Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen #s 1 & 2
Written by John Layman, Tom Peyer, Jim Massey
Art by Scott Chantler, Robbi Rodriguez
Published by Oni Press
At long last, after a delay that can actually be attributed to the tumultuous Writers' Guild Association strike of recent months' past, Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen comic book series has finally dropped on fans of Stephen Colbert's zany sci-fi hero creation that stemmed from the comic actor's Comedy Central faux punditry program. As a aficionado of most all thing's Colbert (pronounced "kole-bare," of course, not "kole-burt"), I was curious to see the creative direction that this concept would take having seen most of the J.J. Sedelmaier-produced (Robert Smigel) shorts that ran on the late-night show. Would there be a noticeable political bent to the comic book? Would the laughs found on TV translate to the four-color page? Of course I'll get into in in more depth, but I'll quickly answer "sorta, occasionally" to the first question posed, and "yes" to the second.
It takes something special to steer me off the DC comics path, and it's a rarity to capture my interest any comic book based off material originally found in TV or motion pictures, so Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen had two things not in its favor with me right off the bat. But I'm glad I took a chance here. I figured I'd find at least something in here to pique my interest, but ultimately I'd say that the best thing these first two issues have going for them is that there were multiple instances found in each where I genuinely laughed out loud. That's as good a compliment as I think you can pay this Oni Press effort. Helping things, I believe, is keeping the stories themselves relatively lean and efficient -- both issues containing two separate tales. I assume that, should the series maintain a regular schedule now, that the basic framework is a lead story that can run issue to issue, and a self-contained backup story that delves in the titular character's earlier case files.
And just who is Tek Jansen? Well, if you were a video gamer back in the 1980s, picture Space Ace as imagined by Colbert Report host Stephen Colbert, or going a little further back, imagine that the purveyor of "truthiness" watched Jason of Star Command back in the day and said to himself "I can do that." Going back too far for you? Imagine Futurama's Zapp Brannigan with genuine 007-like skill. Designed in Colbert's own striking visage, the comic book design does veer in a direction unlike the animated shorts that in look alone were a little more like Aeon Flux (a extreme spit curl with a life of its own, among other nuances). It was reported that Colbert wanted the comic book to play it more straight in terms of look and feel that hearken back to science-fiction comics of the 1940s and 50s. While clearly playing things more for yuks, I think they achieved that here.
The first story in issue #1 kicks off the story that stands to run in the series longterm. Written by John Layman and Tom Peyer, "Invasion of Optiklons" finds Jansen uncharacteristically instigating interplanetary upheaval rather than assuaging it. Beginning first with Jansen, deep into a rescue mission (a success, naturally), coming to the aid of "several dozen lonely and grateful genetically-perfected slaves." Apparently nine different complimentary adjectives are not enough for our hero, but it doesn't stop him from figuring out a way in which they can show their gratitude. This introduction to the book's lead, drawn with stoic yet humorous flair by Scott Chantler, is pure set-up for readers perhaps not familiar with the character, and it serves as a mere prelude to a more epic and entertaining storyline. Routinely accompanied by a radioactive robotic monkey and an imprisoned disembodied blob of evil energy kept in containment, Jansen returns to his home base of Alphalon-7 to find that the citizenry en masse is not awaiting him with a hero's welcome, but actually accepting the peaceful overtures of the Optiklons, an advanced race of space travelers promising this latest planet they've visited a life of Utopian perfection. Jansen, leery of these overtures, mainly by way of his overinflated ego, is determined to prove to the masses that the Optiklons have very bad intentions. The only thing bad, ultimately, is the result of Jansen's misguided interference.
The two backup stories found in each issue, called "Tek Jansen Case Files," are written by Jim Massey and illustrated by Robbi Rodriguez, and so far they show Jansen in more covert occasions. Issue #1 has him infiltrating a planet's more oppressive leadership to introduce an opposition party. Between both issues reviewed, "Horn Like Me" is the most resoundingly political story found throughout, but it stands to reason that you're going to get that to some extent in anything with Stephen Colbert's name on it. As far as I'm concerned, well done political satire should know no party affiliation. Issue #2's "Case File," "Danger Express of Doom" is more Spy vs. Spy, with Jansen encountering an assailant who is more than a match for our hero. Almost. The art reminded me of that of Jeff Smith's, and overall Rodriguez turns in quality work in three of the four stories total in these two issues. His look for Jansen (that is, Colbert) is a little doughier than the Cameron Stewart-like work of Scott Chantler, whose take is of a more chiseled hero, but plenty effective on a comedic level.
Issue #2's lead story, "Return to Space Academy," finds Tek Jansen demoted to his old institution of higher learning, punishment for the interplanetary incident he was responsible for with the Optiklons in the issue prior. Not surprisingly, Jansen views this reprimand as a reward for his efforts, but his superiors can never convince him otherwise. His intentions to shape young cadets into brave soldiers appears doomed from the start, but the results are as unexpected as they are successful. Either way, this reader was entertained, and I do have to say this material would translate well to the small screen. If Stephen Colbert's Tek Jansen is back on schedule after its unforeseen delays, I see myself staying tuned for future "episodes."