Eye on Comics

Comics criticism and commentary from Don MacPherson

Simple Minds, Silly Answers

Posted by Don MacPherson on October 3rd, 2006

Dr. DeBunko: The Short Stories
Writer/Artist: Chris Wisnia
Editor: Rob Oder
Publisher: Salt Peter Press
Price: $3.95 US

This one-shot from the people who brought you the semi-regular Tabloia series collects a number of short comic segments from that book featuring a professional debunker of “supernatural” phenomena. As the title character’s name suggests, this is hardly the sort of thing one takes seriously. The only real mystery that creator Chris Wisnia explores here is the mystery of why so many people are so stupid, gullible and hypocritical. If old wives’ tales drive you crazy, if Republicans who refuse to believe in evolution, global warming and Halliburton’s greed enrage you and gender-based pay inequity makes you want to pull out your nose hairs, then chances are you’ll connect with the title character’s efforts and frustrations.

Dr. DeBunko appears in small towns where fear and paranoia spread in the wake of shocking discoveries and unexplained attacks by invisible forces. But the debunker of the supernatural isn’t there to combat forces from the great beyond or things that go bump in the night. Instead, he is there to combat ignorance, stupidity and repression. Among his arsenal of weapons: the truth. But when that doesn’t work, he has other tactics he can employ, such as using the townsfolk’s own limited faculty and reasoning to achieve a peaceful end to a stupid situation.

Wisnia employs a loose, twisted style that reminds me of the art of such professionals as Frazer (Seven Soldiers: Klarion) Irving, Sam (The Maxx) Kieth and Steve (The Milkman Murders) Parkhouse. His inky approach is surprisingly successful at suggesting place and emotion. The exaggerated, distorted expressions on the various characters’ faces drive home the ignorant mania and unwarranted, over-the-top fear of people who’d rather jump to conclusions than use their brains. Dr. DeBunko’s long, stone-faced visage makes for a nice contrast with the wide-eyed panic of those who surround him.

This property actually reminds me a fair bit of another small-press book I reviewed recently: Dr. Id, Psychologist of the Supernatural. Though the two characters have opposite methods, the atmosphere in the two strips is quite similar. Both embrace a tone that’s reminiscent of yesteryear and both offer social satire. Whereas Dr. Id has strong a Kirby/Ditko tone to it, the Dr. DeBunko strips feel more like old EC horror comics.

Wisnia’s sense of humor is sharp. On the surface, he mocks small-town people who think like puritans from centuries past, but in reality, he attacks those kneejerk reactionaries and sexual prudes. He attacks hypocrites and hatemongers, male chauvinists and male aggressors. And it’s thoroughly satisfying.

This comic suffers from only one main flaw, but it’s a significant one. The formula keeps playing out over and over again, deviating only in terms to what insane conclusion the various townspeople imagine threatens their way of life. By the end of the book, it feels like we’ve read the same story one or two times too many. It’s an entertaining story, but the experience is a bit repetitive.

DeBunko isn’t just targeting ignorance and lack of logic but backwards social values as well. Sexuality is a commonly recurring topic in the book, and more often than not, the characters yearn for sexual release or hide their desires and sexual activities from others even though it’s all perfectly normal. The opening strip is about death and people’s refusal to accept it as normal. The townspeople aren’t afraid of zombies or werewolves, but of their own mortality. 6/10

Dr. DeBunko: The Short Stories is being released this week through Diamond Comic Distributors. For more information, visit the Dr. DeBunko website.