The Adventures of Unemployed Man original graphic novella
Writers: Erich Origen & Gan Golan
Pencils: Ramona Fradon, Rick Veitch & Michael Netzer
Inks: Terry Beatty & Joe Rubenstein
Additional artists: Benton Jew, Thomas Yeates & Shawn Martinbrough
Colors: Lee Loughridge
Letters: Thomas Mauer, Clem Robins & Tom Orzechowski
Publisher: Little, Brown and Company
Price: $14.99 US/$16.99 CAN
This super-hero fable about corruption in politics and commerce and about a country immersed in a recession is a surprisingly effective review of recent American history and economics, though clearly left-leaning in its perspective. The writers manage to maintain a simpler, Silver Age quality in the storytelling but at the same time they avoid dumbing down the complexity of a tenuous socio-economic situation. The book is also succinct in its approach, which is a wise choice, as the blend of super-heroes and social commentary in the form of gag characters has the potential to wear thin in a hurry. Fortunately, it never got to that point. But what I really enjoyed the most about this book was the artwork. I was impressed with the array of experienced comic-book industry talent that’s associated with this book. Honestly, I was expecting an awkward, clunky combination of super-hero cliches and ham-fisted social commentaries, but instead, I found an effective and amusing graphic novella that’s already garnered more mainstream media attention than probably any other comic book this year.
The ever-optimistic, upbeat super-hero known as the Ultimatum thought that the other super-heroes in America who couldn’t find work or lived below the poverty line were mired in their circumstances by choice, that all they needed was the right can-do attitude to turn things around. But when the establishment decides it’s finished with the Ultimatum, he’s stripped of his powers, wealth and dignity. He discovers that the jobless and working poor are victims of corruption and collusion, and he teams with his new friends to fight against the financial manipulations of the Invisible Hand and his army of superhuman minions.
Though I wasn’t all that familiar with Ramona Fradon’s much-lauded Silver Age work, I did know her art from the 1970s Super Friends title; later, I’d discover her earlier work later on thanks to reprint books. I enjoy her soft, simple approach to super-hero art, so I was surprised and delighted to find that she was one of the major artistic contributors to this book. She and artist Rick Veitch deliver visuals that put the reader in mind of the Silver Age, and they do so in a manner that’s consistent with the other’s style. I was also reminded of the style of Dave (Watchmen) Gibbons. The brighter, more traditional tone in the art makes for an interesting contrast with the mature and highly relevant subject matter that the writers explore.
Michael Netzer also contributes a number of pages of artwork for this book, and his sketchier, looser approach reminded me a bit of the styles of such artists as Neal Adams and Rich Buckler. The Netzer pages represent a significant shift in the visual approach to the storytelling, so it’s a bit jarring at first. Still, that could be something the creators intended, as Netzer’s pages focus on the downtrodden heroes finally fighting back against a corrupt system. Intended or not, the looser, rougher look of Netzer’s pages makes them seem less polished, more rushed than the cleaner look of the first two thirds of the book.
Another small problem I had with the book is its pricing. Looking more like a magazine than a graphic novel and ringing in at fewer than 100 pages, 15 American greenbacks seems a little steep. Mind you, I’m no publishing-industry bean counter. Maybe this is a reasonable price for such a book considering whatever its costs might be. I’m just saying the price would give me pause and cause to consider value for my dollar.
Though clearly directed at a wider, mainstream audience, this book also contains a number of super-hero genre jokes that are intended to amuse the diehard comics reader. Writers Erich Origen and Gan Golan nevertheless maintain a thoroughly accessible story — provided one’s familiar with American current events. Given the clearly liberal leanings of their perspective, I found their presentation of Barack Obama (AKA, the Hero-in-Chief) to be particularly interesting. He’s depicted as well meaning but ultimately clueless about how his political partners and enemies are working against his ideals. One specific passage in a gag ad indicates that they really haven’t had a chance to assess Obama.
As thorough as the writers are in presenting the various players and factors that have contributed to the recession and a growing divide between the rich and the poor in America, their suggested solution is far less realistic (if such a term even applies to such an unusual project as this). It calls for the masses to rise up in revolt — not to carry out a coup, but merely to reject the greedy machinations of various aspects of the establishment. Given what’s transpired in the United States over the past decade, I just don’t know if the Will of the People is what it used to be anymore. I think people will accept change and reject corruption, but the majority doesn’t seem to demand it on its own. It takes leadership — politicians willing to ignore well-organized, vocal views of a minority, to ignore polls and pundits. America and other western countries are shackled by political systems that are always focused on re-election rather than representation, on wars of words rather than the wellness and welfare of others. 7/10
Follow Eye on Comics on Twitter.