The Webcomic Overlook #166: The Gutters
With regards to The Webcomic Overlook, the question I get asked the most is, “El Santo, if think you’re such an authority on webcomics, why don’t you write one yourself?”
My answer is: BECAUSE. DAMMIT.
The second most asked question is, “When are you going to review Least I Could Do?”
This is an incredibly loaded request. It’s a comic that gets tons of love from people that generally I respect. It is also, paradoxically, one of the most reviled webcomics of all time. I’ve got to admit that these conflicting standpoints would make for a hell of a review.
However, being someone of the latter disposition, I have a hard time reading more than ten LICD strips in a row. I know, I know… I’m the same guy that read Jack and Ctrl+Alt+Del. How could I be possibly fazed by LICD? Well, the first two are at least enjoyable to watch go off the rails in a “Can this comic get any worse?” sort of way. From what I’ve seen of LICD, it’s the same thing day in and day out, and I have a hard time imagining that it would ever keep my attention.
I’m not discounting a review of LICD outright. However, sadistic readers of The Webcomic Overlook, I offer you a taste. This next review is written by LICD writer Ryan Sohmer, and periodically illustrated by Lar deSouza. By my estimates, it is at least 53% created by the LICD crew. The webcomic is a little thing called The Gutters.
I understand that plenty of Webcomic Overlook readers are comic fans but are not necessarily superhero fans. If so, then you are not the gutter audience. Rest assured that The Gutters is not for you. The Gutters is aimed at the continuity-obsessed, nitpicky, basement-dwelling neckbeards who can name all of the seven Corps in the Green Lantern comics without looking it up on Wikipedia.
In other words, me.
So you super cool non-superhero-comic reading dudes can check out of this review right now.
The Gutters is a comic industry parody and editorial. Sometimes they’re spoofs about recent comic book plotlines, like the one where Superman renounced his American citizenship or when Wonder Woman donned her new pants-enabled outfit. Sometimes it can get very insider, like the digs at Dan Didio and Joe Quesada. It is a webcomic designed to be consumed by the most obsessive nerds on earth.
Illustrations are handled by several different artists, many of whom The Webcomic Overlook has given high marks to. Hell, Eisner nominees Karl Kerschl and Shannon Wheeler have drawn a strip each, for example. This makes it very difficult for me to judge The Gutters objectively. In fact, there are a lot of times where the artist does the legwork to significantly elevate the quality of an individual strip. I admit smiling a little with Annie Wu’s depiction of a dancing Prof X. And, what can I say, Guy Allen’s retro style was perfect on a strip about the Invaders, WWII era comic heroes from Timely (the precursor to Marvel Comics). If anything, The Gutters does the Lord’s work by exposing a lot of lesser known artists to a wide audience, which I estimate is somewhere between 50K and 100K readers.
At the same time, The Gutters is one of the most unfunny comic book parody series that I have ever read. And yes, I have read Marvel’s What The–?! If the main purpose if the webcomic was for different artists to draw pictures of superheroes, then why isn’t this just a collective illustration gallery or something? It probably would’ve worked better.
Most of the blame can be placed on the writing. And by “the writing,” I mean “Ryan Sohmer.” It’s possibly less funny than what he’s got to work with in Least I Could Do, simply because he has a bigger page to fill. Sohmer tends to stretch the jokes until he’s beating them to death like that dead horse in that one metaphor. For example, there’s a strip where Deadpool thinks Fantomex is Storm Shadow. There’s another strip where Jim Lee tells us how DC Comics is managed by monkeys. The first is actually kinda clever, and the second … can pretty much be used as the punchline for any joke.
Both of these concepts are one panel gags at best. Yet they’re stretched out long past the point of being funny. Deadpool keeps poking at Fantomex (which isn’t really that much of a gag, since Marvel would probably do that gag anyway if they still had the rights to the Hasbro properties), and monkey-flinging gag has four full panels of dialogue that could be pretty much anything in the world and yet have the same punchline. (The Seven Soldiers? DC is run by poo-flinging monkeys. Superman walking the Earth? DC is run by poo-flinging monkeys. See? The uninspired punchline works for EVERYTHING!) Yes, there are times when extending the joke as long as possible can lead to humorous results. You lose a lot of the spontaneity, though, when dragging the punchline becomes the default go-to gag for the entire webcomic. Then it comes off as somewhat insecure, as if the writer has so little confidence in the joke that he has to keep piling on the “funny”.
Not that the single panel ones are gold, either. Take, for instance, one comic about BOOM! Studios mining every Disney property imaginable. The punchline is that they’re now adapting Steamboat Willie, which is cuh-razy. I dont necessarily agree with the sentiment: at the time the comic was created, BOOM! had 11 Disney adaptations — a small drop in the huge ocean of Disney properties — and pretty much all of them were critically well received. But say that you do agree with Sohmer. Maybe BOOM! is a bunch of cold-blooded opportunists, and they deserved all the hardships coming to them after the Marvel acquisition by Disney. Let’s get to the punchline, which is Mickey turning to the viewer and sneering, “It’s twenty-two pages of me on a boat!”
Oh my God.
There’s a lot of times that I felt that Sohmer totally botched the punchline because he’s just not really that much of a comic nerd himself. Like, he knows the basic outlines of the latest comic drama bombs, but doesn’t know enough to make a really great insider joke. Take, for example, the comic dealing with The Rise and Fall of Arsenal. This infamously terrible comic has been pooh-poohed by many comic fans online, including a great post by Brian Hibbs of The Savage Critics where he calls it “The worst comic I have ever read.” So what’s The Gutter’s take on the comic? That comic fans are rejoicing that “one reader discovers who Arsenal is.” SHENANIGANS! NO ONE cares if anyone else finds out about Arsenal! NO ONE! And I’m the guy who plunked down the $1.75 for New Titans #99, the issue that Speedy took on the Arsenal identity!
(Yeah, I got it because I liked the new outfit. Sue me. It was the 90’s, and I was young and foolish.)
And then there’s the one where Sohmer makes fun of Stan Lee’s NHL Guardians project by thinking up of some silly iterations of NHL-based heroes. The Maple Leaf: he blows! The Islander: he harasses tourists! Why aren’t these funny? Well, beyond an incredibly lame attempt at being offensive (don’t ask what Sohmer came up for the Calgary Flames), it turns out that Stan Lee’s actual superhero creations were far goofier than anything that Sohmer could’ve dreamed up. Bloody hell, The Maple Leaf actually shoots maple syrup from his fingers. It’s kinda embarassing that Sohmer got out Stan-Lee’d by Stan Lee, and frankly, I’m not sure who I feel more pity for. All I know is that Stan Lee’s creations were kinda funny, while Sohmer’s creations were not.
I could go on and on. How one strip is reduced to Yoda smacking down The Flash with an “Offends me, your speed force does. Bitch.” Because Yoda said a swear! Or how the punchline for another strip is that Superman said a swear. Oh no he didn’t! Maybe I’m looking at this wrong and Sohmer knows his audience better than I thought. After all, the humor is, at best, puerile and adolescent, and comics are theoretically consumed primarily by adolescents. Maybe The Gutters pushes all the right buttons.
But I’d like to imagine that today’s adolescents are more sophisticated than this lame crap gives them credit for.
Unsurprisingly, some of the most odious strips are collaborations between Ryan Sohmer and Least I Could Do running mate Lars DeSouza. I mean, a Chuck Norris joke in 2011? F***ing really? There is something undeniably smug and self-satisfied with deSouza’s artwork, and it never comes off as ironically so. All the characters have to sort of “these guys aren’t as funny as they think they are” vibe to them.
Now, which guys am I talking about? The characters in the strip, or Sohmer/deSouza? Ah, but that is the mystery. I guess that’s something to look forward to if I decide to review Least I Could Do … you know, after I take a handful of those scary meds where they run the disclaimer about the risk of suicidal tendencies.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)