By Garth Ennis, Russ Braun, John Kalisz, and Rob Steen
The dirty little secret to “men behaving badly” stories is that regardless of who’s really being put to task, it’s still often an excuse just to get to tell a nasty story. At its best, satire requires a clear target to its biting commentary and it certainly helps for said commentary to be, you know, actually funny. Jimmy’s Bastards #2 accomplishes neither. The premise of Ennis, Braun, and co.’s new series from AfterShock sounds fine on its own: the perennial superspy of yesteryear replete with all the misogynistic trimmings is the target of a legion of his bastard children. Unfortunately, that bar was set too high and we end up with a comic that trips over itself twenty yards away from even attempting to vault, giggling all the while. There’s some great cartooning here, courtesy of Braun, but it’s delivered via a story with a hollow core that’s just trying so damn hard to let you in on a joke it hasn’t worked out the punchline to. It’s not so much Archer as it is Van Wilder with spies.
Garth Ennis is a deservedly lauded creator who’s often incorporated dark humor in his works such as Preacher, The Boys, and Hitman. With this attempt at going full-bore comedy, there’s this inescapable sense of someone still very much stuck in the 90’s trying to poke fun at how out of touch people are now. Ennis frames his characters as intentional anachronisms, with plenty of proper good old boys and their requisite good old boy mentalities, but therein lies the problem: so much of the book is spent focusing on this behavior that they’re never really the butt of the joke despite the apparent clarity that they’re supposed to be. Jimmy still gets to call his superior’s gawky, lisp-afflicted son a “mongoloid” and brag about going home to change in order to “slip into something more vaginal.” Two geriatrics in a gentlemen-only club (named after The Man Who Would Be King’s Peachy Carnehan) mishear each other as they bungle various euphemisms for one’s wife being “the most appalling slut.” A black man named Idi who works as a bartender in the club has his balls literally in the hands of one of Jimmy’s bastards. The big mysterious threat is centered on the phrase “gender fluid” and how no one knows what it means as they keep reading and hearing about it everywhere. And…look, we get it. “Look at how awful these fools are!” it screams, but there’s nothing of substance to bolster the spectacle.
Who exactly is the target of this endless wave of juvenilia? British Imperialism in the form of Peachy Carnehan’s club? The fictional character of James Bond and the real-world romanticism of his over the top machismo? An overly sensitive modern audience that’s easily outraged? A group of people stuck in the past with their heads up their asses? All of the above? Equally frustrating is that Ennis tries to provide the counter-balance that heightens all the buffoonery in the form of Nancy McEwan, a woman of color government agent and the sole female voice in the comic. She’s supposed to serve as our entry point into the story, pointing out the rampant sexism and testosterone run amok, but it is often too little too late. Her frustration over being called Jimmy’s “latest government bit o’ stuff” by Idi, valid though it may be, is actually explained by Jimmy to her in the following scene as he talks over her to show just how much he, and in turn, Ennis, “gets it.”
All of this is a shame because Russ Braun puts some gorgeous lipstick on this pig with his expressive and lively cartooning. The characters feel animated with their constant mugging and wayward skepticisms and it’s clear that Braun has a deft touch for comedy in how he delivers the big payoff beats. It’s just that there’s no real jokes to sell. Everything has room to breathe as panels are stacked and overlapped with smooth transitions and rarely does Braun lay down more than five per page; it’s not dense and heightens the sensationalism inherent in the ridiculousness unfolding. Characters are rendered with care, with the doofuses having all their doofusness exaggerated in all the right places like Mr. X’s rotund form and burly mustache in his golf attire and a sports car full of libidinous women with voluminous lips and sly eyes. Braun’s a perfect fit for a comedy book with a clever edge, it’s just too bad that’s not what Jimmy Bastards is.
Kalisz’s colors complement Braun’s art to a tee, with a richly saturated palette that instills jovial sense of anything can happen in this world. The opening sequence has viscous rouges play off the pastoral greens of a golf cart with primaries popping all around as chaos unfolds. Though Jimmy’s tie mysteriously changes from red to purple inexplicably between panels set in the same scene, once it is violet it’s a nice little touch to subtlety match McEwan’s lavender shirt for the remainder of the issue and give an indication that there’s a shared awareness. Kalisz really shines in the end sequence set in an alley with some beautiful lighting work that blends in ominous azures.
Despite how pretty it is to look at, Jimmy’s Bastards #2 is tiring. What precisely is the book trying to say? A send-up of Bond tropes is all well and good, but that’s something that surely can be accomplished in a single issue and far too one-note to dedicate a series to. If it’s meant to be taking jabs at political correctness or the frustrating and hypocritical conservative viewpoints in our modern time, cool. But what is it trying to say with those jabs? By themselves they’re not commentary or clever examinations, they’re tweets. That’s the maddening thing: it’s not even mean spirited so much as pointless. Ennis’ script keeps trying to assure you with knowing winks littered sparsely every few pages that yes, these men behaving badly are meant to be ridiculed. We still have to wade through it all to keep getting to that promised punchline. When the setup to a joke is this drawn out and eye-roll inducing, it really doesn’t matter who the subject of the punchline ultimately turns out to be; the audience has already left the theater.