By James Asmus, Steve Lieber, Dave McCaig, and Dave Lanphear
Like poop emojis through the hourglass, so are the WTFs of our time. Quantum and Woody Must Die! #4 brings the charmingly facetious mini-series to a close and if this title focused on anything other than the World’s Worst Superhero Team™ one would be forgiven for feeling underwhelmed. However, this does just so happen to feature the misadventures of this sibling duo of ersatz superheroes and keeping perfectly in line with the tone and mission statement of Quantum and Woody (namely; Use powers for good and/or money + repress childhood traumas + monsters x goat/dad = Sure, why not) it delivers on all expected levels, even if it concludes more tidily and easily than hoped for. It’s bitingly self-aware and James Asmus, Steve Lieber and Dave McCaig wrap it up in a sarcastic package of genuine laughs and knowing winks. Will it set the world on fire? No. Maybe? If the book literally catches fire, who knows what could happen. Will it change things forever? Well, for Quantum and Woody, yeah kinda, but just not in the ways one might have expected when this mini-series got underway. Tsk tsk tsk…so many tragic animal deaths. Fun!
Asking “what exactly was the point of this mini-series?” is a fair initial reaction after completing issue #4, even if it sounds a little rude, you jerk. That’s mainly because it feels like just another wonderfully entertaining installment in an ongoing title, as opposed to requiring a special spotlight mini-series. No doubt, Valiant and the creators made the choice due to very practical behind-the-scenes publishing-type reasons that involve schedules and giant steam-powered printing presses and general editorial outlining. Whatever the justification, the ending does surprisingly dismiss some of the earlier events and threats with nary a wave of the hand, content to focus more on what really drove this story forward; namely, the guys behind the mask (and shades) and their relationship to each other and how it affects their ability to connect with others as a result. It’s about being selfish even when you mean well and how every action has a consequence. And, yeah sure, it’s also about the pregnant super-powered goat with their late father’s brain uploaded therein. Comics! Point being, it’s not about beating the bad guys and learning something along the way. It’s much more about trying to get your shit together now and beating the bad guys if you remember in between all the other stuff and if you can figure out who the bad guys are. It reads like a sitcom due to its lighter fare, episodic nature and effusive comedic beats, but its far smarter than any actual sitcom on television and far funnier than any other comic on the shelves.
The past three issues cleverly and subtly set up the big emotional moments under the guise of B-plot while the focus was on the evil machinations of corporate monsters (some literally) and revenge-fueled inept sad-sacks. At times this issue, it feels like Asmus is speaking to the reader through Woody as he says “Oh, man I totally forgot about him” and “We have been buried in such *poop emoji poop emoji burning poop emoji burning poop emoji* that we completely forgot about you Domino…um…’dolls’?” In more ways than one, Asmus is letting us know that the standard superhero comic conventions are an intentional afterthought to what’s really going on. One could justifiably feel led a little astray based on both the prior issues’ focal points and hell, the title of the book because this is executed in a manner just ever so slightly unbalanced from what’s come before, even if everyone knew that their lives were never really going to be in jeopardy. Spoilers? The intentions are made clearer here than they were earlier, so even if you “get it” there’s still a sense of ‘oh, forget about that other stuff we set-up, it was just a means to an end’ but what is pushed forward this issue more than makes up for it. Asmus’ ability to inject that humanity and heart that made his earlier run on the ongoing title so great are here in full force once more, especially with scenes like Woody pleading with Dr. Skinner to “fix him” and virtually every scene involving Eric struggling to trust both himself and Sheila. Even the electronic voice of a shocked, disappointed and stern goat directed at his son uttering “Eric” hits with surprising heft. There are some big twists at the end and some potential status-quo changing events, but for these two lovable try-as-they-mights, it feels a bit like just another day in the life. That is to say, utterly insane balanced with a sprinkling of completely relatable human doubts and little triumphs.
Steve Lieber renders some of his best character work to date with this closing issue and again reminds us all why when it comes to conveying effective, legitimate comedy in comics, he’s the best. He mixes up his page layouts nicely, always allowing each page to tell its own mini-story and even incorporates a fun instructional pamphlet-like sequence to great effect. The opening page homage to everyone’s favorite Action Comics #1 “freaking out guy” is riotously funny (pun intended) and leads one to wish there were more big moments to be found, where he could cut loose with a splash page, but that’s not the type of story this is and there simply isn’t any reason to go all Hitch-ian when the biggest of moments come from reading a text message or talking in an office. That’s not a knock either, it’s the opposite in fact; Lieber is a consummate storyteller and one who crafts fully realized sequences to best land that “awww” or “hahaha” or “oooohh shit.” There’s no need to pad this issue with big splashes because too much relies on the set-up and execution of an entire progression of panels in order to have the desired effect; and then he goes and makes it look easy to boot.
Complementing that smooth as silk comedy and familiar foibles is Dave McCaig’s colors, which look as sharp as they have been in any of these issues thus far. Bright and saturated with an eye towards keeping things on the flatter side, McCaig stays lockstep with Asmus and Lieber’s tone and turns on the moodiness when needed. A sepia worn flashback works great contrasting to the richer and bold modern-day setting and darker elements are held at bay, save for some great lighting applications to a red-flooded hideout and an eerily cool-drenched hospital room. As ever, McCaig lets the story take precedent, but always adds just enough to reinforce a scene’s mood for maximum impact.
Must they die? Meh, whatever. What they do instead is far more interesting, even if it veers a tad sharply from where the prior issues led you to believe. It’s as sardonic as ever and injected with heartfelt admissions via richly crafted visuals, but given its structuring will likely be read much smoother as collected work. A plethora of cliffhangers teases at a multitude of mishaps, misunderstandings and misgivings left to explore in another chapter (whatever form that may come in) of the greatest/worst/whatever/poop emoji tandem in the Valiant Universe.