The Webcomic Overlook #125: Bottle of Awesome
If Andy Belanger’s Bottle of Awesome has anything going for it, it’s got a helluva title.
Not that calling anything “awesome” makes it immediately… uh… awesome. If you inflect the pronounciation wrongly, like by giving it a high pitched sing-song sound and drawing out the last syllable, you tend to sound like something the odious comic relief character on a Nickteen show would say.
Additionally, you run the risk of sounding like a total tool. Hey, anyone remember the name of Rob Liefeld’s short-lived comic studio after he left Image? That’s right: Awesome Comics. Ugh. Say it out loud to determine how incredibly dorky it sounds. That’s, like, Poochie levels of trying to hard to sound cool. So not awesome.
Put into the right context, though, awesome can become a wonderful adjective that can substantially boost the semi-ironic quotient that you so desire in a competitive product. Who would want to read a comic called Bottle, for instance? English lit majors? Hell, that sounds like a depressing black-and-white indie comic about a man’s descent into alcoholism.
But affix of Awesome at the end, and you’re back in business. Someone can actually contain the essence of inspiring awe? And somehow it’s the adjective form and the not the noun (“awesomeness”)? Aw, snap… that’s my jam, son!
Clearly, other people have thought the same thing. Bottle of Awesome was a Zuda instant winner, which meant that, back in the days when Zuda was structured like American Idol, the Zuda equivalent of Simon Cowell was so moved that he signed the comic to a contract on the spot. The Shuster Award folks thought the same thing, since Belanger was one of the nominees this year for Webcomic Creator or Creative Team … or as the Francophones call it, “Créateur ou Créateurs Exceptionnel de Bandes Dessinées Web.” (Trivia: in French, this webcomic is Bouteille d’Awesome.)
I’m being facetious, by the way. Time to give Belanger his due: he’s got some chops to back up his talent. He worked on Raising Hell over at Transmission-X. He’s working on Kill Shakespeare for IDW. Plus he’s apparently done work for the Friday the 13th comic, which surprisingly has nothing to do with the Canadian horror series that had its attractive leads hunting down accursed artifacts from a haunted antique store.
But doesn’t that answer the question that’s really on everyone’s minds. Is this comic a bottle of awesome, or is it a bottle of unawesome?
The first page, which is completely different from the rest of the comic, takes place in the future. A future where everything’s on fire. A weaselly little kid is about to take a chug from the bottle. But he stops, because a hot chick in skin-tight leather and eye black has the kid in his sights. “Freeze! Kid,” she says. “Put that bottle to your lips, I’ll put a bullet between your eyes! You’re not ready for a shot of that!” To the side, some greasy drifter tries to encourage the kid to do the opposite. Sounds like a pretty fantastic set-up, huh?
After that slam-bang intro, we’re plunged, via flashback, into a far more mundane setting: high school. The place is called Waterdown Collegiate Institute. Our badass lady is now an apple-cheeked teen named Morgan. She begins to tells us a story about the previous person who put the bottle to his lips: a surly four-eyes named Billy Butterman. Despite having a boyfriend, Billy is Morgan’s “first nerd crush.”
Huh. Way to pander to the fanboys, Andy.
We are then told a familiar tale about alienation and ostracization. There are jocks. There are girly cliques. There are goths. And at the bottom of the hierarchy is Billy, who is the target of everyone’s mockery. The bullies push him around. The teachers pick on him. Life is miserable.
Billy’s life changes with a chance encounter. While walking home, he runs into a hobo living under a bridge. The hobo gives Andy a little present: a bottle filled with awesome! The hobo assures that it’s neither liquid crack nor Drano, but rather, and I quote: “… it’s jus’ the power of awesome!”
Billy takes a swig and finds a power better than X-Box, Wrestlemania, and roller coasters. A swig gives Billy superpowers, which are ill-defined: super strength, super speed, proficiency at music, etc… all under the general descriptor of “awesome.” This is a dangerous thing to give a kid who’s been beaten down by high school society.
Billy immediately uses his power for vengeance. He vandalizes the school by throwing the bus into the clock tower, defacing the principal’s family van, and laying the smackdown and humiliation on the school’s bullies. Billy finally starts getting some respect, and his rise parallels that of Vito Corleone’s in Godfather II. But as Billy’s power grows, so does his ego. Actions that seemed altruistic at first now start to look arrogant and selfish. Overtime, he begins to lose friends and alienate people … but hey, you get all the chicks, so there’s a net gain.
And, wouldn’t you know it, Billy soon discovers that the Bottle of Awesome is a lot like the One Ring. He may have gained cool new powers, but there’s a steep price to pay for hubris. Billy is ready to give up the bottle after a terrible incident humbles him. The bottle, though, is sentient. It tells Billy that ultimately is the master of his destiny. “The bottle will bring you great joy and if misused great pain,” said a note. “It will reflect your soul.”
Fired up with a new purpose, Billy tries to set things right … but things go horribly wrong. In the middle of the school Battle of the Bands, Billy chugs down some of that bottle and dons a Musical Transformer of Awesome to totally blow the crowd away . That turns out to be unfortunately way too literal. The music is too awesome (or “over-awesome”), and Billy’s parents, who have been awe-struck by his guitar solo, disintegrate.
It seems like a good place to end the story. Hero falls, hero tries to redeem himself, hero reaps the wages of his sins. Fin. God, it’s like King Lear! But it doesn’t end there. It turns out that, back in the dystopian future, our listener and the current kid holding the bottle is none other than Billy’s little brother, Bobby!
The story ends up expanding into other absurd directions. We learn the back story of the Bottle of Awesome, which has its origins in a random melange of Sumerian mythology and a cult in old timey England. Oh, and there are other bottles. There’s also the Bottle of Gravity, the Bottle of Knowledge, the Bottle of Love, the Bottle of Destruction, and the Bottle of Suck. It turns out the Bottle of Awesome was just one in a six pack. Plus it turns out that Billy’s schoolmates are the ones wielding the other bottles.
If you haven’t caught on yet, everything is played for laughs. Belanger seems to have written Bottle of Awesome after watching Tenacious D and the Pick of Destiny. The entire story is farcical, or “random,” as the kids these days like to call it. The dialogue reflects the silliness and self-awareness. Our narrator, Morgan, augments all her words with a sort of ironic grandiloquence. Here are a few samples.
“The way we looked at each other felt like the lightning that brought Frankenstein to life. Were we creating a monster? Would our love ravage the countryside?”
“Revenge was tasty, and rewards were even sweeter. What was left? What new conquest was waiting for him. He often wondered if Napoleon ever had this moment and thought … how about Russia? He couldn’t help but think of what happened at Waterloo?”
“They met to create something in her honor … or perhaps her horror?”
The comic tries so hard to subvert every expectation, but it’s so obvious that it’s kinda tiresome. The audacious title works to its detriment. With something called Bottle of Awesome, you have to work hard to deliver something that goes beyond the entertainment of the name. Unfortunately, the comic does not. The comic relies way too heavily on making you smile with how many times it keeps repeating the word “awesome.” You know what? “Awesome” was really only mildly amusing when I first heard the title. Everywhere else … eh.
Contrast this with the comparable MS Paint Adventures (reviewed here). Both comics are built on similar premises: you start with a simple, ridiculous concept, and you blow it up into a crazy melange of wild fight scenes and a deep, if oftentimes absurd, mythology. MS Paint Adventures succeeds; it breezily brings humor, action, and storytelling together. Bottle of Awesome, on the other hand, does not. It’s kinda bland. The backstory is not really that silly nor is it that fascinating. Rather than being crazy mind-blowing, the action scenes fall kinda flat.
When I finished Bottle of Awesome, I was somewhat amused. Overall, though, I felt I was fed a bottle of unflavored fizzy water. It’s OK when there’s nothing else available, but you sorta wish someone added some cola nut or artificial root beer flavoring.
Rating: 3 stars (out of 5)
Posted on June 23, 2010, in 3 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, comedy webcomic, fantasy webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged Bottle of Awesome, Zuda, Zuda Comics. Bookmark the permalink. 12 Comments.