argue this dream for the technology has since simmered down, but I might be inflecting with my own ill fated experiences.
I'd struggle to even honestly call the guys acquaintances, but their efforts as Geekpunk were incredibly friendly to this writer who zealously sought backdoors into an industry romanticized, but actually quite cold for an International.

In ways I've never experienced before on the Infinite Wars, I almost feel compromised. After lengthy anticipation, I was finally able to secure a piece of Fason art for as-yet unpublished Kirby Martin Inquest #2. Early in the process Fason and I even discussed the possibility of his drawing the title, and while that was unlikely to ever eventuate, he helped influence a much needed redesign of the starring character; the White Ghost.

Wearing multiple hats on a review site is just one of the many symptoms of this blurring line between professional, and fanboy. In an incestuous industry commanded for decades by aging artists and boys clubs, this duality of reviewer, and small-time creator, is almost inevitable as we seek ways to maintain an influence on a potential readership, who in turn influence employers.

I fully submit that I'm appreciative and invested in Chris Fason.
At the same time, this is space typically dedicated to review, and as much as I don't want to jeopardize potential relationships, I feel an obligation of honesty.

Perhaps we should begin with the cleansing presence of factoids.
If you've heard of Hero Happy Hour it might be through one of the many outlets who've taken keen notice of this cult series. Wizard Magazine and Newsarama are two prominent sources to back the title that takes the simple hi-concept of superheroes on their off-time, and follows it through to a subdued conclusion.

Given the timeframe, and my experiences, I tend to think Brian Bendis' influence with indie-hit Powers is all over this one. The exchange of inanities and a stoic urban subtlty feels very much like the consequence of license afforded by Bendis' popularity at the time, and much-talked about style of 'realistic dialogue.'

A lot of contemporary references can be seen in the work, but you can't fault the beautiful simplicity of the concept. Yes, we've seen superhero bars in comics before. Kurt Busiek featured the concept in the critically acclaimed, pre-Powers superhero romp, Astro City; pushing similar themes of pseudo-realism meeting the tropes of the cape genre. Likewise; Marvel's Bar With No Name has been featured prominently in recent issues of Punisher War Journal, but none of these have the same free spirit of Hero Happy Hour.

Ironically, the series did gain unwanted attention from corporate juggernauts, DC and Marvel. They say there's no such thing as bad press, and if you feel you've heard of the series but can't quite place it, it might be because of the name change demanded by the shared trademark of "Super Hero" owned by the big two.
The newbyte earned the series much attention, and might have even contributed to the eventual arrival of the series at IDW Publishing, as Taylor focused on his comics interests, presumably abandoning aspirations for television projects.

Hero Happy Hour does many things I aspire to.
Issues are packaged with stylish covers and back-up stories that help flesh out the world of the Hideout Bar and Grill. This issue in particular boasts a back-up by current Wonder Woman scribe, Gail Simone, who unexpectedly uses the series as a vehicle for a very emotional story about a waitress in trouble.

Unfortunately, the quality of these back-ups really exposes issues of pacing and narrative in the core stories. Despite consistency of tone in Taylor's writing; as new creations are marched through the pages of guest shorts, the sense of depth lacking in the core story becomes increasingly highlighted.

It's hard to nail down a clear motivation in a book that doesn't quite commit to being comedy or superheroics. The Crackurz team of James Patrick and DJ Coffman take stabs at iconic eighties properties, playing a sense of parody that could've been a strong central theme to Taylor's dance with characters clearly based on icons like; Superman, Batman, Robin, and Green Lantern.
Aborted plans for a spin-off title starring Night Ranger and Scout, Justice By Night, were a blessing in disguise for a series in need of a strong voice. In an era of Frank Miller's "Goddamn Batman," my hopes back then to see a stronger tone of parody are only magnified. Then again, that might be my own sensibilities clouding what is otherwise a very consistent, if quiet, tone to the books.

Fason's artwork is vibrant and deliberate in it's stylized cartooning. Designs are surprisingly unique given the derivative tone of the characters, but the simplicity of the solid blacks and whites sometimes further contributes to the sense of anorexia in the content. Artwork is suitably vibrant for the first issue to depict a major fight with the villains, but layouts often focus on beats after the action, and play to a common subtlty that doesn't show Fason in his best light.

Of course, the series has grown and evolved, and it's fair to keep in mind that these early issues were self-published productions. I can certainly attest to the difficulties of that process, and for Dan and Chris to have successfully produced four issues that, despite critique, are all fun reads, is no mean feat.

I don't know how much of a statement Geekpunk is meant to make as a name, but there's certainly a sense of geek chic about the stories. Drawing on that Powers-like energy, issues play with conventions of the superhero genre with a stoicism that's amusing, without being overly cynical. These don't feel like stories designed to undermine or ridicule the genre, even though they don't seem to have the passion and familiarity of a more involved fan behind them.
That said, as material not requiring a broad knowledge of specific comics, they seem like the perfect kind of coffee table comic for the uninitiated to flick through. Though unglamorous, the issues are also unintimidating, and while pacing might be an issue for the average comic reader, the value of collected editions helps smooth over the cracks of abberations like this all-action issue.

I would hope anyone even remotely interested to become better informed on their own terms. Dan Taylor and Chris Fason both 'keep it real' on their blogs; and currently have the Hero Happy Hour catalogue available for free download, so there's no excuse not to come back and post your own opinions in the comments! WOWIO downloads include; issue #1, issue #2, issue #3, issue #4 (reviewed here), and issue #5!

I strongly urge you all to check the series out for yourself.
We look at a lot of Marvel and DC, but I like to walk the walk. You guys should definitely feel compelled to check these issues out, and maybe even think about paying for them, because that kind of support can be vital to the future of projects like these. I know, because I'm there right now, and you'll probably hear updates about that in the coming weeks.

The Fight: 3 The Issue: 4

You can get more information on purchasing and IDW Publishing from! Looking for more reading? You'll find all kinds of stuff in the Infinite Wars Amazonian Gift Shoppe! By using purchase links provided you help sponsor future entries in the Infinite Wars -- and for an even more valuable influence, scroll past the Amazon links for information on buying my tiny, tiny, tiny low quality comic -- The Kirby Martin Inquest! (Although, you might want to hold off for some information regarding that. Trust me!)

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