The Best of Wonder Wart-Hog by Gilbert Shelton
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|The Best of Wonder Wart-Hog by Gilbert Shelton|
|Category: Graphic Novels|
|Reviewer: John Lloyd|
|Summary: Decades of subversive comix with the amusing adventures of a real anti-hero.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 464||Date: November 2013|
For those people who think a man fixated with bats and fighting crime is too extreme… For those who find the alter-ego of a super-powered alien far too ridiculous when it's the thin disguise of a mild-mannered reporter… For those for whom the do-goodie morals of all the super-heroes and crime-fighters in comics are just too unrealistic – welcome, one and all, to Wonder Wart-Hog. Sent to Earth from a dying planet, and living as a very put-upon journalist, Philbert Desanex is merely the public character that the smelly, ugly creature has to live as. But deep inside that humble frame and visage is a huge, beer-guzzling, road-hogging, violent character just bursting to get out (quite literally, if he can afford to replace Philbert's suits at the time) and thump people. And thump people he has done for decades now, as this huge testimony suggests.
I don't know exactly when the first spoofs of completely popular super-hero comics came about, but this has been sustained as a ribald pastiche of a certain S-wearing character for generations. Shelton's subversive eye has allowed the whole thing to be a great satire of just about everything, not just cartoon strips. As a result his adventures have ranged from five-page stories about trained zoo animals to fifty-page epics of time travel; Wonder/Philbert has been leader of the USSR and the USA; and he's battled drag-racers, unions, the dole queue, and a whole league of American Football teams.
I don't know how long the entire oeuvre stands at the moment, but for a 'best of' to reach 464 full pages must take some beating. There is as a result some pieces that aren't all that brilliant if truth be told (that time-jumping one, for example), but on the whole the book is much more hit than miss. It is silly, it is Americanised, it is a little too one-note to be read in too large a dose, but it also is full of merits. The drawing style ranges from Crumb-styled detail to cheap and cheerful work, from simple yet dynamic pencil scratchings to something much more complex and intricate. The bonus colour section here might feel a little tacked-on, but is definitely welcome. What's more important, perhaps, is the fact that this is not specifically for the historian of comix, or fans of the simple spoof. Yes, if you know the politics of the comic strips of the day you'll see Wonder stamping on them all, but it's very much also an attack on the USA of the time, from automobile manufacturing to race-fuelled vigilantism.
As a result, you find yourself warming to even the more pointless diversions here, and just welcoming the depth and breadth of these 464 pages. It's blunt, it's coarse (in a mild way) and it's the sort of book that some snooty types would pretend is neither big nor clever. But damnit I keep saying how big it is… So I'd have to recommend it to fans of wacky humour, alternative comics and alternatives to the routine super-heroes of our world.
I must thank the publishers for my review copy.
File this next to The Weirdo Years 1981-'91 by R Crumb to boost the cachet of your collection of underground comix.
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You can read more book reviews or buy The Best of Wonder Wart-Hog by Gilbert Shelton at Amazon.com.
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