You know, most folks don’t know this: but years ago, there was a brief but sparkling love affair between Men in Black and Buckaroo Banzai. They met, they had a fling, a bit of a one night stand, and then little more was said of it. Then, in 2005, Viper Comics published The Middleman. It has been suggested that this creation from the mind of Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine is indeed the previously unknown spawn of this union. How do we know this? Because this book contains ninjas in full-on kendo armor sporting six guns. Your honor, the prosecution rests.
In fact, between that, the time travelling bears and the killer giant shark man (plus, in previous volumes: the monkey legion, and kung fu vs. luchadores) I’m beginning to think that Javi and Les are, in reality, doing a psychiatric thesis on the id of Chris Sims.
The Chazzie–nominated series concerns the titular character, who goes out and protects the world from…well, a laundry list of every villainous whacked out thing you’ve ever imagined or seen in popular culture. Wendy is the newest trainee/sidekick for the Middleman, and by this point in the series, she’s trying to balance her “real life” and her new job as world-saver. This time around they’re dealing with the Middleman’s arch-nemesis (“We have an arch-nemesis?”), a menace by the name of Kanimang Kang (which is now stuck in my head to the tune of “The Candyman Can…”) who heads up F.A.T.B.O.Y. It’s too much to explain here, just go with it.
[ad#longpost]The book is ridiculous fun, pure and simple. And while I would have been content to keep going volume after volume with the status quo as they had it, they apparently saw fit to shake things up. Which I hope just leads us into Volume 4 and God knows what else. Javi’s writing is full of phrases that should be introduced into everyday conversation. Pick one of your own. Mine is “Lord love a duck.” He also manages to take this all over the map scenario and make it seem like it’s perfectly normal for these characters to step into these crazed situations. And as funny as the story is, these are real characters. Wendy’s desire to have her cake and eat it too with her life is something everybody can relate to. The Middleman is dedicated to his mission and takes it serious, even when (and especially when) he appears to be making light of things. So it’s well balanced.
McClaine’s art just gets better every time I see it. He gets the things right that I like to see done well: facial expressions (so that the faces actually look like they’re saying the lines) and action sequences that you can, you know, follow. I know that sounds so basic it’s not worth mentioning, but these days the concept of having a book where the art and the writing are both excellent–it’s so rare. Also, the light cartoonish style with a slight anime twist for flavor is something that’s very easy to get into. And it lends itself to all the humor, violence and drama that the story can throw at it.
Just like any good DVD, this book comes with extras. There’s an alternate ending set fifteen years in the future (which I hope doesn’t mean the series is kaput), annotations for all the references you come across while reading, and additional artwork and fan art.
Seriously, if you’re reading this site then chances are The Middleman is up your alley. You can snag it and the other two volumes from Viper Comics’ website. Tell them we said hi.