Open Mike Night - Groo: Friends and Foes #1/ The Tick - The Naked City

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By Mike Weaver and Mike Maillaro

Maillaro:  This week’s column we are going to focus on two “funny” books: The Tick and Groo.  Personally, I think comedy is much harder to write than drama.  Comedy is real hard to find the right balance between clever and silly.  

For drama, all you have to do is kill the main character’s parents.  Then you just throw together some crazy, LCD-generated gibberish that doesn’t make sense to anyone.  But, here’s the catch! People will be too afraid of looking foolish that they will not admit that they don’t get it.  Instead, they will say that it’s pure genius!  Sort of the Emperor’s New Comicbooks.   And it better be in black and white, dammit!  Color is for harlots and Sunday Morning Comics.

Once you have that winning combination, you just go to San Diego Con and collect your Eisner.


Make sure you thank us in your acceptance speech!

Groo: Friends and Foes #1

Written by: Mark Evanier

Art by:  Sergio Aragones

Colored by: Tom Luth

Lettered by: Stan Sakai

Published by: Dark Horse

Cover Price: $3.99

Weaver: Groo has been around in one form or another for a while, and during that time, he’s picked up a lot of...friends?  Foes?  People who mightily try to avoid him?  Yes, probably that last one.  At its heart, Groo is a swords and sorcery Conan type parody, but instead of being welcomed and congratulated at all the places he wanders, most people fear his very presence, because his presence always brings mayhem in its wake.

Here, we have the story of Groo once again meeting Captain Ahax, a man who has often hired Groo on as a crew member on his ships, and always subsequently had the ships sink.  I really like the minstrel song touch to catch us up on him.  Anyway, Ahax has a brilliant idea this time: run an insurance racket straight out of a mob movie.  But, with Groo around, things never go as expected.

Maillaro: The best part of this comic is that it’s pretty clear how this story is going to play out, but it was still so much fun.   As soon as Ahax sets up his insurance scam, you know that somehow Groo won’t sink the ship.  Instead, Groo sinks other ships and forces Ahax to take on even more crew.

I especially loved when Groo thought all the cargo in the ship had been stolen so starts to slice through the ship’s walls looking for it.  And then plugs the hole with his sword.  Again, it’s so clear how that will play out, but I still had to laugh.  

Weaver: I think the telegraphing is basically half the reason the comic is funny.  It’s like how Stephen King will sometimes give away some of the ending in the first chapter, but then you’re hooked trying to figure out how the scenario gets there.  We know Groo is going to mess this up, leaving Ahax penniless (again), but we don’t know exactly how.  On the flip side, I also kept thinking (along with Ahax) that surely Groo would manage to sink a ship while, for instance, fighting pirates.  Even knowing that it was unlikely to happen.  After the sword thing, I thought there was a chance he would pull it out inches from docking and save Ahax, but unfortunately for Ahax, you can never count on Groo, even if you’re counting on him to foul up.

Maillaro: Sergio Aragones art has always impressed me.  At it’s core, it’s so simple looking, but he puts in a ton of details.  

Weaver: The number of distinct people that he sticks in group scenes is amazing.  In addition to that, on things like the first page, he does a great job with telling the story with a montage fading into a scene of the minstrel singing it.  

groo friends 1a.PNG

It’s really good transitional work and visual storytelling.  A lot of people think that simplified characters that virtually anyone can draw passably well, from Groo to, say, Calvin and Hobbes, are easy to do art for.  But Aragones (and Watterson) always adds so much more to the panel than those simple figures.

Maillaro:  That is a major reason I get so defensive when people refer to comics like Groo dismissively as All-Ages and “Kiddy Art.”  Like I was saying in the introduction, I find something like this much harder to create.  You have to walk a careful balance or else it becomes really dumb.  I actually think this particular issue did wander across that line once or twice, but it quickly got right back on track.

Weaver: This runs into the South Park Mistake, where people think “If it looks simple and animated, it must be for kids!”  Yeah, I think that a kid could enjoy Groo, I did as a kid.  But at the same time, it’s generally not mired exclusively in the kid joke territory.

There are a few hiccups here, I won’t deny it.  The ending seemed a little too drawn out to me, for instance...we get a lot of panels of Ahax getting taken away, when I think one or two would do.  It’s almost like Aragones had enough story for about three quarters of a comic and then padded it out like a college student that needs a three page essay and only has two.

Maillaro: It’s always nice to have more variety on the comic shelves, but yeah, I wonder if Groo wouldn’t work better as shorts.   But this is really just a petty thing.  It was still a very good comic, and it’s definitely great news that Groo is actually going to be around a bit more regularly since this is a 12 issue mini-series.  Next time, Granny Groo shows up!!   

Weaver: Yeah, even with the hiccups, I would still rate this very highly.  It’s not easy to maintain a humorous story for a full length comic, so there’s a degree of difficulty there.  And Groo being on the shelves is a great thing.  Hilariously, Groo was a gateway to Conan for me, which I never really cared about until I saw Groo’s style parody of it.

Maillaro: Same with me!  I liked Groo before I liked Conan, but I eventually became a fan of both!

Weaver: I’m going to give this a 4 for story.  Really good, but a few weak spots.  And a 5 for art.  Say what you will about the simplisticness of Groo, Aragones can tell a great story with art alone.

Maillaro: I find it real hard to argue with those scores, so I’ll just copy yours.   Plagiarism rules!

The Tick: The Naked City

Written and Drawn by: Ben Edlund

Colored and Lettered by: Bob Polio

Published by: NEC Comics

Price: Varies

Maillaro: I have read the first 6 issues of The Tick many times over the years, but it has definitely been a while.  I have to admit, I genuinely forgot how laugh-out-loud funny The Tick could be.  At its core, The Tick is the story of a man who has escaped from a mental institution.  The Tick has superpowers. wears a blue costume, and wants to use them for good, but at the same time, he’s got the mental capacity of a small child.  He’s pure id.   

During the course of these stories, he meets a Superman knockoff (probably my favorite part of the book), fights ninjas, and Villains Inc, a company who provides villains to fight wannabe heroes to help them look better.  He also makes numerous allies.  An Elektra-knockoff with the brilliant name of Oedipus, Paul the Samurai, and a former accountant named Arthur who happens to have stumbled across a flying suit.

Weaver: Probably my favorite part of the Tick is how it takes a character like Oedipus or Paul the Samurai and makes them very serious...until there’s something completely outlandish that the character still takes seriously, like Paul hiding his sword in a loaf of French bread.  I’ve also always liked the ninjas.  Their ability to disguise as a hedge is phenomenal.  And I like how they all have completely normal does Oedipus, once you get past her goofy first name.  

It’s interesting that you favor the Superman knockoff, because to me, that’s the weakest part of this trade.  Still hilarious and works well in setting up the Tick, particularly his complete lack of secret identity, but I think it picks up steam in the ninja story.

Maillaro: For me the reason the Superman story tick naked city a.PNGworks so well is that it takes the parody as far as it could possibly go.  From the annoying Jimmy Olson knockoff, to Marlon Brando’s giant holographic head to Tick tricking the “hero” with an eraser claiming it to be Ottercreekite...HIS ONLY WEAKNESS.   I think it helps that when I first read this story I was just getting into Superman, so it holds a special place in my heart.

But that doesn’t take away from the rest of the book. The Ninjas are hilarious.  Especially since it becomes clear early on that they are incompetent.   But they definitely pretend to be a shrub very well.




tick naked city b.PNGWeaver: The Tick has a few references that are sort of dated by now, and a few regional references too (since it was originally done in small press in New England), but not so many that it takes away from it.  The Alf reference in the hedge panel, for instance.  And Otter Creek, which is a really odd major waterway in Vermont.  But it’s not so mired in this that it becomes hard to relate to, which is a problem that, say, Watchmen has.

Oh speaking of.  The Red Scare hired villain always makes me laugh with his attempts in the interview to spout catchphrases.  “Lenin was keen!”  But if I went through everything in here that made me laugh, we’d be here all day.  The Tick is pretty much the best example of superhero parody, much like Groo is the best swords and sorcery parody.  The Tick was also one of the first small press comics to really make it big.

Maillaro: Hell, even the Red Scare is pretty dated if you think about it.  Well, maybe not so much anymore.  Russia is back!!  Or not...

Yeah, like most people, I only really became aware of The Tick after the cartoon on Fox (which is a terrific adaptation...even if it rarely used the same characters or stories as the comics), but it’s maintained it’s popularity very well.   And it gave Ben Edlund a hell of a career too.  In addition to the Tick cartoon and live-action shows, he was a major part of Firefly and Supernatural and now Gotham.  

Weaver: The Tick was well underway when it first came to my attention in 1991, my freshman year of college, but it was before the animated or live action series.  So I guess I was an early adopter, but definitely not in on the ground floor.  The Red Scare was a little dated even at the time, which I think is part of the humor.  The Berlin Wall came down in 1989, but Communism was in serious decline throughout the 1980’s, which was the era that we were transitioning our “evil boogeyman” enemy to the Middle East after the Iranian Revolution and hostage crisis.  He’s also a style parody of the billions of Communist themed villains that showed up in DC, Marvel, and even the WWF.

Anyway.  The Tick showed the world that a small press...very small press at first...comic could become a major marketing force, along with Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.  I think this was very good for the industry, because more competition made the major players change their strategies, and also allowed the idea of Image to be more than a vague pipe dream of “We’re taking our ball and going home.”  Unfortunately, it also helped to bring the speculator market to the forefront, as first printings of Tick appearances were very sought after.

Maillaro: They still are.  Copies of Naked City...WHICH ARE COLOR REPRINTS PRODUCED LATER ON...go for $50 on Amazon.  Thankfully, there are a lot of printings of the various Tick series and trades, so if you shop around, you should be able to find something that fits your budget.

Sadly, they still don’t seem to be available digitally.  That seems like a natural fit for me, so I hope that eventually that gets sorted out.  

Actually, quite a few of the big indy comics have a minimum if not existent digital footprint.  Cerebus pretty much only has one trade available digitally (High Society).  Spawn is finally making it’s way to digital when issue 250 comes out...but who knows when that will actually happen.  Spawn is always months behind.  

Oh, I should point that out.  These are color reprints (colored by the original letterer oddly enough). The original comics were done in black and white.  That is how I originally read them.  They actually did a great job coloring them though, so it didn’t feel like a hack job.  Like TNT colorized movies in the 80’s and 90’s.

Weaver: Ah man, I still have bad flashbacks of colorized Casablanca (one of my all time favorite movies).  But yeah, the way the colorization worked made me think they always would have done it in color if they could have, but there were budget constraints to doing that before it became a household name.

Maillaro: Scores for this one.  Writing needs a 5/5.  I laughed so hard throughout this.  And that is even after reading it many times before.  Some of the later Tick stories don’t quite hold up this well, but Naked City AKA Tick Omnibus 1 certainly does.

I would also go 5/5 for the art.  The book just looks great.  There is a terrific style to Tick’s world and Edlund carries it through the entire series.  And the coloring is done so well, like you said, it seems like it was there all along.

Weaver: It does hold up a lot more than later stories, which I think suffered from Edlund wanting to branch out to more than just Tick and making a lot of backdoor pilots for various and sundry, Man Eating Cow was pretty much the worst.  Because you kept getting little flashes, and it was...not funny.  And almost aggressively not funny.

Maillaro: I only read Man Eating Cow and Paul the Samurai when they crossed over into Tick...and yeah, they were pretty awful.  

Weaver: Which is a shame because Paul is fine here.  He’s another of those characters that is best in limited doses.  Or maybe in just one dose.

I want to not give this a perfect score, but I can’t find any specific thing to justify that.  I’ll plagiarize you back, therefore.

Maillaro: For next week, I was thinking we could do the first appearance of Sinestro.  I know that is kind of random, but it was just put on sale this week for 99 cents on Comixology.  And we don’t do nearly enough old DC books in this column.

Weaver: I won’t lie, part of that is because I’m a big Marvel fan, and one of the things I liked most about DC were the old Earth-1/Earth-2 crossovers before Crisis.  I think I’ll track one of those down to review in the future, but for now, Green Lantern with extra Sinestro sounds like a plan.

Maillaro: And as promised, we can finally finish our “Marvel controversial character” tour as Thor #4 comes out next week.  New She-Thor Vs Thor!   

Weaver: Yay controversy!  Speaking of, I was surprised that Carol getting promoted to Captain Marvel didn’t raise any eyebrows, but I guess that was because no one but you cared about Captain Marvel to start with.

Maillaro: There is that.  And also, the name was thrown around like a frisbee over the years.  Monica Rambeau used it.  Genis-Vell used it.  At least Carol had a logical claim to it.  So, it just seemed like the right choice.

And it worked out nice, because it left the Ms Marvel name available for Kamala.  Not that Ms Marvel is the best name ever...

Weaver: It’s so weak that Carol has personally abandoned it three times now, first as Binary, then Warbird.  Anyway, that’s neither here nor there.  Next week.  Sinestro.  Female Thor.  Sounds like a plan.

Final Scores


Maillaro – Story

Weaver – Story

Maillaro – Art

Weaver – Art

Groo: Friends and Foes #1





The Tick: Naked City