Or – “Why Curse-Words And Content Aren’t Always Mutually Exclusive…”

When I was young, my grandmother was somewhat horrified to hear the content of a particular comedy album that I loved.  Of course, when a nine-year-old puts George Carlin’s “On The Road” in his boombox and plays it loud enough for the whole family to hear at Thanksgiving, it does tend to make things a bit awkward.  There ensued a long discussion in the household about “bad words,” one in which my position was pretty much the same as it is today:  There is no such thing as a “bad” word, only words that are inappropriate, impolite, or shocking enough that self-editing is often necessary.  This discussion is germane to Judd Winick’s magnum opus, Barry Ween, as the lad has a mouth that would make a sailor blush.  To his credit, though, there’s a lot more going on here than just ten-year-olds cursing up a storm, and this issue is my favorite of the series, and an awesome story to boot.

**THIS RETRO REVIEW CONTAINS STRONG LANGUAGE & MAY BE CONSIDERED NSFW.  PLEASE PROCEED ACCORDINGLY.**

The Adventures of Barry Ween, Boy Genius 2.0 #3
Script: Judd Winick
Pencils: Judd Winick
Inks: Judd Winick
Letters: Judd Winick
Publisher: Oni Press

Previously, on Barry Ween, Boy Genius:  Barry Ween was born with an intellect so vast that he makes Einstein look like Stanley Spadowski, and has spent the majority of his ten years covering his tracks and developing enough advanced technology to make Emperor Palpatine jealous.  His best friend Jeremy is the only one who knows the secret of Barry’s massive brain, though his maybe-sorta-girlfriend Sara strongly suspects that something is up beneath that massive wall of hair.  Though his experiments have been known to go wrong (one tore a rift in the space-time continuum causing his father to turn into a caveman and his house to fill with multi-dimensional creatures, while another led aliens to attack his house searching for spare parts) Barry’s inventions include a working time-machine, a weather satellite that accidentally flooded Norway and a genetic sequence that turned best friend Jeremy into a twelve-foot tall Tyrannosaurus Rex.  Hey, it’s for SCIENCE!  Of course, even Bruce Wayne can’t cover all his tracks, as we open our festivities with an angry government operative questioning why he is being re-assigned to the awful “Foliage Census” division.  “What’s your security clearance?” asks his new boss…

“Foliage Census” is, as you might have suspected, a cover for T.I.M.M. (Technical Intelligence Movement Monitor), a secret agency whose job is to keep tabs on who buys what technology, and what they might be doing with it.  On rare occasions, they even personally step in to keep people from doing things they shouldn’t.  Of course, even T.I.M.M. has the occasional blind spot…

It takes nearly two years, but the agents of T.I.M.M. (Heh…  It’s a cartoon joke!  I bet Stephen gets it.) finally figure out where all that high-technology ends up, tracking it to a suburban home somewhere in what might be Seattle.  They swoop in for the kill, and grab the genius child who has caused them so much grief, swarming in and out and spiriting the boy away never to be seen again!

Aaaannnd they just miss the real kid, instead snatching Jeremy as he surfs for porn on Barry’s computer.  The real joy in this series is always the dialogue and interactions between Barry and his pal, especially Jeremy’s love of boobies and poop jokes and Barry’s careful condescension.  It’s also super-cool that the ninjas look like Snake-Eyes from G.I. Joe, but that’s beside the point.  Faced with the fact that someone has taken his oldest (and nearly only) friend, Barry Ween gets serious…

Believing that they have their super-genius, the agents of T.I.M.M. see a huge opportunity to finally get out of government service, offering “Barry” anything he wants in return for using his intellect to help them achieve world domination…

Jeremy quickly sees his own opportunity, asking for a Hawaiian pizza, and 80-inch TV with DVD player, videogames, the entire illegal Traci Lords video catalogue, a soft ice cream maker, Superman pajamas with feet, a copy of the Barbi Twins Playboy issue and three cowboy hats.  Heh.  “And OREOS!” he cries.  “LOTS OF $&@#ING OREOS!”  The government types soon get tired of watching him gorge on sugar and eye candy, and try to pressure “Barry” to make something.  Luckily, the real Barry has implanted a two-way communications device in Jeremy’s skull, alongside the tracking device, and feeds him a list of ingredients that make some sort of bomb.  Soon enough, though, T.I.M.M. realizes that they snatched the wrong body, and begin grilling poor Jeremy for the truth.  When the head of T.I.M.M. grabs his friend and threatens to hurt him, Barry Ween goes full-bore commando on an entire brigade of super-spies.

It does not go well for them…

People you do not want to be:  The Head of T.I.M.M. at this exact moment…   What follows is one of the most powerful comic books speeches in my personal experience, ranking up there with Spider Jerusalem’s editor and his explanation of what he is going to do with his money, Adrian Veidt’s “Republic Serial Villain” monologue, Rick’s revelation of who the Walking Dead really are, and Skateman’s “You make the difference.  Haul ass!”

Barry quickly triggers the bomb that Jeremy assembled earlier, revealing that it’s actually a chemical compound that will induce a hypnotic state, which combined with a P.A. announcement (“There is no Barry Ween.  Barry Ween does not exist.”) and a virus that he introduced into their computers will leave T.I.M.M. with severe headaches and a hard drive that contains only four episodes of “Alice.”  “Alice sucks,” says Jeremy sagely as the boys set off for home…

There are a lot of comics out there about kids and teenagers, and I have to say that this one is a lot closer to what my young friends and I used to actually talk like (and what we wished we were actually smart enough to do.)  I clearly recall getting a dressing down from the music teacher for some of the language that several of us used in the music room while preparing for our eventual careers as rock stars.  (Our drummer grew up to be lead guitarist for Ultimate Facebook, which seems to have some sort of cache with hipster music types.  Bygones…)  Either way, the central relationships of this book are completely accessible, and Barry himself winds up being a terribly sympathetic character, as his intellect keeps him from being able to relax or even SLEEP, constantly analyzing and working odds in his mind, with only Jeremy to lessen his tensions.  Judd Winick takes a lot of flak at my comic shop for certain tics of his writing, but his work on Barry Ween is remarkably subtle behind the shield of naughty words.

If you’ve never read Barry Ween, I highly recommend it (so long as you share my assessment about embarrassing language) and this issue stands as one of the best, earning a damn fine 4.5 out of 5 stars overall.  Judd’s art is deceptively simple, and the stories don’t require knowledge of 20 years of continuity to enjoy…  I’m excited to hear that Winick is reportedly working on a new volume of the series to be released in 2011 (hopefully), and I’m looking forward to more cursing and wanton frap-gun mayhem.  In the words of a wise young man, “You people are fucking with the wrong ten-year-old.”

Rating: ★★★★½

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  Why is challenging language so difficult for people to reconcile?

The Author

Matthew Peterson

Matthew Peterson

Once upon a time, there was a young nerd from the Midwest, who loved Matter-Eater Lad and the McKenzie Brothers... If pop culture were a maze, Matthew would be the Minotaur at its center. Were it a mall, he'd be the Food Court. Were it a parking lot, he’d be the distant Cart Corral where the weird kids gather to smoke, but that’s not important right now... Matthew enjoys body surfing (so long as the bodies are fresh), writing in the third person, and dark-eyed women. Amongst his weaponry are such diverse elements as: Fear! Surprise! Ruthless efficiency! An almost fanatical devotion to pop culture!

And a nice red uniform.

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3 Comments

  1. November 21, 2010 at 11:58 pm — Reply

    I’ve never had a hard time with adult language. Barry Ween is Winick at his best. I enjoy this stuff far more than his superhero fare.

    • November 22, 2010 at 12:11 pm — Reply

      With Barry he doesn’t seem to have to stretch so far for characterization. Judd works best with normal-guy types, in my opinion. His Kyle Rayner and Oliver Queen were good. I have issues with his Karen Starr and especially his Bruce Wayne.

  2. Damascus
    December 9, 2010 at 2:15 am — Reply

    I don’t mind adult language, I just don’t want to hear it when I’m with my mom or my kids. That’s all. I mistakenly thought that Superbad was the sum of it’s previews, so I went to see it with my wife and mom, bad idea. I was uncomfortable for the first 10 minutes, until they got up and left, and then I thought the movie was hilarious. I also like that your podcast is relatively clean since I ferry my 3-year-old and 4 month old around, I can handle some foul language here and there, I mean I almost can’t talk about comics myself without dropping some of the 7 words you can’t say, especially if a comic I like is getting a Liefeld variant cover.

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