By James Asmus, Steve Lieber, Dave McCaig, and Dave Lanphear
We can all agree that the phrase “I’m just bustin’ your labes” is either the greatest thing or the worst thing to ever be added to the English lexicon. So, thank you for that James Asmus. But that’s the type of irreverent and disarmingly funny wordplay (sure, let’s go with that) that you’ll find peppered throughout this inaugural issue of Quantum and Woody Must Die! and it is equal parts “wait, what?!?” inducing as it is a delight. The comedy genre is still surprisingly sparse in the mainstream comic market and more often than not, Asmus’ Quantum and Woody has been the de-facto source of legitimate comedic gold for those looking for a reprieve from the depressingly grizzled modern superhero yarn, save for other gems such as Superior Foes of Spider-Man. Fortunately, Asmus has paired with Superior Foes‘ artist Steve Lieber and his ability to convey the truly funny familiar and ordinary in a world rife with the extraordinary, to bring us this opening chapter that is nothing short of ridiculous even though it’s primarily set-up for the upcoming conflict. Fear not, it also contains the recommended monthly dose of The Goat that’s part of a balanced comic reading experience.
This first issue lays the groundwork for the titular proclamation by having a routine (well, for Quantum and Woody anyway) superhero intervention go awry as a French-Canadian mercenary finds himself awash in a cocktail of largely experimental (and unapproved) chemicals that he was attempting to steal with his crew, led by the Domino Twins. And so, Asmus makes clear that the “World’s Worst Superhero Team” is going to have to pay the price for their recklessness of working outside the law. It’s almost an exploration of vigilantism, the idea of collateral damage being overlooked for a supposed greater good, if it weren’t for the taint jokes. Asmus revels in highlighting the amateur success of this duo despite their apparent ineptitude and obliviousness (that’s sort of their whole deal) by continuing to deliver Seinfeld-esque scenes in between absurdist science and good ol’ fashion punching. It’s a surprisingly effective balance too, having two whole pages dedicated to Woody’s cultural insensitivity inside a Chinese restaurant (that culminates in ruining the magic of Santa Claus for a little girl, which is of course hilarious) coincide with fighting confused mutated monsters and guns-blazing femme fatales who “just like kickin’ bitches.” As ever, Asmus dialog is the root of the humor tree and each character is instantly relatable and understandable via their quips and quirky turns of phrase (“y’know, for funsies”) that have a sharp Whedon-like flair, even when their minds dive into the gutter. The Domino Twins’ confident jive is pure Pam Greer that Asmus takes just to the edge but no further. It’s great that the dialog is as bitingly funny as it is because there is a lot of it. Just looking at the page where the Domino Twins’ employer drops an exposition bomb is intimidating due to the sheer amount of words on the page, but is luckily levied with generous use of the poop emoji and a self-awareness of the inherent villain monologuing. The tragic pleas of the “rampaging” monster are without question, wonderfully horrible the entire time. So while there is a lot of set-up and joke real-estate to be found in Asmus’ script, it’s more than light and fun enough to feel like a satisfying episode of your favorite bygone sitcom that never existed because network censors are dicks.
Steve Lieber knows how to sell a joke, which clearly comes in handy when you’re dealing with self-absorbed odd couple characters that happen to own a goat with their father’s copied brain. So yeah, proper visual beats are important. Luckily this story is fully in Lieber’s wheelhouse and his bold line work captures every deadpan expression and unfortunate genetic monstrosity in all their glory. Obviously it’s his anatomical posing that provides the biggest laughs specifically the many gesticulations of Woody that often play out like an airplane safety instructions pamphlet as if performed by a lovable idiot. Lieber knows just how much of an action gap to leave between panels in order to hit the right beat, whether it’s a surprisingly alert Woody transitioning from eating to tossing his leftover Chinese over his shoulder or the brilliant three-panel sequence of a little girl processing the harsh truth of Santa Claus that pays off with a dead on Charles Schulz silhouette. If anything, Lieber feels a little constricted in this issue with several pages in the ten-panel range which doesn’t allow for much detail save on an occasional close-up. Hopefully as the story progresses, Lieber will have a little more room to stretch all his artistic muscles in a less-cramped page layout. Dave McCaig makes some interesting choices on colors, which on the whole are tonally perfect in their vibrancy. When scenes are set indoors, McCaig blends and contrasts a range of appropriately saturated colors. The Chinese restaurant scene, again, is a wonderfully textured red and creamsicle backdrop behind the bright cools of Woody’s suit and the shadowed faces of other patrons. But the opening sequence and elsewhere set outdoors, there’s a strange almost supernatural green hue over everything, often broken up with the sharp clarity of Quantum’s electric blue shielding. It’s an interesting look, but one that perhaps distracts more than it aids. That’s nitpicking though, and McCaig more than deftly complements and enriches this ridiculous world.
If you’re lamenting the loss of Superior Foes of Spider-Man, get over it you baby. Nah, I’m just bustin’ your labes, this is the book that will fill that hole in your heart. Successfully providing comedy, but not at the expense of satisfying action and character work, Asmus, Lieber, McCaig and letterer Dave Lanphear are giving this tawdry tandem a hearty helping of hubris that’s big on laughs and short on shame.