REVIEW [Comics]: The Broccoli Agenda

24 08 2009
"An illustrated story about guns, mobsters, legends, heroes, villains...and produce."

"An illustrated story about guns, mobsters, legends, heroes, villains...and produce."

I picked up The Broccoli Agenda as part of a local comic book store’s liquidation sale, and I knew nothing of its creator David Yurkovich, except that he possessed an eccentricity that placed him among the avant-garde of the comics industry during the late half of the 1990s. (Yurkovich’s most famous work remains Less Then Heroes; it was recently republished by Top Shelf Comics.)

Undaunted, I purchased a copy, promised with the prospect of an “absurdist view of comics.” The title certainly delivers.

The Broccoli Agenda is narrated by former superhero Dr. Broccoli (Doc Broc) over cigarettes with an F.B.I. agent (Swete, the protagonist of Yurkovich’s first work, Death By Chocolate), a man made entirely of “organic chocolate.” Doc Broc relates a childhood spent obsessing over the titular vegetable, and an adulthood wasted trying to force society’s acceptance of its benefits.

Following the tragic death of his parents, the boy is placed into the adoptive care of the DeCarlo family, local broccoli farmers (‘natch). Hard times fall on the family, and Mr. DeCarlo is forced to accept assitance from Jimmy “Glass Jaw” Marconi, small-time mob boss (who later aspires to public office). When Mr. DeCarlo can’t make his scheduled payment, Marconi kills him, leaving the boy again orphaned, and again adopted.

The Broccoli Agenda.panels

Selected interior art from The Broccoli Agenda.

Yurkovich’s plot builds in an unwieldy way, branching off into tangents unexpected (albeit interesting) but without closure. A digression into the story of an ancient culture had me thinking that The Broccoli Agenda was Yurkovich’s attempt at interlocking narration (perhaps, even, resembling a Russian nesting doll), but it turned out instead to be merely a method of delivering Doc Broc’s mutation into “a plant/human hybrid.”

Now imbued with powers beyond those of mortal men(?), Doc Broc is invited to join the New York Super-Hero Syndicate (and given his codename). Soon, “along with Milk Maid, Multi-Grain, and the Abbatoir, [he] became a member of The Basic Four … and educational unit that would travel the country and demonstrate the importance of maintaining healthy eating habits.” Another branch, another digression.

I consistently found myself questioning the purpose of such plotting: why use frame narrative if what passes in-between claims little connection to it? That said, Yurkovich does succintly end his tale (in a “tidy-little-package” sort of way). My instincts tell me that Yurkovich did not intend to stifle himself with the particulars of plot, but rather meant to investigate (and possibly expand) the conventions of super-hero comics.

Yurkovich wrote an essay (now lost in the ether of the vast interweb) titled “Why Don’t Heroes Age?” An interesting topic, to be sure, if only I could have read it. The Broccoli Agenda doesn’t exactly provide answers, but it did cause me to rethink skipping on eating my veggies.

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REVIEW [Comics]: Hello, Again

25 07 2009

The past may not be buried as deep as William once thought.

The past may not be buried as deep as William once thought.

Our ugliest mistakes return unbidden when we least expect them to do so. Such is the case for William, the middle-aged and guilt-ridden protagonist of Max EstesHello Again.

William is the superintendent of his apartment building, and a reluctant one at that: he corrects another character when she refers to him as a “landlord.” He is unmotivated to improve his lot in life and satisfied to maintain an affair with Delia (his friend Aaron’s fiancĂ©e).

He lies to his mother when she asks if there are “any young women in [his] life,” and feigns interest when Aaron invites him to dinner with Delia. Even after William meets a woman from his building, he recalls Delia’s (not too) subtle bedroom coaxing: “Enough about Aaron, let’s talk about William.”

All things conspire against William becoming self-satisfied, until, that is, he stumbles across a hole in the ground. An adequate metaphor, to be sure, and one seen elsewhere in literature (how’s about Alice in Wonderland for starters?) Instead of beginning a quest for self-discovery, though, William has his quest thrust upon him in the form of Oliver, a bearded manifestation of William’s “conscience” (think Jiminy Cricket).

Oliver represents not only William’s (largely ignored) “conscience”, but also his (deeply buried) subconscious, and William’s struggle emerges as one between sustaining his tired existence or confronting his childhood fears.

"Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

"Old Marley was as dead as a door-nail."

Estes presents the relationship of William and Oliver as one that adheres (albeit loosely) to the Jungian concept of synchronicity, an event in which two (or more) events are linked more by philosophical meaning and less by causality (this just means that William and Oliver have their fates intertwined, so to speak). If this sounds too heady, then that’s because it is; William is not overtly troubled by his decisions, but rather challenged by Oliver to account for mistakes. (Think of the ghost of Bob Marley from A Christmas Carol).

At one point, Oliver warns, “I’m here to break this cycle, Willy. The next messenger may not be so pleasant.” Is Estes claiming that self-reflection is inevitable? Is Oliver even necessary or would William have confronted his mistakes sooner or later?

If Hello, Again works anywhere, then it is in its simple layout: four panels to every page, many without dialogue. William is loosely sketched (think: the Elongated Man), noodle-ly and capable of stretching to accommodate his morally wayward behavior. Oliver resembles a garden gnome: obstinate and flat-footed. (I imagine him sounding quite gruff; the character is a seaman, after all).

The narrative runs over 150 pages, and concludes within the final twenty (or so): too rushed, I think, to give full weight to the decision(s) that William must make and the consequence(s) that he must face. And for someone who behaves as wantonly as William does, it seems unfair that he should land on his feet.

Hello, Again is available from Top Shelf Productions ($10).