RETRO REVIEW: Skateman #1 (November 1983)
Or – “Sort Of Like The Legend Of Boggy Creek, Only With Tie-Dyed Mask And Daisy Dukes…”
One of the great pleasures of reading comic books for me is finding characters and concepts that are just plain ludicrous, so ridiculous that you can’t help but love them. Even guys like Lee and Kirby didn’t create gems with every outing, and I love the thought process that leads to concepts like The Music Master (secret identity: Chauncey Throttlebottom III) or The Dingbats of Danger Street. Like the movies of Ed Wood, there are comic books whose entertainment value transcends questions of quality, comic books whose existence seems to be nothing but sheer force-of-will on the part of their creators, comic books for which rating is entirely speculative, and probably best done with a gutful of bourbon.
This book is their king…
Skateman #1 (November 1983)
Written by Neal Adams (?)/Jack Arata/Paul S. Power
Art by Neal Adams (?)/Andy Kubert/Paul S. Power
Letters by Andy Kubert/Paul S. Power
Colors by Daryl Issacs
Published by Pacific Comics
Previously, on Skateman: Neal Adams burst onto the comics scene in the 1960’s, becoming one of the most popular cover artists at DC, becoming best known as the artist on Deadman (although Carmine Infantino drew the character’s first appearances), helping to usher in the age of comic relevance with his work on ”Green Lantern/Green Arrow” with Denny O’Neil and redefining the look for a soon-to-be cancelled title at Marvel, providing some vitality to the book for the first time in a long time. (You may have heard of this particular book. It was titled “Uncanny X-Men.”) A long-time lobbyist for creators rights in the comics field, Neil also founded Continuity Associates, a group of like-minded creators that eventually formed the basis of Continuity Comics. During the first independent boom, though, Continuity was still a gleam in the man’s eye, and thus began working for Pacific Comics, home of such innovative book as The Rocketeer, Jack Kirby’s Silver Star and Captain Victory, as well as the first appearances of a wandering barbarian named Groo. They also published this book, and went out of business shortly thereafter. I can’t say with surety that the two events are linked, but I expect that once we’re done here, you can draw your own conclusions.
Have you ever gotten a comic book that has been bound with two covers? It’s a pretty common misprinting issue, and for a moment, I thought that had happened here, as the splash page is identical to the cover, save for the addition of several stultifying word balloons. “Ayeee dios mio! Es Skateman!” cries a migrant worker as one of the men beating him suddenly takes a size 12 skateinnaface. “Hands off, jerkhole!” cries our hero. “We’re forming a union! My foot and your face.” The splash leads straight into our action, as Skateman crashes through his biker-gang opponents like Godzilla through a Chuck E. Cheese.
Hmm… Hardened criminals are willing to beat a stranger with lead pipes and boards, but get skittish at the first sound of a siren? Seems likely. Skateman is left bleeding in a heap, and a young lad named Paco arrives on a skateboard to carry his hero away before the police arrive, because nothing says “hero” like a severe beatdown and a last-second rescue by a pre-pubescent. (Then again, given that his costume is a baby-t and cutoffs, Billy’s superheroic career was probably not headed for the top of the food chain. When your uniform is later worn by Heather Graham as a Lolita porn-star, you’re probably not invited to the Crisis on Infinite Earths.) Spirited away to the local bruja, Skateman is given healing herbs (read: PCP laced with horse tranquilizers) and lapses into a comatose remembrance of his origin…
“You don’t seem to want to accept the fact that you’re dealing with an expert in guerilla warfare. With a man who’s the best, with guns, with knives, with his bare hands. A man who’s been trained to ignore pain, to ignore weather, to live off the land… To eat things that would make a billy goat puke… In Vietnam his job was to dispose of enemy personnel. To kill, period! Win by attrition. Well, Skateman was the best!” Seriously, though, up until the point where he dressed up like Captain-America-as-played-by-Corky-from-Life-Goes-On, this was pretty much the movie First Blood. Happy for the first time in his life, Billy doesn’t even notice when a sinister man begins messing with his best pal’s equipment, causing a mishap that leads to the buddy’s death (which is blamed, of course, on Billy himself.)
That page right there is like SIX WEEKS of time compressed into less than a dozen panels, folks. Ain’t no Brian Bendis-style decompression going on here, nosirree! Somehow, though, Pigmeat and Paco become best pals in three panels, and Paco is an Olympic-class skateboarder in three more. Billy has a Mel Brooks “High Anxiety” freakout that lasts a panel, and girlfriend Angel (who has all the depth and character of a cardboard cutout, with slightly less than half the charisma) is murdered by bikers by the end of the page. (YOU DO NOT BLINK when you read Skateman, Faithful Spoilerites.) You could miss the equivalent of three seasons of ‘Lost’ if you do. Skateman spends weeks serving as the defender of the homeless, protector of the migrant worker, and the tie-dyed avenger of… Hell, I don’ t know. He wakes up, gets a new girlfriend, and takes two weeks to recover before presenting his sidekick with a gift.
Because that’s totally the kind of thing worth blaspheming over… Hasn’t this kid ever heard of iCarly? Billy falls deeper in love with Jill, who is suddenly kidnapped by villains for some reason. Hot, merging action ensues as Skateman and Paco (who I believe I shall spend the rest of the review calling Pigmeat, because god knows I need to be amused SOMEHOW) face the bikes with the help of dozens of roller-disco and skateboard kids led by a kid named Freddie, who has taken some time off from Mr. Kotter’s class to help our urban defender out. Using all the skills he learned from Marty McFly, Skateman engages the villains and is quickly outmaneuvered. Again. And we’re not even talking about Lex Luthor here, this are the kind of schmucks who insist on discharging firearms while driving a fuel tanker. Luckily, they drive a special experimental truck with seventy-five inch wheels…
There’s something weird about that panel layout, like they pasted it down and it fell and they decided to leave it like that and draw around it. Jill-the-rock-singer is about to be murdered when Skateman sends in Pigmeat with a handful of grenades (encouraging the lad with “You make the difference. Haul ass!”) and goes all ninja to save his girlfriend. Skateman crashes through a window, hits one guy in the face with a pool ball, grabs the girl and…
…LEAVES HIS OPPONENTS TO DIE IN A HORRIBLE CONFLAGRATION. Also, this is the end of the story, apparently. Funnier men than I have addressed this moment, but it kind of makes a horrible sense for a story that opens in the middle, has the beginning half-way through and doesn’t really have a plot in the conventional sense to end squarely on the climax like that. Think of it as the first time you had sex in the back of a Plymouth Valiant, or the darkroom of Journalism class… No matter what you wanted, how skilled you thought you were, or what your intentions were, it probably ended badly. So does Skateman. There are two backup stories onboard, though, and the first features art from future X-Men mainstay Andy Kubert. Well, honestly, it features art from legendary Sgt. Rock creator Joe Kubert, seeing as how, back in ‘83, he had pretty much glommed Dad’s art style whole-cloth.
“A working atomic reactor!” Now, let’s discuss the story proper, wherein a dystopian post-apocalyptic future race lives in a wasteland with no technology and no knowledge save that which is passed hand to hand. Our hero, Korlak, has no idea what an atomic reactor is, but still recognizes it and steals a mysterious box, which may or may not be full of uranium. I think… Even the story isn’t sure, turning it’s last line into a question in defiance of both the rules of drama and grammar: “Within the lead box — for which he risked his life — is the very thing that will eventually destroy him and a futureworld?” Is it? Why are you asking me?? The second backup story is probably the most successful part of the issue, which is remarkably like being the valedictorian at Night School, featuring the adventures of THE ROCK WARRIOR!!!
The Rock Warrior and his cosmic guitar (Lucille) saves his brother’s friend’s daughter from the clutches of aliens using… Um…. Zappy powers, apparently. This story is, however, a scream to read if you’re drunk. In fact, I believe that this whole issue is best appreciated and was probably mostly generated by those in an altered state of mind. Skateman is the story of a Viet Nam veteran who is a master of unarmed combat who spends the entire issue getting his ass kicked by thugs and only saves the day by engineering a series of brutal murders. The main character is a cipher, the supporting characters are either racist caricatures or mooning simp love-interests, and the villain is dispatches by taking a cue ball to the nose. On the plus side, at least it makes Dark Knight 2 look almost good by comparison. The backup stories are clearly the work of students (the presence of Andy K. makes me wonder if these weren’t projects from the Kubert School of cartooning) and the lead story, while drawn in Neal Adams signature style, bears no credits. Given that Neal’s later projects from Continuity studios were contingent upon a legion of kids drawing just like he did, there’s no real proof of who wrote or drew the lead, which kind of makes me happier. Something that is this much of a barely coherent mishmash of TV, movie and comics clichés probably just coalesced out of the firmament, anyway. Skateman #1 earns no stars at all, Not a sausage. Bugger all. Indeed, it would probably sully whatever dignity the star rating system has to assign it one but it’s still fun to look at in the same way that a car crash or the dissolution of Jesse James’ career and marriage is. If mediocrity wore a mask, it would call itself Skateman. (All the same, if you see a copy, BUY IT. It will make you feel SOOO much better about the rest of your collection.)
Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day: Is there such a thing as ‘So Bad It’s Good” when you’re reading comics?