Monday, July 3, 2017

Tales from the Dollar Bin: The Unfunnies #1 & #2

There are comics which are worth incredible sums of money, but so many of the most interesting, tragic, or just downright weird can be found for a simple dollar or less in a store's "dollar bin". There, comics that never gained much popularity can be found alongside those that sold so much as for a copy to be worthless. "Tales From the Dollar Bin" aims to explore these comics, be they a single issue or an entire run of a series. From the great to the miserable, some of the best treasures and worst nightmares can be found in those infamous boxes. Let's have a "tale" now...

The One Thing Mark Millar is Embarrassed He Made
Mark Millar has written many comics that have made him a lot of money thanks to big sales, movie adaptations, and the like. He has released books in the past which overlook all his work and he seems to be proud of every single thing he's written, regardless of if it was good or horrible. He's just as pleased with the clever, "The Ultimates," as he is with trash like, "Nemesis," which featured a super-villain booby-trapping a woman's uterus so that she couldn't get an abortion--you see the fetus was from her brother's sperm she had been impregnated with when knocked-out against her will. Yeah. That said, there is one book Millar seems to refuse to acknowledge he ever made. What could be so twisted, so heinous, so terrible that even Mark Millar doesn't want to own-up to it? "The Unfunnies," of course!

"The Unfunnies," was published by Avatar Press from 2004-2007, but don't let all those years fool you, it was simply a four-issue series that was plagued with delays due to Millar taking his time turning in scripts. As with many things written by him there is actually a really good idea buried within but his practice of trying to build a story around it can struggle a lot. Basically we have a happy-go-lucky cartoon world of cute comic adventures where the characters talk to the reader about the assorted adorable shenanigans they get up to. The thing is though, something seems to have begun corrupting this world in a disgusting fashion. Characters are getting foul mouths, violence and sex-crimes suddenly are happening everywhere, and nobody knows what the deal is. Plus, while all this happens the adorable cartoon imagery by illustrator Anthony Williams gives it all a weird happy-go-lucky vibe whilst characters discuss murdering their children or a housewife whose husband has gone to jail for child molestation turns to sex-work so that she and her kids aren't kicked-out of their housing. Oh, and this whole comic with all its despicable elements is played for laughs.
Clearly, this four issue series of which I was able to buy two issues from the dollar bin is incredibly weird with its mixture of the horrible and humorous. The idea of an outside influence from reality manifesting within a comic-book world is a concept we've seen mined before (Grant Morrison is famous for doing it with, "Animal Man,") but this book raises the query of what would happen if something dark and evil came into an otherwise pleasant comic-world. It's revealed early-on how a dead man named simply, "Troy," was summoned into this place through some help from the gullible residents and Troy was a murderer, rapist, and otherwise not someone you want in a Universe where the worst crimes were generally snatching pies from windowsills. It's a clever concept--pure evil invading a world of pure good, but then as I already said Millar is great with the ideas and not so much with the execution.

"The Unfunnies," reads pretty haphazardly. It clearly is trying to be a book that offends and grosses-out readers but in doing so ends-up being not so much offensive as tacky. There is a difference between shocking and just making us shake our head when you're nasty. If you just do disgusting stuff to be able to say, "Look how horrible I am, aren't you mad?" without actually wanting to make a statement it comes off as hollow. Millar isn't making an especially pointed statement when he has his cartoon characters talk about child pornography or yell insults at one another, he's just being dirty in the hopes we'll clutch our pearls and say, "Why I never!" The problem is that when Lenny Bruce swore and told raunchy jokes he was doing it to prove a point and fighting against people telling him to be quiet, Millar doesn't have anyone trying to stop him or have anything to say besides, "I'm being naughty!" It's a shame, because as I said, there are some smart ideas buried in his attempts to enrage people with cute animals spouting scatological insults.
Mark Millar to this day seems to refuse to acknowledge he ever made, "The Unfunnies." He doesn't list it on his websites as something he did whilst having anything else he's ever written shown with gusto. To my knowledge he didn't do any other work with Anthony Williams and there could be a variety of reasons for that--however, as I understand it this book got horribly delayed due to Williams having to wait forever to receive scripts, so perhaps a better way of putting this is Williams never worked with Millar again, possibly for personal reasons (and it seems Williams doesn't list having ever done the book either on his bio). Why both creators refuse to discuss this comic is open to interpretation. Are they embarrassed by the content--e.g. Millar actually thinks there was one time he went too far? Did a bad working relationship make them want to forget ever doing the book? Is it something else? I don't know, and we may never know, but at least in looking at the first two issues of this series we got another...tale from the dollar bin!

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