The Golden Age Meets Golden Girls to Create Comedy From the Lives of Retired Superheroes
When creatives are given what may seem to be enough rope to hang themselves, they may just show you something new a rope can be used for.
Reboots are everywhere. They come in the form of sequels and prequels in the theaters. On television and Netflix, they come with the same cast members eager (willing?) to reprise former roles. In comics they come with new number one issues. However, what if a comic wanted to pick up where it left off, with the characters having aged, retired, divorced, gone through rehab? This is the question The Not So Golden Age asks and answers with its first issue.
Now that many characters from the golden age of comics (the late '30s to early '50s) are in public domain, writer Phil Buck and illustrator Joseph Freistuhler took the opportunity to work with some. Resuscitating Deathless Brain, Phantasmo, Gay Desperado, Black Angel, Green Mask, Joe Simon's Blue Bolt and others, the creative team behind The Not So Golden Age brings back golden age characters to see what's happened now that they've hung up their capes.
When Alan Moore based his Watchmen characters on golden age heroes, he did so to make a serious love letter to golden age super hero comics which analyzed them, allowing Moore to break them down in order to build them back up in front of his audience. That element of seriousness is completely absent in The Not So Golden Age. More Golden Girls than golden age, the book moves with the comic beat of set-ups and punch-lines. Like The Tick, the characters being heroes and villains only give the writer something to parody. Some jokes pay homage to golden age characters and what they represented while some are as silly as having Gay Desperado lament his choice of a name after being teased over it.
The Not So Golden Age takes place outside of Reno, in The Golden Age trailer park, a place many one-time-heroes and villains call home. With his glory days behind him, superintendent Fred Parrish, better known as Blue Bolt, fills his time taking on clogged toilets and collecting overdue rent until the day Green Mask finds Big John Collins dead on the toilet. While the characters may have retired, they never took off their costumes, literally. Once the coroner's report comes back with signs of a strangling, the heroes come out of their trailers to see what they can do and, of course, they argue with each other.
It's Blue Bolt who pacifies everyone by playing the role of the adult. With Blue Bolt acting as den mother to a group of dysfunctional super heroes, The Not So Golden Age sets up a situation that can play with popular contrivances and devices to tell a good series of stories. This is what happens when Blue Bolt moves the book from its version of the typical team argument into detective mode in order to solve the mystery. With the help of Deathless Brain, an alcoholic mobilized brain in a vat, and Black Angel, a cat lady with a perpetual cocktail, the first issue moves forward with the off beat comedy of old super heroes trying to be normal people in modern times.
Modernizing old characters and ideas helps Phil Buck's sense of humor build a good story that roasts and toasts the golden age. In terms of the art, Joseph Freistuhler creates a design and color palate that antiquates the visual aesthetic. These colors riff with fine lines to give TNSGA a visual appearance that resembles comics from that time. This classic feel makes each page a treat a look at and each joke that much funnier. Even if these characters are new to readers, the visual design of the golden age sets up a familiar context that plays a perfect counterpoint to the realistic actions and dialogue of people with capes and consternation.
Like Wacky Raceland, a comic that takes undefined cartoon characters to create a story from a loose idea, The Not So Golden Age digs through the long boxes and pulls out abandoned heroes to give them a new set of problems and history while cracking jokes along the way. What stories will a drunk Black Angel tell at a friendly game of poker? What post WWII antics did the Deathless Brain get into before he wound up at a trailer park? Will Phantasmo ever put on pants?
These heroes weren't given enough pages to answer any of these questions in their time, but that may change now that they're in new hands. Many remakes and reboots work their way into pop culture to give audiences the same meal on a different plate, but books like The Not So Golden Age and Wacky Raceland prove that if creatives are given what may seem to be enough rope to hang themselves, they may just show you something new a rope can be used for.
You can buy a copy of The Not So Golden Age through etsy, or read it for free on the web. If you're interested in more public domain comics, check out The Digital Comic Museum, a great source for all types of golden age comics.