Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen #1
Writers: John Layman & Tom Peyer and Jim Massey
Artists: Scott Chantler and Robbi Rodriguez
Colors: Pete Pantazis & Aurelio Alfonso and Dave McCaig
Letters: Douglas E. Sherwood
Cover artists: Scott Chantler (regular edition) & John Cassaday (variant)
Editors: Randal C. Jarrell & James Lucas Jones
Publisher: Oni Press
Price: $3.99 US
If I had to describe this comic book in one word, it would be…. Lincolnish. (Lincoln was into sci-fi and comics, right? What? No? Oh.) OK, make that one word: Megamerican.
Were I allowed three real words instead of one truthy word, then those three words would be “pretty damn funny.”
I’m a big fan of The Colbert Report; I’m not a member of the Colbert Nation or anything, but I don’t think they accept Canadians. Nevertheless, I was pleased to hear about this Oni Press spinoff comic book, but I wondered if it would focus solely on sci-fi satire as the Tek Jansen cartoon segments from the show do. To my pleasure and relief, the writers on this book include some political satire as well, capturing the broader appeal of The Colbert Report in the process. There’s really only one problem with this solid humor book, and that’s the long wait we’ve had to endure. It’s not troop-withdrawal late, you know, but still.
Benevolent aliens known as the Optiklons visit Alphalon-7, offering world peace and prosperity in exchange for nothing but a promise to share a small measure of energy resources with needy neighbors. But the dashing and daring leader of Alpha Squad 7, the famous Tek Jansen, isn’t quite as trusting as the general populace and his superiors. And in another classic adventure, Tek Jansen goes undercover on an alien world on a mission to eradicate racism and class divides. Tasked to manipulate the planet’s political structure, Tek opts to solve the problem as only he can: by force!
The over-the-top nature of the science-fiction and social satire here is a significant departure for Scott Chantler, known for more grounded, historical fare such as Days Like This and Northwest Passage. He demonstrates his cartooning chops here quite clearly, though, in the main story, “Invasion of the Optiklons!” He abandons the Aeon Flux-like style of the Report’s animated sequences for a more straightforward, familiar comic-book style. His efforts here remind me of a cross between the styles of Mike (Powers) Oeming and Kieron (Remains, Sea of Red) Dwyer. Chantler’s designs for newer elements — such as C.A.S.E.Y. and Meangarr — are simple but memorable. The colorists bring a bright quality to the first story that harkens back to Superman stories of the 1960s.
I was surprised at how different artist Robbi Rodriguez’s approach to Tek Jansen is in the second story, “Horn Like Me.” There’s a grittier quality to the art that actually fits the slightly harsh tone of the send-up of racial and political problems. His designs for the segment aren’t quite as imaginative as Chantler’s, but he’s not given as wide a variety of elements to play with either. Dave McCaig’s colors for the backup story are darker and deeper, again, in keeping with the slightly darker tone of the premise.
John Layman and Tom Peyer introduce a much more interesting and entertaining supporting cast of characters for the space-faring, spectacled stalwart in “Optiklons.” Meangarr is a riot, the perfect foil to Tek’s narcissistic personality. The writers balance the brighter, goofy, Silver Age tone of their story with a couple of raunchier moments, such as day-after regrets and poorly planned nudity. Though the main purpose is to poke fun at conventions of science fiction, they also manage to spit some sweet venom at uber-consumer practices of Western culture. Tek’s opposition is a far from subtle but entertaining representation of American emphasis on materialism over idealism.
Jim Massey’s “Horn Like Me” is much more on point with the social commentary. The greatest strength of his script is the fact that he’s able to maintain a goofy atmosphere despite the ugly analogy at the heart of his story. Tek is actually something of an innocent here. He really doesn’t get racism. He’s not out to fight it or understand it. He’s just a little boy playing war; his toys just have a little more bite than the average BB gun.
Just like the divergent artwork, the plots for the two stories are radically different. Tek answers to a different boss, and the alien landscapes in which he can be found are like day and night. Still, what the two stories do have in common is the main character’s ego. He is just as much a blowhard in both segments, and that implausibly egomaniacal facade is as entertaining on the printed page as it is delivering “the Word” four nights a week. 7/10