Forbush Man makes a triumphant return in this long-awaited sequel to the best-selling, senses-shattering, mind-bogglingly long, 13-issue event of the century, “Not Brand Echh!” Now, after years trapped in the anti-canon zone, he returns to bring some humor back into the Marvel Universe. Let’s see if we find any of it.
Written by Nick Spencer, Jay Fosgitt, Katie Cook, Christopher Hastings, Nick Kocher, Ryan North, Chip Zdarsky
Illustrated by Scott Koblish, Jay Fosgitt, Katie Cook, Gurihiru, Brian Churillla, Erica Henderson, Chip Zdarsky
Colored by Nick Filardi, Jay Fosgitt, Katie Cook, Gurihiru, Chris O’Halloran, Erica Henderson, Chip Zdarsky
Lettered by VC’s Clayton Cowles
Get ready to break the internet, folks, because FORBUSH MAN IS BACK – and he’s ready to take over the comics industry! Meanwhile, Captain America, Gwenpool, and more are…not quite themselves these days. Featuring stories by NICK SPENCER (SECRET EMPIRE, CAPTAIN AMERICA) CHRISTOPHER HASTINGS (GWENPOOL, VOTE LOKI) JAY FOSGITT (My Little Pony, Bodie Troll) and many, many more!
Having not read any of the “Not Brand Echh” issues of yesteryear, I don’t know what to make of this comic. On the one hand, it has a MAD meets Marvel feel (without the gross-out humor) and succeeds at creating an anthology that feels irreverent and on the other hand, it’s very hit or miss with its humor.
Maybe my sense of humor isn’t in line with the creators here, as humor is subjective and is a very real possibility, but when something fails to hit, that’s when it’s time to ask why and if this is the same for others as well.
“Not Brand Echh” #14 is split up into a few small vignettes by different creators, the largest of which is ‘Secret Empire: Abridged,’ written by “Secret Empire” scribe Nick Spencer. He has a good sense of humor about the nonsensicality of much of the events within “Secret Empire” and the way the event shook out, poking fun at perennial event-problems of delayed issues, writers missing deadlines, and the cavalcade of artists that make the series visually inconsistent.
But it feels like he keeps trying to excuse away many of the critiques of the event instead of fully recognizing its flaws and going all in. He also continues his ability to have a tin ear for writing social critique with his joke about twitter.
Cap tweets “Hail Hydra” and we get two panels of a bunch of talking heads all yelling and spouting different phrases that float around twitter. Captain America’s reactions are funny but I don’t know what Spencer is parodying- twitter reactions? The stupidity of Hydra Cap ever existing? The actual reactions to Hydra Cap? Online discourse? Is he trying to say that all people who complain on twitter are just angry and whiny?
It’s an inelegant portrayal, which, considering the tone of this comic, is fair but when considered in the larger canon of Spencer’s work, it feels like an extension of his lackluster treatment of complicated contemporary social issues.
It also feels like he keeps trying to excuse various flaws within the event, like people not paying attention to the fact that the barfing inhuman who only showed up at the start, became a deus ex machina to deliver the final cosmic cube piece or the Miles Morales “killing” cap scene being foisted upon him by Bendis (which, fair enough, but it still feels like an out).
The same goes for the Hydra Punisher, “we should have seen this coming,” comment. That’s just patently false considering Frank Castle’s character and was wrong for him from the start. Just because he is hyper-violent and anti-establishment doesn’t mean that he’d suddenly be ok working for a fascist regime, even if it is run by Steve…well, evil Steve.
The thing that saves this section is Koblish’s art. I touched on it earlier but his faces are a joy. They’re very simple but that allows him to push the rubbery expressions and really caricaturize the characters. Plus, the hyper top-heavy Ant-man and Steve are hilarious to watch as they fight. I do have a paneling problem in the center of the story.
Black Widow and the Champions are standing in front of an explosion but Black Widow’s head & speech bubble breaks into the panel above her, naturally drawing our eye to that panel instead of the other word heavy panel with AI Tony Stark. For how simple the paneling is, it really stands out that I naturally read it in the wrong order, which is a shame because the art otherwise fits the tone.Continued below
In fact, all the art in this issue is strong. Katie Cook’s simple, big-head Spider-Man fanfic by Peter Parker is delightful, with a cute, simple style that matches the childish writing of Peter and his wish-fulfilment fic. Yes, Peter Parker, the Spectacular, Amazing, Friendly-Neighborhood Spider-Hyphen-Man writes wish fulfilment fics about himself. There’s something so ridiculous about this that you just have to laugh and Katie has so much fun with it, like Spider-Man having Cap & Iron Man crying at his ankles over which team he’d join.
Gurihiru brings the same clean, manic energy from “Unbelievable Gwenpool” (a series that, full disclosure, I don’t enjoy very much) to parody the very title that they work on and the way that it came about; with the explosion of Spider-Gwen and the subsequent Gwen-variant takeover, and the vast popularity of these mashups but also the backlash against more Gwen fusion characters. It’s a strong segment, using the meta nature of “Not Brand Echh” to really lampoon the relationship between editorial mandates and the creators and where the blame of the unoriginality of cash-in ideas falls.
Ok, maybe it’s not as deep as that but it features two Marvel execs/editors as cartoon steel barons, making an increasingly complicated and ridiculous version of every Marvel character ever mashed up with Gwenpool, so I feel like I have a little bit of a leg to stand on.
The Deadpool section, by Kochler and O’Halloran is another great segment, with a “behind the scenes” look at how a few panels were created…only these “real” scenes were drawn by Deadpool in crayon. It’s a great gag that plays into his character and having it only be two-pages makes sure that the gag doesn’t overstay its welcome.
Erica Henderson & Ryan North are, well, Erica Henderson & Ryan North and bring their very wordy but clever take on Supervillain Dating, paring up Ratatoskr and Fing Fang Foom. It’s probably the most fun out of all of the segments and while a faux dating service isn’t a new idea, their execution feels fresh.
Part of that might be the actual dating profiles and how it uses the Marvel characters as templates for different people you might see on the sites: Thanos’s profile is well put together and feels the most traditional, Mole Man is an old man who doesn’t understand tech or the modern world, typing in all caps, Ego is the one night stand who capitalizes the start of every word, and Ultron is, well, Ultron.
The last big segment of the issue, the one I’ve struggled the most to categorize, is the four, single-page parts of ‘Forbush Man Returns.’ It should be funny- a man with a pot on his head and wearing a onesie with a F on it and a cape trying his hardest to sell Marvel some new ideas based on current comic trends. Ok, interesting set-up that could have some great potential. Kyle Baker’s “Plastic Man” had a lot of elements of this but here, really, of the four segments, only the second one, the gritty reboot of Spider-Ham, is funny or clever.
Fosgitt’s art is what sells it, making each of the animals realistic but also cartoony. But the rest of them feel like ideas that have been parodied to death or are just as ambiguous in its statement as the ‘Secret Empire: Abridged’ segment that I don’t know what to laugh at. Maybe that was the point though; Forbush man is just trying to be relevant but doesn’t know how to and the comedy comes from his misguided attempts to do that.
But that doesn’t make the segments funny and for a humor publication, that is a problem. Forbush man would have worked better as an anthology host, much like Cain or Elmira, instead of the unnecessary transitional page he was here.
The final segment is Chip Zdarsky’s ‘Next Issue!’ which is 12 panels of various “heroes,” poking fun at their current position in comics and this was my favorite part of the issue. The panels build on each other and are self-aware without feeling cheap. So, basically Zdarsky’s brand of comedy. It’s a tight page and is what the Forbush Man segments should have been more like.Continued below
So, with all that out of the way, I’m torn. Throughout writing this review, I realized how much of this issue I actually enjoyed and how most of the segments were funny to varying degrees. But those parts that missed, missed hard for me. So take the number I give with a grain of salt. I think that this was a decent attempt at a humor publication that was way too segmented and was held back by a lackluster central idea (or lack thereof) and an unclear point of parody.
Final Verdict: 5.9 – Your mileage will vary; for me, it didn’t get me very far.