Robot 6

Tom Scioli’s American Barbarian is pretty much the best thing ever

I’m having a hard time making up my mind about something at the moment. I can’t decide if Tom Scioli’s American Barbarian the best thing ever, or merely the best comic book ever?

Granted, my critical faculties might still be a bit stunned from the red, white and blue uppercut of the reading experience. I did just mainline a 260-page dose of 100% pure comics into my eyeballs over the last hour or so, and I might not have quite come down from the high that accompanies the reading of the book.

Of course, the fact that Scioli’s American Barbarian can have such a powerful effect on even the toughest, most-jaded comics critic is a sort of review in and of itself. I rarely find myself tempted to gush, and I even more rarely find myself surprised by a comic book, yet here I am, knocked on my ass, my head blown and second-guessing myself for being this impressed as I struggle to find the right words to communicate the perfect power of this work, which distills the best parts of the many virtues of the trashiest, old-school American comic books into their very essences.

This thing isn’t ink on paper, its ichor on nostalgia. It’s not just Kirby-influenced, it’s Kirby being channeled. It didn’t exactly make me feel like a kid again, but it made me feel the way I felt when I was a kid, reading comics for the first time and learning to love them.

So here’s the story. At some point in the far-flung future, after an event known as “The Great Clusterfuck” (the back cover refers to this as “a post-post-apocalpytic world”), the patriarch Pa and his seven red, white and blue-haired sons serve as the warrior guardians protecting a peaceful kingdom from a dangerous world.

Listen to Scioli’s prose, in the form of Pa’s narration of the threats they face:

Roving mutant armies, legions of the risen dead, renegade robots, wild herds of genetic supermen, roving citadels on wheels, science experiments run amok, swirling matter-devouring black holes, re-animated dinosaurs, the sewer people of New New New York…

And now, rumors of a tank-hooved demonic pharaoh slowly gaining power.

That last one is Two-Tank Omen, a giant monster pharaoh with tanks for feet whose army of monstrous warriors is conquering the world, and conquers all but the youngest of Pa’s sons, Meric.

Swearing revenge, Meric carves the word into his fingertips with a blade, but since “revenge” only has seven letters and he has ten fingers, he carves “REVEN” on one hand, and “GE!!!”  on the other.

With his birthright the Star Sword, which trails a red, white and blue rainbow in its wake, Meric sets out on an adventure so epic that only Jack Kirby could have conceived of and depicted it…well, only Jack Kirby and Tom Scioli, who has at this point has internalized not only Kirby’s style of character designs and rendering, but also the King’s wild imagination, factory-like idea generation and, perhaps his most ineffable quality, his ability to draw things that feel right, even if they don’t look quite right (Scioli’s dinosaurs and horses, for example, don’t look all that much like the ones you’d find if you Google Image-ed dinosaurs or horses, but they say “dinosaur” or “horse”—well, actually, they say “DINOSAUR!!!” and “HORSE!!!”—louder and more effectively than the most photorealistic, representational drawing of either could).There are some big melodramatic moments in here, although one will evoke a story from the Old Testament, and later ones will seem straight out of Speed Racer or your typical Silver Age time-travel sci-fi story. I found myself reminded of Kamandi and Conan, but sometimes by way of He-Man and the Masters of the Universe. I thought of Thundarr The Barbarian and Blackstar, of Dungeons & Dragons and a pinch—like, just two or three grains—of Johnny Ryan’s Prison Pit.

There’s a scene rather early on in the book where our hero conquer an entire city—one built into a gigantic tank—all by himself, and Scioli depicts it over the course of a three page spread in which scores of tiny American Barbarian figures are drawn running, bounding and battling their way through the “panels” formed by the rooms within the fortress vehicle and the implied moments in time that surrounds each little Barbarian sprite in movement.

Multiple images of a single character on a single page being used to simulate motion or action is an old, long-standardized element of American super-comics storytelling, of course, But Scioli has taken it to such hyperbolic extremes that he’s completely transformed it by multiplying it by a higher factor than anyone else would dare.

That’s American Barbarian in a single sequence—traditional comics with all of the familiar elements turned up as loud as the knobs will go, pedal-to-the-metal, flaming, screaming, guitar-soloing, ne plus ultra COMICS with a capital C, O, M, I, C, S and too many exclamation points, with “too many” here being defined as “the perfect amount.”

American Barbarian may not actually be the best thing ever, it may not actually even be the best comic book ever, but I’ll be damned if it doesn’t feel like it is as soon as  you close the cover.

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Comments

33 Comments

Went to 3 comics stores, nobody has it. Apparently you can only get it through the publisher.

AWESOME !!

I laughed out loud and smiled reading this. Would’ve never known about this if not for this column.

Thx CBG !

I ordered it yesterday! After what he’s done on Godland and with me being a big Kirby fan this was a no-brainer.
Now if only Opus 8 could be collected.

Zach: Four collections of The Myth of 8-Opus have come out. They were in Previews over the past few years, but I don’t know where you can get them now.

Caleb: I already couldn’t wait to read this, and now I’m even more excited!

No, it’s not Kirby being channeled. Show this to any comics reader and say “Look at this Kirby page” and they’ll just laugh at you. It’s okay to like it for itself but Scioli’s stuff really doesn’t look that much like Kirby. Oh, but he put all those sqiggles on it!

This looks really lame. As soon as I saw the cover “Poor Man’s Kirby” shot across my field of vision like a dying comet. And that “NAAAAY” page is dreadful.

The last two posters have no fun in their lives.

Jake Earlewine

April 5, 2012 at 3:47 am

The above poster would rather criticize the commenters than the actual comic book up for critique.

The art posted above has only a surface resemblance to Kirby. It’s lacking the meat and potatoes of Kirby’s genius. Kirby might draw like this if he was six years old and had no arms.

And I can’t think of a more boring setting than yet another post-apocalyptic world. I guess it could be more boring if they added zombies.

Just wanted to get back to Ramone who mentioned going to three comic stores and they not having it… As far as I can tell, any store that ordered a copy via Diamond got them yesterday, 04/04/12.

So, either the store didn’t order any, or they ordered just a few (or one) and sold it. This is usually what happens with our product. Not complaining… just what I’ve found to be the case in the past.

If you want your local store to order you a copy, the Diamond code is: DEC11 0771. We prefer you support your LCS, as that is good for everyone. If they can’t or won’t help you out, Amazon is selling them as well as AdHouse.

Thanks!

George Bush (not that one)

April 5, 2012 at 6:57 am

God I love drugs, uh I mean COMICS !!!

@Chris, I know at least 2 of the 3 order from Diamond. One of them is The Source Comics and Games in Roseville, MN. It’s one of–if not THE biggest comic book store in the midwest (10k sq ft). They confrimed that they received zero books. When I asked to order one (which they now have me down for) they said it was sold out already and they’re taking backorders. So here’s hoping.

@Ramone, Yes, that sounds correct. I checked the Diamond inventory and it does appear they are currently sold out, so here’s hoping enough interest happens sooner than later and I can get more copies to the LCS. In regards to why they received zero books… I can’t say.

There’s one copy left in forbidden planet edinburgh should anyone fancy it. I bought the other one. Looks braw!

Ha ha! Yes! Just found a LCS whose owner took it home to read yesterday so they’re not sold out after all! Caleb’s review totally sold me on this book, and he and I are pretty usually in agreement on quality. So excited to check this out!

If you’re in the Ohio area, you could simply bop on over to S.P.A.C.E. (april 21st & 22nd. Columbus) and buy it from Tom personally. Sadly over half the indie stuff I buy is either from shows I attend or I buy direct from Amazon or the publisher. Short of that, in Ohio, I would think The Laughing Ogre or Superfly Comics would have it.

@Mikael

You place far too much value on pastiche. It’s like Tim Vigil aping Wrightson in “Faust.” It’s pointless when you can look at the work of the progenitor, unless it’s so ridiculously well-executed it almost doesn’t matter.

See Jake Earlewine’s reply to your post.

Haters everywhere we go, haters everywhere we go
Haters everywhere we go, where we go, haters goin down for the count

A profound statement.

Sounds interesting, definitely have a been a fan of Scioli’s work in the past so I’ll be looking into this.

ILLUSTRATION! At its finest!

I mentally check-out whenever I see someone call something “pretty much the best thing ever”. It smacks of wallowing in irrational hyperbole for no reason.

American Barbarian may be good, but it’s now behind the 8-ball as far as I’m concerned, thanks to this headline. Maybe if a more reasonable source tells me it’s worth checking out, then I’ll at least consider it again.

Until then I can only assume that American Barbarian is just another predictably irreverent mash-up work that is beloved only by people who are so lost and empty that they need to find a new “best ever!” every other week or so.

this is like paying money to see a cover band when it pales in comparison to the original. there’s a huge difference between being an homage and being a rip off and this falls into the latter category. the book would likely be much more fun and interesting if they weren’t ripping kirby’s style off outright. call me a hater or no fun all you want, but that’s the way it comes across.

Looks like a fun book, not sure about the channeling Kirby thing but good work nonetheless.

To, everyone having trouble finding this in their LCS:

Webcomics, people!…

http://www.ambarb.com/?p=11

Here endeth the lesson…

WorldbreakerGrimm

April 8, 2012 at 2:03 pm

Holy CRAP. I will be reading/buying this immediately. Thanks for the write-up, J. Caleb!

This looks awesome! Love all the symbolism. :)

i think ,it looks really intresting,anyone can tell me how can i get it?from where i live? Argentina that is

Thank you, Danfink, for pointing this out before I got to it. If you want to read it, it’s on the web. But, yes, buy it if you want to support the artist.

tom scioli is a fun artist who lives and breathes kirby, alcala, and swords, savagery, and space mayhem! i preordered this book months ago, and can’t wait to get it in my grubby hands!

all the haters can go back to reading AvX or the 25th revamp of Batman. Is that where YOU find the originality you claim this lacks?

@victor

Pick up the first issue of the new Dark Horse limited series by Jan Strnad and RICHARD CORBEN – ‘Ragemoor.’

Btw, I tired of “mutants” and X-crapola decades ago.

WorldbreakerGrimm

April 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Ya know, guys, it’s OK to like both Mainstream and Indy/Webcomic. You don’t have to make an East Coast/West Coast deal out of it…

E.G, good call. I’m a fan of Corben from way back when. I just wish he’d finish and reprint DEN!!!!

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