Retro Review: The Amazing Cynicalman #1 (June 1987)

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The history of comics is filled with people whose artistic skill and inventiveness marks them as geniuses in my book, from the stylized wonder of a Gil Kane “flipping-over-backwards-because-I’ve-been-punched-that-hard” panel to the understated beauty of a Wally Wood woman all the way through whatever it is people love about David Finch.  Then, there are the unsung heroes, those who do that which no one else ever had the stones to try…   That’s where we meet Matt Feazell.  Your Major Spoilers (retro) review of The Amazing Cynicalman #1 awaits!

Cynicalman1CoverTHE AMAZING CYNICALMAN #1
Writer: Matt Feazell
Artist: Matt Feazell
Colorist: Matt Feazell
Letterer: Matt Feazell
Editor: cat yronwode
Publisher: Eclipse Comics
Cover Price: $1.50
Current Near-Mint Pricing: $3.00

Previously in The Amazing Cynicalman: The black and white boom of the 1980s gave rise to a number of unusual artists, but it’s hard to imagine one who boils comic art down to a simpler form than Matt Feazell.  Originally working in mini-comics, his stick figure style is the precursor of XKCD, The Order Of The Stick and half a dozen other modern works that stylize their characters to the point of stick figures.  Back in ’87, Eclipse Comics (the same guys who brought Miracleman to American shores and who distributed Larry Marder’s sublime ‘Tales Of The Beanworld’) gave Feazell his own comic to play with, featuring his signature character, The Amazing Cynicalman.  Our story begins on a morning so lovely that even CM might be enjoying himself…

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What madness is this?  What could bring Cynicalman’s family to such a dire state of culinary affairs?  That answer, my friends, is blowing in the wind simple and tragic…

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And lo, to save his family, CM sets out into the world (with an enormous chapter title that reads “Cynicalman Sells Out!” in a font as big as the character himself.)  I first encountered Feazell’s work in a special issue of ‘Zot!’, Scott McCloud’s wonderful and underrated adventure tale, numbered 10½, and immediately gravitated to its goofy simplicity.  Taking the bus into town, Cynicalman arrives at a large office building, where he is told to wait for his turn.  Fortunately, he brought some reading material (entitled ‘Grocery Boy Sells Out!‘) 

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Why is he on a game show?  Stop asking questions, that why.  CM watches as two other contestants are given a chance to sell out.  The first fails miserably, and is given a ten-speed and a shack in the woods, while the second is offered an increasingly ridiculous amount of prizes to turn a flamethrower on innocents, but continually refuses, until…

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Aaaand we see why the book is called Cynicalman.  Feazell’s humor borders on darkness, but does it with such joy that you almost don’t catch it unless you’re really paying attention.  As for our hero himself, as a comic book “superhero”, he is given a different set of criteria to finally reach the status of “sold out.”

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Waaaait for it…

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That page never fails to leave me in stitches, for some reason.  It ain’t ‘The Merry Wives Of Windsor’, but it’s still giggle-worthy, and I love the way Feazell uses his panel structure to make the joke seem even longer.  Not for nothin’ does his work get name-checked in ‘Understanding Comics’, and it’s kind of inspiring to see that amount of detail and expression he can get out of nigh-identical stick figure characters…  Heading home with his magic beans, Cynicalman’s prediction proves true, as his “dad” (I’ve never been quite sure why that’s always in quotes) angrily sends him to bed without supper and tosses the sack of beans out the window in pure spite.  Our hero orders a pizza and prepares for bed…

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Cynicalman’s “brother”, Bother, climbs up the beanstalk, eventually finding himself at the top of a very tall building, where he climbs inside to find a computer and boots up a game of ‘Space Nazi.’  When CM finds him, having been sent by “Mom”, he takes a turn playing the game (his very favorite) and winds up playing for 8 hours, leading to an unpleasant surprise…

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Dragged into the middle of corporate culture, Cynicalman uses his only real power (cynicism, duh?) to turn the workers against each other, and searches for his brother until he ends up in the office of the company president.  Finding that the elderly president isn’t all there, Cynicalman starts making decisions, answering calls and generally making common sense decisions.  Naturally, this doesn’t fly for long…

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With everyone from the story so far on his tail, Cynicalman makes his way out to the roof of the building, where he finds Bother, and slides down the beanstalk back home, then takes action to make sure they’re not followed…

RANDOM CHAINSAWWWWW!

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And we come full circle, with a nonsensical resolution to one plot and a silly-but-entertaining resolution to another, with enough entertainment value in between that I’m almost entirely forgiving of the fact that things really don’t have an ending.  (Almost…)  The rest of the issue features short tales of Feazell’s other characters, including a story featuring Antisocialman, The Most Obnoxious Man Alive, and his adventures in fast food preparation…

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…which is more than a little bit terrifying, if you have body horror issues the way I do.  After a one-page strip entitled “Stupid Boy Makes A Sandwich” (which is exactly what the title would have you believe), we get a quick adventure of Cute Girl…

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Once again, Feazell is able to imbue his simple characters with life and energy that make this more than just childlike scribblings and old jokes, while joyfully embracing the part that is childlike scribblings and old jokes.  Humor is always subjective, and it’s easy for me to see how this comic could be annoying and/or unfunny to some readers, but I enjoy Feazell’s humor, especially the aburdist bits and the little ribbons of blacker-than-black humor that pop up here and there, and would read the hell out of this as a monthly comic book even today.  The Amazing Cynicalman #1 is one of the books that defines the 80s black-and-white boom for me, an issue that seems eerily prescient of what would become web comics a couple of decades later, and leaves me entertained and a little bit mystified at how Feazell does it, earning an impressive 3.5 out of 5 stars overall.  I wonder what Matt’s up to these days?