Written by Reilly Brown and Fred Van Lente
Art by Diego Olotegui, Reilly Brown and Jim Campbell
Lettering by Clayton Cowles
Published by Marvel Comics
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10
I… did I just enjoy a Slapstick comic book?
Call me crazy, but I think I just did. You might be forgiven for some skepticism about Slapstick as a viable series - even with Reilly Brown and Fred Van Lente teaming up again after their days on Incredible Hercules - but you can rest easy knowing these two talented creators have stuck the landing. Billing itself as “a comic for people who think Deadpool is too high-brow,” Slapstick actually feels like it ha perfected Wade Wilson’s formula of comedy and violence, living up to its name as a goofy but guilty pleasure alongside fare like Unbeatable Squirrel Girl.
In many ways, Slapstick hits that same kind of button that a lot of old-school Looney Tunes once did, with a lot of over-the-top pratfalls and dialogue gags that’ll make you giggle in spite of yourself. It doesn’t hurt that Brown and Van Lente happen to be very funny creators, giving Slapstick an already strong track record when compared to the hit-or-increasingly-miss percentages of a Deadpool or a Harley Quinn. What makes it work is that everybody’s in on the joke - while Slapstick himself has some fun one-liners like “crime is the disease… I am the ointment that makes the redness and swelling go down!” even the hapless crooks who have to fight him get the best lines in the book, screaming “My organs!” or “Why didn’t I stay in school?” While much of this issue's premise hinges on a cartoony hero wreaking havoc in an all-too-real world, Brown and Van Lente keep things mercifully light, instead channeling their humor through the lens of Slapstick’s creativity in inflicting pain on his opponents.
But outside of the quips and gags, Brown and Van Lente also make some savvy choices for Slapstick’s first issue, including a smart appearance by a quippy Marvel A-lister in Spider-Man, which gives this comic much of the twists and turns it needs to keep things interesting. But where I think Slapstick succeeds in a way that Deadpool typically fails is that this series also doesn’t shy away from the fact that its hero is living in his own personal hell - he’s living at home, having to mooch off Deadpool’s Merk account to even attempt to make ends meet, and that’s not even mentioning that he’s trapped in the body of a cartoon character (that’s not even anatomically correct, to boot). But through it all, Slapstick still has the adoration of his young niece and nephew, and it’s that balance of endearing traits and poignance that makes Slapstick a surprisingly engaging character in his own right.
This issue will initially come out as an Infinite Comic, which affords plenty of opportunities in terms of how the art is laid out and is unfolded. Working with Brown, an early pioneer of the form, artist Diego Olotegui proves to have this new format down pat - thanks to Brown’s dynamic layouts, Olotegui’s work feels kinetic on every page, from the way that Slapstick sends a set of molars flying thanks to his handy sledgehammer, or the back-and-forth fight choreography when Slapstick gets tossed by a big-name guest star. But like the script itself, Olotegui’s artwork is at its best when it comes across as contrast, as we jump from a seedy, violent dock to an ordinary suburban kitchen, or an over-the-top fight in a basement to a breezy day out at a football game. Even Slapstick himself is a contrast, with his bright and cartoony features popping off the page nicely when compared to his darker, more “realistic” counterparts in the same scenes.
That’s not to say that Slapstick is for everyone - there are going to be more serious-minded readers who don’t appreciate the jokes, as well as the stubborn few who won’t be able to accept a series that doesn’t have a known quantity as a headliner. (And to be clear, even I can’t vouch for how long this series’ shelf life might be, especially when you have Deadpool, Harley Quinn and Squirrel Girl all vying for the same audience.) But as far as debuts go, Slapstick proves to be some really entertaining fare, showing that there’s no such thing as small characters when you’ve got great execution behind them.
Slapstick #1 comes out October 19 as a Marvel Infinite Comic, and in print December 7.