Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Superman and Top Cat Special #1 Review and Spoilers

Revenge of the Green

Written by: Dan Didio, and J M DeMatteis

Art by: Shane Davis and Michelle Delicki, and Tom Mandrake
Colours by: Dean White, J Nanjan and Hi-Fi
Letters by: Travis Lanham
Price: $4.99

Along with Scooby Doo, Hong Kong Phooey and Captain Caveman, Top Cat was a Hanna-Barbera cartoon that became a staple part of my childhood in the 70s. So, when the call came out from Weird Science Towers for people bold, crazy or stupid enough to review the latest round of DC/Hanna-Barbera specials, I got my request in quickly. Not having read any of the solicits for these issues (I mean, really, why would you?), I had absolutely no idea what to expect. Would this one-off special be an overly earnest disappointment, a right-on politically correct 'satire', a rollicking good-time adventure or something else entirely?  There is only one way to find out…

The issue opens with a title page which very much apes the practice of taking a moment from later on in the story and portraying it in as lurid detail as possible in order to get the reader pumped up for the tale they're about to read. Being an aficionado of bronze age and silver age comics, I rather liked this. A large menacing-looking alien, its body rendered in silhouette, looms over the fallen form of the Man of Steel while a determined looking Top Cat clenches his fists in frustrated defiance. Dan Didio's narration – hyperbolic and tongue very much in cheek – complements the image rather well. If I'm being extraordinarily picky (and I am), the use of the word "uncover" just after the appearance of "discover" in a relatively short bit of opening narration feels a little awkward, but this is the only fly in an otherwise rather impressive ointment. The narration announces the title of the issue: "The Kalien Among Us!" 'Kalien'. Hmmm.

Turning the page, we're presented with the annual meeting of the Metropolis Chopped Salad Society and, by accident or design, Didio hooks me. If a couple of years ago, you'd have asked me what 'kale' was, I wouldn't have had a clue, but the last twelve months or so have seen my wife and I embark on the kind of health kick that has meant that kale now comprises, I don't know, 95% of my diet. (No, not really. It just feels like it.) So, Didio writing a whole story (gently) extracting the urine out of the notoriously tasteless 'superfood'… that's something I can definitely get behind.

This first scene gives Didio the opportunity to get in some nice if corny gags (the one about getting "tossed" from the Chopped Salad Society is probably the best of the lot), before giving us some unexpectedly unsettling body horror as the kale everyone's just eaten starts to exit their bodies in disturbingly quick fashion. There's a moment of classic B-movie horror featuring a hapless kale refuser, a giant green fist and the front of an articulated lorry and then we move forward a few hours to see Superman speaking to a police officer standing behind some barriers watching Wholesome Goods' hazmat team take away the evidence of the mass kale spewing.

Superman doesn't like the situation and vows to do something about it. Before he does, though, we get a few pages of Top Cat working in a Wholesome Goods store and fighting his supervisor who appears to have turned into a giant kale monster, the 'Kalien' of the title no doubt. Top Cat is rendered pretty well here by Didio and artists Shane Davis and Michelle Delicki. His dialogue is pretty snappy and, although I must confess it's been a while since I last saw a Top Cat episode, it seems faithful to the show to me. Superman shows up in the nick of time to help out, but it's clear that the monster's ire should be directed at the owner of Wholesome Goods, toga-wearing Alexander Mikos.

The rest of the story comprises Superman and Top Cat flying to Mikos' island in order to defend him, realizing halfway through the fight with the Kalien that the insanely wealthy corporate capitalist is actually the bad guy and then helping the Kalien defeat him. Along the way, Didio throws in some nice touches which include Top Cat sussing out that Clark Kent is Superman straight away, and a cameo from an early prototype of Amazo. Which pretty much confirms that Mikos is styled very much on Amazon's head honcho, Jeff Bezos. The bad guys are defeated, the Kalien is rehoused with a planet whose population is essentially sentient celery and whose society is founded on principles of love and acceptance. Aww.

The art from Davis and Delicki is dynamic and nicely expressive and the whole thing is an exercise in knowing, slightly silly B-movie/superhero action with a dish of anti-consumerism on the side. What it isn't is heavy-handed, pedestrian, SJW-style posturing and for that I'm very grateful. This is not a classic story by any means, but it is fun and coherent, and that is enough for me to recommend it.

The Secret Squirrel back-up is the final part of four and features some great Tom Mandrake art and a typically witty script from J M DeMatteis who appears to have decided that Secret Squirrel is a not-so-secret lecher. Well, okay, then. Again, though, it's actually quite fun and it makes me want to read the other three installments too. All in all, it contributes to the general sense that this issue is an enjoyable read – innocuous, inoffensive if somewhat insubstantial.

Bits and Pieces:

With a Top Cat removed from his familiar trappings, there was the real danger of this story getting bogged down in the nonsense of one sort or another. This comic largely sidesteps that, however, and instead gives us an enjoyable tale that affectionately riffs on classic horror tropes while delivering superhero action laced with just the right amount of social commentary and sly humor. Not amazing, admittedly, but still worth a look.


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