Written by Jorg Tittel and illustrated by John Aggs, Ricky Rouse Has a Gun appears to be, as the cover claims, a “Chinese original”. The graphic novel’s title, along with the names of its creators, are spelled out in Chinese characters, and its cover art is reminiscent of a communist propaganda poster from the Maoist regime. The reality, however, is that both its writer and illustrator are based in the United Kingdom, and the story they tell is not much different than any of the nondescript, action-dependent comics put out by Marvel or DC that have predictable, often asinine, endings.
I don’t blame the publisher, Self Made Hero, for betting on Ricky Rouse Has a Gun. Aggs’s drawings are vibrant and the plotline is promising. The problem is that its writer, Tittel, gets carried away with the plot’s action by dedicating the bulk of the book to tiresome shootouts, in the process glossing over the concept of shanzhai, the practice of Western cultural icons being imitated and indigenized by the Eastern cultures, around which the plot revolves. Amidst all of this, he fails one too many times in his attempts at humor.
Maybe a pimple-faced 12-year-old boy splitting his time between his bedroom in the suburbs of Middle America and his school’s World of Warcraft cosplay club will get a kick out of Tittel’s humor, but by the time I reached the tenth page, I realized Ricky Rouse Has a Gun was going to induce more cringes than smirks. There’s nothing funny about labeling the desert town where our protagonist and his fellow US soldiers fight what I assume are members of the Taliban, “Buttfuck, Afghanistan”.
I did like the quick pace of the plot. It only takes Tittel 20 pages to inform us that the US solider of a protagonist, Richard Rouse, has deserted the Afghanistan battlefield, moved to Shanghai, got fired from a factory job there, and then takes a gig at an imitation Disneyland so that he can keep a roof over his head for when his young daughter visits from the US. This hasty narrative continues when the amusement park is taken over by what turns out to be a group of American patriots who take offense to the park’s knockoff Disney characters. Following this, our hero in a Ricky Rouse costume shoots them all down and saves the day.
These villains who take over the park are, of course, dressed up as the real Disney characters, including, among others, Dumbo, Bambi, and their leader, Donald Duck. This tyrannical Donald Duck turns out to be, in what is a pathetically bad punch-line to this terrible joke of a story, none other than America’s late secretary of defense, Donald Rumsfeld. After this incredibly clever moment of revelation, Rumsfeld pulls off his costume to reveal an atomic bomb attached to his torso and says: “What I’m about to do we should have done a long, long time ago. I was begging for it but nooo. Everyone just had to be so darn politically correct. Not me. I can’t allow the Chinese to own us, not ever.”
I won’t reveal how this satiric masterpiece of a thriller ends, but I will say that it’s obviously supposed to provide some commentary on the concept of shanzhai (as Professor Sprigman points out in his informative forward to the book) and how powerful American corporations like Disney are trying to control world culture. The highlight of the story, in fact, takes place in the office belonging to the amusement park manager when Rouse is trying to land a job as the knockoff Micky Mouse.
Aggs draws a detailed office that is covered wall to wall with Hollywood movie posters—including Jaws, Ghostbusters, Vertigo, and Fistful of Dollars—and packed with classic arcade games like Pac-Man. “I love it,” says the manager in reference to America, “A world of imagination and great inspiration.” He then goes on to explain how “everything has become the same in America” but how “here in China, we want something different,” and he then reveals the costume of his Micky Mouse knockoff that he will call Ricky Rouse.
Rouse says that in spite of its illogical name, the character and costume is still a bit of a American rip off. And to this, the manager goes off on a rant that acts as the shinning moment of the book: “I tell you what is a rip off! For Hollywood to make and remake the same movie ten times every year. Remake here, sequel there, like the public has amnesia. Charging five dollars more each time just for 3D. That is a rip off. That is piracy. That is a crime. This is Ricky Rouse. Built on the past, designed for the future. A Chinese original. And don’t let anyone tell you different.”
But this thread, this admirable attempt at satiric commentary, was lost somewhere in the narrative of Ricky Rouse Has a Gun. While the tiresome actions sequences didn’t help, the real distraction was the terrible dialogue in which some of the corniest one-liners ever put to paper appear. These aren’t the Big Trouble in Little China-type of corny lines that demand respect and applause for their campy aesthetic. The lines in Ricky Rouse Has a Gun, such as “Nine lives are for pussies”, are something entirely different.
Maybe the corny lines, the tiresome action, and the amateur attempts at satire will go down well for a little kid with a glass a milk and some cookies, but the sex scene, somewhat bloody violence, drunken bar antics, and the many “fucks” (all of which seem forced) make the book unsuitable for the wee ones—and not so appealing for the grown-ups.
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