RETRO REVIEW: Tales Of The Beanworld #4 (1986)

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Or – “The Viewers Are Those Who Make The Painting…”

I had a completely different Retro Review on tap for today, which (due to a series of circumstances filled with annoyance and vitriol probably best left undiscussed) will have to be postponed to a later date.  I scanned my wall of comics looking for a suitable replacement, and my eyes immediately locked on the box marked “Howard The Duck/Tales Of The Beanworld/Zot!” and remembered something that my grandfather probably never actually said:

“When life gives you lemons, sometimes you have to go read about beans…”

TALES OF THE BEANWORLD #4
Script: Larry Marder
Pencils: Larry Marder
Inks: Larry Marder
Letters: Larry Marder
Editing: Cat Yronwode
Publisher: Beanworld Press/Eclipse Publishing
Cover Price: $1.50 (Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00)

Previously, in Tales Of The Beanworld:  So, somewhere in the greater multiverse lies the Beanworld, a small island in the midst of an ocean of something wherein exist several unique and remarkable species, including a race that seems to be living, ambulatory beans.  Led by their hero, Mister Spook, and their chief scientist, Professor Garbanzo, the beans lead a simple life:  Seek out “chow.”  Eat “chow.”  Goof-off when they can.  Seek out more “chow.”  Repeat as necessary.  Their ecology has led a few beans (like Proffy and a trio known only as ‘The Boomers”) to find other ways to entertain themselves and contribute to society.  That process is about to happen again…

We open during a routine chow raid, as Mister Spook leads his band of spear-flingin’ flankers and chow pluk’rs into the land of the larger creatures known as the Hoi Polloi, to steal the chow (which the beans use for sustenance and the Hoi Polloi use for money.)  Their routine expedition goes south, however, when one of the pluk’rs is caught by a menacing Hoi Polloi!

“Sometimes,” says Mister Spook, “chow sol’jerin’ is a rough way to make a living.”  Not nearly as rough as that poor Hoi Polloi is going to have it after offending the Hero of the Beanworld, but still rough.  The still-anonymous pluk’r is evacuate from the field of battle (although it’s pretty impressive that the other sol’jers still managed to get away with the chow that was the original reason for the raid.)  We get a fascinating look into the beans’ point of view and heraldry as the party returns home…

The injured bean is submerged into the chow-filled blanktank, and the Bass Boomer takes up a place on top of the tank to boom a tune.  (Just as Professor Garbanzo is the arbiter of science in Beanworld, The Boomers are the arbiters of music.)  After “a handflip” of days, the injured bean is returned to physical health, but his metaphysical ain’t quite so ship-shape…

With that announcement, our young bean proves that something really, truly is up with him.  The most wonderful moments in ToTB come in the quiet interactions, the moments where two characters interact, as when Mister Spook and the still-unnamed bean discuss the mystery pods lying about or when The Bean With No Name (Yet) is driven by ennui to seek out Professor Garbanzo for counseling…

The two plot threads that have worked through this issue  (the bean’s impending breakout and Proffy’s displeasure that she has never found a use for “twinks”) come together, as she realizes that the new bean may be in the process of a “breakout!”  Larry Marder is an expert at creating believable dialogue with a specific tone and a shorthand that is apparent to the characters without alienating readers who DIDN’T grow up near the Legendary Edge.

This exchange is one of the most perfect comic sequences I’ve ever seen, taking the vague sense of discomfort in the phrase “breaking out,” and explaining it through the eyes of Proffy and Mister Spook, giving us a moment of wonderful realization, and a real sense of wonder at the miracle going on in their midst.  As the young bean continues to explore the secret of the star-shaped twinks, he has a sudden epiphany about something they MIGHT be good for…

Somehow, adopting his crest leads the bean to a flood of revelations, as if the twink-hat were an antenna of creativity, and he quickly begins assembling the cast-off chips, slats, hoops and twinks in a new form, crying to his brother and sister beans that he’s broken out, and is ready to reveal his new PRODUCT!  The beans assemble to find him standing on what looks like a Hoi Polloi, and initially panic, before he entreats them to stop and look…  Each bean assesses the sculpture for himself, and each of them chooses their own word to describe the experience.  The new bean has invented… ART.

It’s an interesting and effective metaphor for maturity, for education, for any one of a dozen other seminal experiences.  Beanish discovers something new, convinces his friends of it’s worth, chooses a new identity for himself based on what he has learned, and then sets off to make a success of his chosen discovery.  Over the course of time, Beanish’s art proves to be as important as the Boomers’ music in changing the nature of Beanworld life.  More impressively, his tinkering and instinctive building leads to a revelation as to the nature of the twinks:  In concert with the ominous mystery pods, they can make things FLOAT!

Mister Spook’s fears never really go away, even in the most recent installments of the Beanworld series.  There were only three issues (and a couple of short-story tryouts) before this one, but this issue is the point where the Beanworld as we come to know it really takes it’s form, and the introduction of Beanish as the third man in the thinker/feeler/action guy power trio (or, depending on your reference, the “Spock/McCoy/Kirk” paradigm) changes the narrative style for everything that comes later.  This is the first issue of Beanworld I ever read, and the first issue that I read to my daughter, and it’s telling that we both fell in love with the series because of what this story does.  Tales of The Beanworld #4 is one of several flat-out perfectly crafted issues of this book, and the first time Larry introduced a game-changing element that was then expertly folded into the ongoing story, earning an absolutely justified 5 out of 5 stars overall.

Rating: ★★★★★★

Faithful Spoilerite Question Of The Day:  What sort of things do you read as “comfort food?”