Simpsons Comics Spectacular
Published: Bongo Comics, 1995
I kind of feel like The Simpsons should have pulled the plug a long time ago. Granted, I haven't seen any new episodes in years. But when they came out with the movie, I figured “well, this is their big send-off.... I hope it's OK.” And, y'know, it was OK! And then they kept going! It's like they are churning out season after season just for the hell of it.
EARTH TO MATT GROENING: YOU ALREADY HAVE THE RECORD FOR LONGEST-RUNNING AMERICAN ANIMATED SHOW AND LONGEST-RUNNING AMERICAN COMEDY. YOU HAVE WHORED OUT THIS FRANCHISE AS MUCH AS THE LAWS OF PHYSICS WILL ALLOW. WE GET IT. WE WILL ALWAYS HOLD A SPECIAL PLACE IN OUR HEARTS FOR THE SIMPSONS. NOW PLEASE LET THEM REST.
And there is just something so impersonal about it to me... Like, I understand that many people work on the show and it's not like one person's artistic vision anymore, and from flipping through the credits in the books, there is a relatively small group working on 'em, but there's still an element of bullshit corporate whorism when something so beloved branches out into every medium known to man.
And there are plenty of other franchises guilty of this. But at least there are many different artists' interpretations of Batman and Wolverine, rather than some sad, sack-of-shit failed artist spending his career imitating Matt Groening's drawing style. Even the show's art reached a kind of slick soullessness somewhere around the end of the Simpsons Golden Age [seasons 3-9].
I always imagined Garfield was one of the most whorish examples or corporate whorism, but at least Jim Davis still writes/draws his own terrible, terrible, terrible, terrible comic strip. What does Matt Groening do besides sit on his ever-growing pile of money?
Anyway... yet another massive intro. Onto the book itself.
Simpsons Comics Spectacular is a trade paperback [I mostly collect trade paperbacks, FYI] featuring issues #6-9 of Simpsons Comics. Each issue contains a main story about the titular family and a shorter story, usually starring some secondary cast members. They seem to be standalone plots [no arc going on throughout multiple issues] and the shorter ones seem to be even less canonical [barely connected to the Simpsons' reality, let alone a cohesive overall story arc], reminding me of the Halloween Special mini-episodes on the show.
The plot concerns Lisa becoming famous when Otto's speed metal band [Otto and the Screaming Whiners, a name not even worthy of a chuckle] accidentally samples some of her sax-work for their latest single, inspiring a new genre called “spazz” [speed metal + jazz = funny]. I love Otto. His attempt to bribe a radio DJ is one of the funnier moments. The funniest would probably be the page-long montage of various Springfieldians reacting to the song “Smells Like Futility”[har har]. Naturally, Lisa's fame goes to her head and only after a pep talk from her mentor, Bleeding Gums Murphy [20 years later, the name's still funny][also, isn't this guy 20-years dead?], reminds her what is really important and we all learn a valuable lesson about being true to who you are and your artistic vision [kinda funny, considering my above rant]. It also makes a statement about the fickle and fleeting nature of pop music stardom, which I appreciate. Not exactly fresh, though.
The mini-story concerns Bart's graffiti-tagging alter ego, El Barto, and his close call with Springfield's finest. Naturally, Chief Wiggum and the boys fuck it up and arrest Snake for the vandalism. El Barto rides again! It isn't really funny and is easily skippable.
The Simpsons go to the circus! Hilarity ensues! OR DOES IT? The opening is strong, with the family dynamic in full swing. Also, I love Homer bellowing “PLASTIC DUNG SHOVELS!” in anticipation of going to the circus. Bart roping Rod and Todd Flanders into doing his chores for him is also pretty great [“when Flanders was in Simpson land, let my people go” they sing]. But as the antics get wackier and wackier, it gets less and less funny. Homer and Bart end up hijacking the show and plowing it [and the story] into the ground.
This time around, the mini-story is solid. It involves action star Ranier Wolfcastle at a Hollywood party being crashed by mafioso Fat Tony and his goons. A Simpson-ified Bruce Willis and Sylvester Stallone make funny, drunken and disheveled cameos and Jack Nicholson is in the background at one point. The ending is great, with Ranier making several Arnold-esque lame puns and slaughtering the mobsters, then breaking the 4th wall in the last panel. Gold.
These plots grow more ridiculous: Homer is shrunk down in order to go inside Mr. Burns' body and save his life from the threat of indigestion [?]. It makes little to no sense, but hey, what can ya do? The funniest parts include a character reminiscent of Dr. Strangelove [pop culture references have always been one of the strengths of The Simpsons] and Mr. Burns releasing a belch that travels all the way across town to awaken town drunk, Barney, who gasps “father??”
Mini-story: this one is also ridiculous, but in a way that comes full circle and I actually find it to be pretty good. Bart's teacher Edna Krabappel stars as “The Queen of the Congo”, who encounters Bwana Seymour “the whitest of the white hunters” [LOL!]. It's an all-star lineup, including Willie, Martin, Otto, Bart, Nelson, Milhouse, Jimbo and Kearney [no Dolph?], and Krusty and Sideshow Bob as idols [I would totally worship “Krust-ee, God of Hilarity”]. But in the end, poor Edna remains on the prowl for a man worth marrying. Sigh... always a jungle-bridesmaid, never a jungle-bride.
In this tale, Bart steals Lisa's diary, makes some edits and submits it to a publisher. Bart's edits make the family appear even more crazy than they actually are and the diary ends up getting published and goes on to become a best-seller. Lisa becomes famous [twice in one paperback!] but her book's success is followed by a slew of imitators and she is also sued by the shameless Troy McClure, who claims she plagiarized his work. She is taken to court, where [after a hilarious Lionel Hutz acts as both the prosecution and defense] Bart publicly admits to his prank and convinces the judge to let it go. This story is more relevant than the first one, especially considering the Million Little Pieces scandal. Where does creative nonfiction end and dramatic embellishment begin? And it also has an element missing in the previous “beware fame” tale: the family dynamic. Aware of Bart's prank, but silenced by the wealth, the family is forced to put up with Lisa's increasingly diva-like behaviour. Also, I love Otto's tell-all book, People who Have Barfed on My Bus.
Mini-story: this one stars the aforementioned Barney Gumble going about his daily business, which just involves drinking at Moe's Tavern. A bunch of crazy shit happens and the punchline is that Barney's roommate is imaginary and would probably be funnier if I had seen the movie Harvey.
Phew... another marathon of a review.
So, overall, there were some decent laughs here and there. But, as I find with the show, the more crazy and outlandish the antics of the titular family become, the less I tend to enjoy. They are at their strongest when they are simply being an average, yellow family. And I know I'm reviewing a comic here and not the show, but I think that it is relevant to note the decrease in quality of The Simpsons show as their resources are stretched thinner and thinner for the marketing blitz. I feel as though they should have focused on keeping the show fresh rather than coming up with half-baked ideas for their comic book line.