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Dethklok #1

(Dark Horse; US: Nov 2010)

This past Sunday’s episode of Metalocalypse, “Doublebookedklok”, the tenth episode in the show’s third season, is arguably one of the finest thus far. Not because it is particularly humorous, not because it has an array salient points to articulate through cultivated satire. But because it is possibly the clearest example of how Metalocalypse is a wildly and radically different kind of animated TV show.


Metalocalypse is dangerous, and stands as a testament to the vision behind Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim.


In a strange accident (not so strange really, deteriorating relations between the band members and their CFO Charles Foster Offdensen are to blame), band frontman Nathan Explosion double-books Dethklok. The new Syrian concert is meant to be played on exactly the same day as the band’s gig in Israel. The multibillion dollar revenue from the band’s fanbase which has made the band so wildly popular, now threatens to destabilize the geopolitical landscape of the region. Will Dethklok honor their contract with Syria, or with Israel? Matters take a turn for the worse when the band decide to run away, leaving Offdensen with having to address the United Nations in an attempt to walk back the political damage.


In contrast, shows like The Venture Bros. have always been particularly easy to define, and ultimately, easy to understand. The Venture Bros. is a parody of the boy adventurer genre of animated shows, much like Megas XLR is for ‘70s and ‘80s sci-fi cartoons. Seth MacFarlane’s Family Guy and American Dad are finger exercises, simple humorous explorations of the American condition after Clintonomics (first) and Bush Doctrine (American Dad) later. Even the grand-daddies, The Simpsons and South Park seem to fall modestly short of actual biting political satire. The Simpsons is an inoculation against the saccharine values of The Cosby Show. And even the gambit in making fun of fundamentalists by not showing Muhammad seems to be something that fits neatly into corporatized structuring of everyday life that comparative religion scholar David Chidester refers to as “disneyization” in his book Authentic Fakes.


Metalocalypse on the other hand, doesn’t fit neatly into a well-articulated machine for antagonizing a recognizable ‘enemy’. Even the Gibson sponsorship that led to the show’s creation (the sponsorship deal that would allow many to mistake the show as being nothing more than a promotional vehicle for metal-related products), would prove nothing more than an opening gambit. At its core, Metalocalypse would be about more than simply satirizing commercial culture, more than a complex show that both celebrates and parodies metal culture. At its core, Metalocalypse is about novelty, and the possibility of newness, and the necessary cultural forces that stand against that possibility.


But is Metalocalypse a work that belongs in the public domain, or is it necessarily fueled by the unique genius of the creative team of Brendon Small and Tommy Blacha? Is the show, the band, the entire world developed by Small and Blacha something that can live on without their direct influence? Or is it something that depends deeply on their view of the world?


Although the story is laid out by Brendon Small, the writing is performed by Jeremy Barlow.  And artistic duties are picked up by Lucas Marangon.


The personalities in Dethklok #1 seem staid, de-animated. Frozen in place. The temperament of the characters seem to ring a distant knell of being vaguely recognizable. And the postures are just wrong. This is nowhere near the compact, elegant Dethklok we’re used to seeing in Adult Swim show. And yet…


Yet…


Dethklok itself comes shining through. Murderface’s tirade about the giant ice ape of the Himalayas reads like pure Dethklok riffing. The simultaneous contempt and obsequiousness shown by the reporter doing the ‘Dethklok Minute’ is exactly the same lovingly crafted emotional-complex as in the show. Even after a while, even Charles’ business-like tone can be read into the character on the page.


At the end of the day, while the band may not be present, and the show runners may not have their hands on the helm, the idea of Metalocalypse wins out. And that’s a rare enough thing.

Rating:

AB-, ENTJ, PhD: shathley Q is deeply moved by the emotional connection we build with our perpetual fictions, and hopes to answer for that somehow, somehow. He holds a Doctorate in Literary and Cultural Theory. His writings have appeared in Joss Whedon: the Complete Companion and Ages of Heroes, Eras of Men, as well as regularly on PopMatters. Like a kid in a china shop, he microblogs as @uuizardry on Twitter. Or hit him up directly on shathleyq@popmatters.com.


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