The Webcomic Overlook #220: Roswell, Texas
Nearly two years ago, I posted a link here to a critique of a comic called Roswell, Texas. In my mind, it was an innocent gesture. I like posting reviews to other webcomics in an attempt to further the cause of webcomic reviewing. It’s partially for selfish reasons. One of these days, when this blog ceases to update, I want to have a clear conscience, knowing that somewhere out there someone is still writing reviews of Ctrl+Alt+Del.
This particular post, though, caught some flack. One of the co-creators, Scott Bieser, took particular offense at the reviewer: Leonard Pierce, was a disgraced AV Club reviewer who lost his job after posting a review of a comic that hadn’t actually seen print yet. I believe in second chances (which I think Pierce was reaching for in his new blog), but there is still the lingering question of credibility.
More to the point, though: why wasn’t this stuff being addressed at Leonard Pierce’s blog? Why was all the stuff being brought up at this site? I felt like that one friend who’s stuck in the middle of a squabbling couple, and I’m stuck repeating lines like, “Well, she told me to tell you that if you’d just taken out the trash like she told you three days ago, none of this would’ve happened. Her words, not mine.”
With the link to Mr. Pierce’s article being dead, I figured that today’s the day to rectify the situation: The Webcomic Overlook is reviewing Roswell, Texas! Created by L. Neil Smith, Scott Bieser, and Rex F. May, the comic ran from 2006 to 2009 and is now available in print.
All vitriol, please direct it to this write-up now. Thank you.
The world is Roswell, Texas is one set in an alternate history, like those Harry Turtledove novels where Nazis get a hold of alien technology. The butterfly effect moment is when Davy Crockett does not die at the Alamo. Rather, he escapes and aids Sam Houston in the total, utter defeat of the invading Mexican forces. This leads to Texas remaining independent, rather than joining up with the Union. Other events fall into place. Abraham Lincoln, for example, did not win the Civil War, nor was he assassinated. Instead, he was impeached for treason by a pitchfork wielding mob.
The Texas of Roswell is a magical place where Diego Rivera’s daughter was once president. (The current president? Charles Lindbergh’s son.) Everyone has guns. No one pays taxes. This has its up and downs. Anything that requires public money — like airports, for example — are totally run down. Shoot, the president looks like he runs the entire government out of a warehouse. However, the lack of government interference means you are free to be what you want to be.
Texas is so awesome that every other country is a terrible, forsaken, nightmarish hellscape. Do you want to know what goes on in other countries? Countries like, say, Mexico? Well, beyond pimping out a PBY Catalina in garish colors for the president, they’re also trying to get back to their roots. And by that, I mean human sacrifices.
I think I know what the guys were going for. The idea here is that through limited government, the citizens are free to live their live as they choose. It’s impossible to take those rights away, because everyone’s got guns and they’re keeping the government honest. The contrast here is Roswell, Texas’s Mexico, where the people have little choice. So if the government attempts to pass a law that’s obviously abhorrent, then the people don’t have a say in the matter. (And given that there are actual Nazis in this comic, there are parallels to the Holocaust.) That’s what the writers are tying to say. I get that.
But Aztec-style human sacrifices? Seriously?
So what happens is that an alien spaceship crashes in the vicinity of Roswell. (I’m assuming this is the same crash as the 1947 Roswell, NM, one, only Texas now holds New Mexico as one of the territories.) Suddenly, several interested parties from all over the world start to converge on the same location. The Americans, along with the British by way of Canada, take a Lancaster bomber laden with Asian mercenaries down to the Lone Star Republic. The aforementioned Mexicans arrive as well. A bunch of French refugees — and Marie Curie — arrive in a truck. Then there’s an intrepid girl reporter and four Texas Rangers — one of whom is Malcolm X — trying to get to the aliens, too. (I imagine that the implication here is that Malcolm Little would never have become a militant Black power leader if he’d just had the discipline to become a Texas lawman.) It’s basically It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World, only with a UFO and guns everywhere.
Fortunately, agents of the Deaf Smith Greeting Card Company is on the case, too. They have their agents, including Jerry Lewis and some guy who looks like Stinky Pete, embedded within every major world government. Together, they subversively undermine enemy efforts to undermine Texican sovereignty! Yee-haw!
Figuring out a disassembled United States is a pretty fun activity. Former KGB agents do it. People obsessed with efficient administration do it. Law professors with an eye for cultural divisions do it. Even I played around with a balkanized America back in the day. Half the fun is trying to figure out which states would band together and for what economic, nationalistic, or moralistic reasons. (Seriously, where’s the fun in assuming that America would just fracture into 50 states?)
I’m sure these guys had fun too. However, a huge chunk of the comic seems to be taken up with tedious world-building exposition, and the reasons presented aren’t that interesting. After all, everything boils down to one narrative bullet point: Texas is not part of the United States. Does that really need much explaining? Shoot, I think I may have come up with better reasons, and I made my map up after a furious sugar rush from eating too many Oreos.
For example, there’s a country of California. Unsurprising: I came to the same conclusion, too. But the head of California is Walt Disney. Also the country is totally gay. They are so gay that they’ve formed an alliance with gay Nazis. And these homosexuals are the way Homer Simpson likes ‘em: flaaaamming. Now, here’s something I don’t totally get. Why are these guys all kitted out in pink? Nazi uniforms were designed by fashion entrepreneur Hugo Boss, and I don’t think that guy was ever that much into pink. Is this some dystopian future where Hugo Boss is dead and he’s been replaced by Giorgio Armani? You know, if Giorgio Armani was the name of a colorblind monkey? And yet, this is a relatively tasteful portrayal of homosexuals compared to what we get later on: the 51st Shade of Grey Nazi.
But I digress.
By the way, Marion Morrison is the commanding officer from California. That’s right, John Wayne himself. Most of the main characters are represented by celebrities, like this is all taking place in Jose Philip Farmer’s Riverworld series. In the world of Roswell, Lyndon Baines Johnson is a petty thug. Elliott Ness and Lawrence of Arabia team up for some covert shenanigans. Gene Roddenberry is a hotshot pilot… and yes, there is a cutesy moment where Roddenberry hits upon the word “Trek“.) Many of history’s important people have found fulfillment being gunslinging badasses. And yet, none of them have any personality beyond the spouting of familiar catchphrases. Roswell, Texas, is so structured to promote the Republic of Texas that most of the lines any character ever says is a variation of: “Texas is awesome.”
Of course, when they’re not talking about Texas, the dialogue gets worse, exposing how hollow and barely one-dimensional these characters are. There’s a part of the comic where one of the characters
talks about sand and how it gets everywhere tries to sound romantic. There’s a particularly painful stretch where we get a peek into a character’s inner monologue, and seconds later we wish we hadn’t.
The plot is non-existent, and the resolutions to all the plot lines are dumb as hell. Seriously, the comic ends with one of those “Where are they now?” montages, and my first thought was: “I don’t give a crap about any of these people. Wait… they had names?”
I will give this to Roswell, though: it is reliably unpredictable. In fact, I sorta admire the comic for shamelessly devising objectively horrible ideas and running with it like Usain Bolt at a 5K fun run. After all, this is the sort of comic where there’s a scene of the Pope playing poker and the future Pope John Paul II is a Vatican hitman.
At one point, we finally meet one of the aliens. This is also not coincidentally the same time when my enthusiasm for the comic is higher than zero. I’m tempted to call this alien a “he”, but as Roswell explains, it’s actually composed of three sexes. It is a huge hairy thing with big eyes and nine legs. But get this: he’s a professor. At the University of Texas.
From the future.
A pansexual, time-traveling alien.
This comic is @&#*@&*&#ed up.
He comes from a future where everyone wears bikinis — even the men, in an equal opportunity twist — and carry Green Lantern rings because that’s their Second Amendment rights. He was apparently conducting a time-traveling field trip with his Honors class, who are a bunch of bikini bunnies, when they got shot down by the Texas militia.
Seriously, this comic.
The bikini think immediately brought two things to mind. One: are these bikinis thermally insulated? Because nights in Texas are pretty cold, and we see ladies just hanging out outdoors in their skivvies. Two: is this a future where Texas loses their edge on making world class brisket? It’s impossible to both have delicious, slow-cooked brisket and a body that looks great in a bikini at the same time. Can this bikini future actually be a secret brisket-depleted dystopia?
At this point, I was questioning myself. What’s this comic trying to say. You can read it is a cutting parody of Texas secessionists. I mean, in the future you can take a a major on “World Texification“. How are you supposed to read that and not take it as some sort of a slam? If Roswell, Texas, is meant to be a Libertarian parable, it pains me to say that Original Life (reviewed here) was actually more readable, with surprisingly more endearing characters.
The comic makes some odd artistic decisions, like a cheesy sequence where the image on a background picture frame changes to match a couple of talking heads. I assume it was an attempt to punch up some dull exposition. Various plot elements, like the whole Vatican storyline, go nowhere and end abruptly. Finally, the humor is pretty lame.
And yet, I can’t bring myself to totally hate Roswell, Texas. Oh, it’s not good. Leonard Pierce, bless his soul, was not wrong. But there is definitely a bad movie charm. Around the end of the comic, I was wondering to myself, “What, did this run out of budget?” The character were driving cheap vehicles. The faithfully rendered illustrations of classic planes sort of harkened to stock footage that B-movie directors like Bert I. Gordon would use. The alien looked like it was made out of carpet samples. And the action takes place in Betty Mae Ranch, which looks like a condemned building out in the middle of nowhere. Was it because the Roswell, Texas, Team couldn’t afford to have a second unit crew filming footage of actually interesting scenes, such as anything else that was going on in the world at the time?
And then it hit me: the entire comic sort of has the stench of an comic adaptation for a terrible 60’s Roger Corman movie that was never made.
Rating: 2 Stars (out of 5)
Posted on February 13, 2013, in 2 Stars, action webcomic, adult webcomic, comedy webcomic, political webcomic, pop culture caricatures, sci-fi webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.