Boris and Howard

One of my ongoing projects is purging my comic-book collection of stuff I no longer wish to keep (TYG has the insane idea that there’s actually a possibility I have too many comics. ROFL!). In some cases that’s simple: Dough Moench’s godawful work on Batman, a lot of Chris Claremont’s later X-Men work, the series I bought one issue of, hated, but didn’t get rid of (I’m getting rid of them now because I can do some good: Superheroes for Hospice, 95 Old Short Hills Rd., West Orange, NJ 07052, auctions them off to raise hospice funding).
Others, I feel the need to check through first and see if I really want to mail them off (or sell them on eBay) or not. Which is how I came to reread my few issues of Boris the Bear.
Boris is an anthropomorphic bear trapped in a comic-book world (I’ve no idea why, I missed the first few issues). In between helping G.I. Joseph go AWOL and joining a war between the Elfquest elves and the Smurfs, his main passion was whacking bad black-and-white comic book characters, with particular venom directed at comics-as-collectibles and the countless Ninja Turtles knockoffs of the late eighties (the Adolescent Radioactive Blackbelt Hamsters are the only ones I remember, but there were lots more).
Mocking both these subjects was hysterical at the time, as was the parody of Marvel’s dreadful New Universe line of the eighties (revealed as the Joker’s plan to drive Marvel fans back to DC). Twenty-plus years later … not so much.
I’ve long been fascinated by the way parody and satire age: How some become incomprehensible over time while some survive even when the object of the parody is dust. Agatha Christie’s Tommy and Tuppence series is still entertaining, even though many of the detectives Christie was sending up are now so obscure almost nobody remembers them. Monty Python’s Attila the Hun Show is amusing, even if you don’t know it’s specifically a parody of the early-seventies Debbie Reynolds Show.
Or consider Howard the Duck—no, not the godawaful movie, the comic-book that inspired it. This satirical series dates back to the seventies, but it’s aged a lot better than Boris has (I reread the TPB collection a few years ago). For one thing, most of Steve Gerber’s targets are still current: Pretentious art critics, Star Wars, vampires (Howard vs. the vampire cow!), religious crazies and, of course, comic books. The only time I had to really think was when he did a shot at Anita Bryant, a celebrity notorious at the time for her anti-gay campaigns.
Does that mean Boris creator James Dean Smith should have picked better targets? I don’t think so. For one thing, the Hamsters and their multitudinous counterparts really did deserve mockery (ditto the New Universe). For another, I don’t think it’s that easy to tell what will still work twenty years down the road and what won’t. HP Lovecraft wrote several little humor pieces (collected in the omnibus HPL edition I’ve been slowly working through); the only one that worked for me was a melodrama satire, because it plays on formulas I recognize (and plays on them very well, to boot). From Lovecraft’s point of view, he had no way to know melodrama would be current a century later, while his satire on temperance tracts would not (I don’t know that he’d have cared, but that’s not the point).
I think the real point is, the satire should be as funny as possible, and that will give it the best shot at lasting. Howard isn’t as powerful a satire as I found it in my teens (I’ve seen a lot more satire since to compare it to), but it works very well as a funny, absurdist comedy. Boris just isn’t as well written.
Though if someone takes them off my hands on eBay, I’ll be happy they’ve found a good home.


Filed under Comics, Reading

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