[14 October 2004]
Do You Get it? DO YOU?!
It seems like for the past few decades, the art of parody has been dumbed down to crude, simplistic mocking. The subtle, biting satires of a Jonathon Swift or Miguel de Cervantes would be out of place in a world of Scary Movies. Even the brilliant lampooning of creators like Abrahams and Zucker, the men behind such gems as Kentucky Fried Movie, Airplane!, and the original Police Squad! TV series has been increasingly watered down, until we get such stinkers as 1994’s Naked Gun 33 1/3. Maybe it’s just me, but this stuff isn’t funny. Audiences are more and more content to laugh at mindless buffoonery without any real punchline, and lazy writers and directors are more than happy to give it to them.
Charles Fulp obviously feels the same way as I do, whence his new series Harry Johnson, about “The World’s Zaniest Uncouth Sleuth”. Fulp’s heart is in the right place, but this limited series, a send-up of private eye pulp, action movie clichés, and, most of all, the Indiana Jones series, falls short of the mark. The story follows the titular hero as he attempts to solve “The case of the Crabbes”, Crabbe being the name of a missing scientist, of course. Unfortunately, the jokes don’t get much better from there.
The story is a somewhat convoluted mishmash of detective/adventure tropes: the missing scientist, a daring escape from cannibals, Nazis hunting for a secret formula, a buxom young lady searching for her father, a buxom young sidekick, a buxom Nazi villainess, a buxom team of U.S. Military Servicewomen did I mention that they were buxom? The problem isn’t so much the humor, but the complete overkill on the jokes. Whenever there is a funny moment, it is quickly killed as the story hammers it in, making sure that the reader didn’t miss it.
Case in point: Harry meets up with a camel trader named Dhalabil Phut, the equivalent of John Rhys-Davies’ Sallah from the Indiana Jones series. Harry says, “Your name is ‘Dollar Bill’? How about I call you ‘Buck’ for short?” His sidekick responds, “But that would make his name ” You can see where it goes from there. Humor works best when it is presented simply, and the audience is left to decide for itself whether to laugh or not. When the joke is explained, asking you, “Do you get it? His name is Buck Phut! Funny, right?” it loses its humor, and it insults the intelligence of the reader.
The series also relies heavily on double entendres, mostly centering around names, like that of the main character. There’s also an overabundance of well-endowed women, another sight gag upon which the comic is too heavily based. And despite all the sexual innuendo, the comic is rarely sexy, so it fails to satisfy on even that level. Harry visits a strip club named “Temple of Poon”, but all we see is the exterior, with a little caption saying “Twelve hours and numerous lap dances later ” The plot itself is only tangential to the comic, which seems mostly concerned with fitting the most gags on the page. Again, had Fulp let the jokes exist on their own in a coherent plot, the whole project would come off much stronger. As it is, the reader feels like he is being bombarded by corny one-liners on open mic night.
The book’s strongest point is its artwork. The comic is printed on nice, glossy paper, and Rousseau’s Saturday morning cartoon style of artwork is perfect for the style of the story. It’s smooth, exaggerated style fits with the zany humor that Fulp is shooting for, and exaggerates the female characters in all the right ways.
While Harry Johnson isn’t exactly comedy gold, it isn’t a complete bomb, either. One has to give Fulp and company credit for trying. It is clear that they really, really want to be funny, and they are trying hard to entertain you. Perhaps a bit too hard, in fact. The concept has promise, and could be played well for a lot of laughs, if they’d step back and let the jokes breathe a bit. A bit more variety in the type of gags and a stronger plot would help as well. All in all, Harry Johnson is not a bad first outing for the creators, and one should cut them some slack for the difficulty of their task. As W.C. Fields said, “Comedy is a serious business. A serious business with only one purpose—to make people laugh.”
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/harry-johnson-1-2/