[17 April 2007]
There is a nostalgia craze in comics nowadays, and it has been going strong for quite sometime. Characters, creators and concepts that were popular in the ‘70s, ‘80s and ‘90s are once again gracing comic book pages. Everything old is new again, and no company has shied away from the fad.
Truth, Justin and the American Way is yet another entry in this trend, but not in the usual way. It’s not a revamp of an old title or a new series featuring an old character. But rather it is a glorious celebration of almost everything the ‘70s and the ‘80s had to offer.
The comic is chock full of references to the pop culture of those decades. So many that the creators actually ran a contest to find out how many references readers could pick out. But it’s not just a cataloging of old TV shows and movies; it is also a pretty darn good story to boot.
The plot mirrors that of the ‘80s TV show, The Greatest American Hero. Only this time, it’s not school teacher Ralph Hinkley who gets an alien suit that gives him superpowers—a suit he can’t figure out how to make work—it’s slacker mailroom clerk Justin Cannell. And while the F.B.I. agent assigned to the case is a dead ringer for The Greatest American Hero actor Robert Culp, the character’s last name is McGee instead of Maxwell and is more foe than friend to our protagonist.
The plot also differs in two major ways. One, the suit is stuck on Cannell. Two, Cannell is set to marry his longtime sweetheart Bailey Smithers just two days after getting stuck in the suit.
Each issue of the series is set up like an episode of a situation comedy—complete with “theme song” lyrics printed in the front and the creator credits are presented in the back over “scenes” from the episode, just like they were done in TV shows of the era. The creators even include a faux TV listing detailing the contents of the issue in the front of each issue.
The story is played wholly for laughs. Written by webcomic veterans Kurtz (pVp) and Williams (Full Frontal Nerdity), the comedy is fast-paced and genuinely funny. The humor is sometimes slapstick (helped greatly by the expressively cartoon-like art by Italian artist Ferrario), and sometimes character driven, but in either case, it works. Each of the characters is well defined and has personality quirks that lend themselves easily to comedy. The writers are good at building conflict and pacing the story out. It seems as if you are really reading a comic book version of one of the better 80s sitcoms.
As I mention above, Ferrario’s drawing style, referred to in the note section of issue one as “Italian Manga (aka Mangia),” is the perfect fit for a humor book. The artist’s experience working in the animation field pays off in the expressive art for the series. He exaggerates every action for comedic effect, bringing all the jokes and gags to life. It’s hard to imagine another artist working on the book.
Ferrario is listed as “illustrator” and since no colorist is listed, it is assumed that this job fell to him as well. If this is the case, Kurtz and Williams were lucky to find such a talented artist. Seldom do you see the coloring play such a vital role in the storytelling like it does here.
However, part of the joy of the series is spotting all the famous characters that make a cameo appearance in the comic. Ferrario is a gifted caricaturist and captures their likenesses remarkably well. It was a trip down memory lane, a journey back to my childhood.
Truth, Justin and the American Way is a fun read. Whether you are familiar with all the pop culture icons scattered throughout the book or have never seen American TV from the ‘70s and ‘80s in your life, the series is an enjoyable experience.