By Michael DeLaney and Spencer Irwin
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Michael: Comic book superheroes and their exploits are now more mainstream than ever. We take Kryptonian sun gods, spider-proportionally-strong teenagers, and wise-cracking space raccoons at face value — most likely because they’re presented to us as “real” on the big screen. In the face of this mainstream, watered down mass appeal, I find it important to recognize and celebrate the stories that embrace their truly bizarre and outrageous origins. Case in point: Bug! The Adventures of Forager 5.
The legendary Jack Kirby is remembered for his many contributions to comic book lore, including New Gods and OMAC. Lee Allred and Mike Allred take elements from these two high-concept sci-fi Kirby creations and combine them into one dizzying, whimsical romp. Trying to keep track of the linear events of Bug! thus far can make even the sharpest minds hurt. Instead of crafting a cohesive, straightforward superhero tale, the minds behind Bug! opt for a non-stop action adventure straight out of Kirby’s day.
Allred and Allred take Bug and his companions Kuzuko and Teddy Bear on journey from a portal in the sky to a dried up ocean and from one secret lair to another in the span of 25 pages. Modern day comics are typified by their decompressed, slow-burn storytelling, but Bug! The Adventures of Forager 5 swashbuckles from location to location with little time to reflect or focus on the crazy antics that just occurred.
There’s an almost Deadpoolian element to Bug, a character who hails from the world of the New Gods but interacts with the dialogue and wit of any modern Earth hero. He takes the outlandish scenarios in front of him at face value, but still manages to throw in a superhero quip as he thrusts himself into battle.
The majority of the other characters in Bug! speak in a stiff, expository tone — which is to say they talk like Jack Kirby characters. Kirby may have been King but dialogue was typically one of his shortcomings, which is evident in the way Allred and Allred write characters like OMAC and his father Bartholomew Blankenship.
My OMAC knowledge is pretty thin, but I believe it was intended as a separate entity from New Gods after that book was canceled. In Bug! The Adventures of Forager 5, OMAC’s mythos is tied to the New Gods’ by establishing the Brother Eye satellite as a Mother Box known as “Brother Box.” I think that that’s a very cool way that the Allreds paid tribute to the late, great King Kirby.
This is actually the first comic book that I have read from Mike Allred, and I think that his very peculiar style of artwork completely suits the subject matter. The layouts also match the storytelling in their lack of modern convention. The majority of the panels are slanted or rounded off instead of being separated by straight, vertical gutters.
Do all of these wacky exploits and Kirby send-ups make for a good story? Hard to say. It’s a disorienting and unique comic book experience to say the least, but trying to pull some greater meaning out of it like we do here at RP is a tall order. Spencer, what’s your read on all this weirdness? Do you find the “can’t slow down” action to be a refreshing change of pace? Any highlights that stuck out to you? I really liked the line “Huh? Bomb an ocean? All that gets you is a wet bomb!”
Spencer: Oh, there’s definitely a few highlights here, Michael. I’m fond of Forager egging on Dr. Skuba with the line “Shine on you crazy diamond!”, for starters. It’s such a strange reference (one of two allusions to Pink Floyd in the issue) to sprinkle in, especially used the way it is — it really highlights the absurdity of the series and its retro charm. On the other end, I also got a huge laugh out of Forager responding “Did I ask for your life story?” to Apollo’s monologue; it’s so self-aware!
I think my favorite individual moment, though, came on the very first page.
The Allreds look like they’re having a ton of fun on this project, but especially on this panel, where Forager and Kuzuko’s ultra-smug expressions are just so lovingly rendered. Dr. Spider is a fun and absurd enough villain on his own, the torture-by-tickle really makes me laugh, but it’s just their faces that really stuck with me.
Anyway Michael, to answer your other question, I think the rapid pace of Bug! would wear on me if every series followed the same formula, but isolated in just this title it is indeed a refreshing change from some of its more gritty and decompressed contemporaries. Bug! is a throwback to the Silver Age of comics, which means capturing both the strengths and the weaknesses of the era. The Allreds bring us unparalleled imagination and spirit, but also some old-fashioned dialogue and some occasional rushed moments. Still, I think the strengths outweigh the weaknesses, especially when the Allreds sprinkle in some more modern touches.
This is a legitimately clever solution for OMAC and Forager’s escape. In many Silver Age stories I’m used to solutions kinda being pulled out of nowhere or being buried under six layers of psuedo-science, but this is the kind of psuedo-science that mostly holds up, and seems like the kind of solution a reader could actually have figured out on their own. The idea that light and sound are passing through their force field prisons is exactly the kind of observation/complaint a modern comic fan might make about a classic comic, so it seems especially clever of the Allreds to fold the idea into their story and make it a key moment, turning a possible weakness into a strength.
Much like each preceding issue, it’s important to note the way Bug! The Adventures of Forager 5 interacts with the works and legacy of Jack Kirby. The OMAC story Forager essentially stumbles into this month is a direct continuation of OMAC 8, the final issue of Kirby’s run on the title, which was abruptly cancelled mid-storyline. Thus, this issue is essentially resolving a 40-year-old cliffhanger. It’s actually pretty remarkable how seamlessly the Allreds pull this off, throwing readers into the second half of a story but filling in the blanks so effortlessly that many readers probably didn’t realize they’d missed part 1.
As Michael pointed out, the issue also reinterprets some of Kirby’s OMAC mythology, tying it into several of Kirby’s other DC Creations through characters like Bartholomew Blankenship and ideas like the Brother Box. These are retcons, to be sure, but we can’t say that the Allreds weren’t up-front about what they were doing.
We’ll probably have to wait until next month’s finale to see if the Allreds have some grand statement to make by bringing so many of Kirby’s creations together, or if they’re just having a bit of fun. I do see a bit of a pattern forming, though, with reoccuring villain Chagra gaining power by visiting Kirby villains throughout history while Forager keeps racking up victories by working together with Kirby’s most famous (DC) heroes. Again, though, I think we’ll have to wait till next month to see if/how these ideas come together.
Bug! can be a hard book to dissect at times — Michael’s right that the ongoing plot is almost impossible to parse out — but I can overlook most of this book’s weaknesses simply because it’s so much fun. As a colorful diversion, a grand adventure, and a tribute to one of the most important figures in all of comics, it’s quite a success.
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?