Tuesday, April 17, 2012

May B-Force The With You. Or Something Like That.

I know. I promised. I was done, I said. Done, do you hear? No more Handful O’Landfill. Ever. Again.

But this stuff, it’s the pretzel M&Ms of the collectible world. It’s candy-covered cocaine, deep-fried in methamphetamine. With Katy Perry playing in the background.

It doesn’t matter that the number of people who publicly or privately bemoaned the disappearance of “Handful O’Landfill” was none, as in zero. That would presume I write this stuff for an audience, to which I say “Ha!” and “Double ha!!” I could bloody care less if the only creatures consuming my work are cicadas.

So I was cleaning up my office-slash-guitar-repository when I stumbled upon the “Miscellaneous Non-Card Baseball” file immortalized in “Happy Baseball Freaking Birthday,” one of my favoritest columns ever, and peeking out of the top was a Nolan Ryan Baseball Superstars comic book. It started me thinking, to the tune of, “Well, it’s not a card so I could write about it because I said I wasn’t going to write about cards anymore,” and the next thing I knew I was in a strange pharmacy with Ryan Leaf, trying not to confuse the Ex-Lax and the oxycodone.

I stumbled to work in an attempt to get straight, but right behind the folder marked “PPO Dentists” was a B-Force comic book featuring non-combatants from the 2003 Milwaukee Brewers fighting spit tobacco, and darned if I wasn’t discovered an hour later in a diabetic coma, surrounded by mounds of Reese’s Peanut Butter Egg wrappers.

Sorry. I’m the Steve Howe of non-bloggers. When you set a B-Force comic in front of me I’m going to do a triple solchow off the calliope in my haste to say something snarky about it. I’m weak that way.

We’ll get to the snark momentarily, but first a little trading-card PBS-ness. Send me money or I’ll rerun Celtic Explosion! Featuring Bobby Vinton specials until your hair turns gray and you start talking like Garrison Keillor.

Sorry. I meant to indulge in the other form of PBS-ness. Let’s look at the history of comic books as sports collectibles, a history that in baseball-career terms is Jose Offerman. It sure sounds good until you see it in action. Then you find yourself yearning for Franklin Stubbs.

We can quickly dispense with the good sports-collectible comic books. The Topps comic books of the late‘60s and early ‘70s are good because they’re eight-page, three-and-a-half-inch-tall throw-ins. It’s hard to screw up a career retrospective of Gordie Howe that’s basically a long-form Bazooka Joe comic.

Everything else on the card side of the card-comic continuum is compost-bin fodder, including the aforementioned Baseball Superstars Ryan comic.

For the umpteen-millionth time, sports figures are not comic-book characters. Even sports figures that do their best to look and act like comic-book characters are not comic-book characters. Yes, we’re talking to you, Dwight Howard. Being tall and musclebound and able to hit your head on the backboard does not make you Superman, and not objecting to being called Superman only makes you pathetic.

Equating Dwight Howard to a superhero is like calling Tim Tebow a passer. He is, but only if your standard of comparison is Chester Marcol.

The unlikes between sports figures and superheroes are legion, but let’s start here: Sports figures rarely have a backstory. Comic-book characters are all about the backstory.

Think about Spider-Man: orphaned, raised by aunt and uncle, hazed by classmates, bitten by a radioactive spider, given the powers of super-agility and heightened awareness of surroundings, invented a viscous web fluid that enables him to swing like Tarzan down the canyons of New York, hot girlfriend, arch-enemy. That’s a backstory. To paraphrase the great line from the criminally underrated movie Easy Living, what other backstory goes so far back?

You can make a comic book out of that. Nolan Ryan throwing rocks at trees in Refugio, Texas? Not so much.

It’s also hard to make an effective comic book of a sports star when the writer uses a Fleer Baseball’s Best card for source material and the artist failed the “Draw Winky” test in the back of his Street & Smith’s.

To get down to the nuts of the Baseball Superstars comic book, you have someone who can’t draw and someone who can’t write collaborating to tell the story of someone who isn’t that interesting. And yet wonder was expressed when it didn’t sell. Hmmmm.

Even so, I would rather live out my days curled up with a copy of Baseball Legends and a steaming cup of hemlock than even peer at the credits page for Dark Horse’s B-Force.

We just got done hammering home the point that a sports figure taken straight is not a superhero. So Dark Horse, taking us at our word, gave a couple of sports figures the full body kit and the Jim Lee cheekbones, making sport superheroes where none existed.

But in the words of my favorite made-up media critic, Junie B. Jones, yeah, but here’s the problem: The sports figures are Glendon Rusch and Jeffrey Hammonds.

You heard correctly: Glendon “Career 67-99 Win-Loss Record And 5.04 ERA” Rusch and Jeffrey “$300,000 Per Home Run” Hammonds.

The Daily Double: Glendon Rusch's fastest
pitch of 2003, and Jeffrey Hammond's
hardest hit. Boo-yah!
 Have you been smacked amidships with the irony yet? Glendon Rusch and Jeffrey Hammonds as comic-book superheroes. That’s like making Oprah and Roseanne SI swimsuit models. It moves way beyond yeah-you-could-do-this-but-why-ness into a send-for-my-straitjacket-Jeeves-I’m-going-out-tonight excursion into wackyland.

And it doesn’t get better when I tell you that the comic includes the cartoon model of semi-good former Brewer Larry Hisle, who did not get the full body kit but instead looks like Cedric the Entertainer channeling Romeo Crennel. Hisle makes occasional appearances to spout press-release boilerplate like, “Wisconsin is America’s number one papermaking state. Each year foresters grow and plant new trees. The timber from these trees help to produce the raw materials for all sorts of paper and consumer products!”

Yeah. An exclamation point. That’s what that sentence needed. And a bullet between the eyes.

With such material who needs a plot already? But trust the Dark Horses to give us one anyway, because they’re all about value.

You ready? Here it is: Special anti-tobacco agents Rusch (1-12 in 2003, BTW) and Hammonds (of the .158/1/3 line), fresh out of contract money, off the DL and reduced to wearing their Brewer uniforms, their last set of unsoiled clothes on earth, are hot on the trail of Grossmouth, a crazed convenience-store employee who dresses like Dracula, looks like Bill Belichick, and rides on the back of a rolling Superfund cleanup site. And his trusty dog-like-thing drives the truck.

You can pretty much tell where this is going. You’re not even surprised when Larry Hisle, filling in for Marshall Edwards, starts waxing poetic about the white-tailed deer on page 5.

Oh, and Grossmouth gets away. So next year he can torment Junior Spivey and Matt Kinney.

Now tell me, all you kiddies who may be staying up past your bedtime reading this: Are you going to stop dipping because long-retired mediocre demi-millionaires Glendon Rusch and Jeffrey Hammonds asked you to?

What’s that you say? You’re switching to snus? Fair enough.

And do Larry Hisle’s polemics on the beauty of Wisconsin bring a tear to your eye, or is it just the menthol? Thought so.

There are more clichéd, more hackneyed, more misguided, more entirely inane comic books than B-Force, but they exist only on the sketch pads of third-graders emerging from a Power Rangers marathon.

And with that, I’m back. Don’t know for how long, or when the next one’s coming, but sometime. Whenever I track down that B-Force sequel.

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