Comics on the Can: The Highwaymen Issue #4

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COMICS ON THE CAN

 

The Highwaymen Issue #4

 

Writers: Marc Bernardin & Adam Freeman Art: Lee Garbett    Colors: Johnny Rench

 

 In a world where words and pictures can tell any story imaginable ONE MAN has the courage to review old comics that he’s read on the porcelain throne!

From the people who brought you “COMICS ON THE CAN – Elvis Van Helsing”, “COMICS ON THE CAN – The Adventures of Kool-Aid Man”, “COMICS ON THE CAN – The final ASSult on AVN pt 3: Attack of the Camgirls!” and, well basically all the other Comics on the can, comes a pulse pounding NEW review direct to your web browser at breakneck speed!

 Mike, a regular type of guy that was a former Navy Seal, with Kung Fu training from the ancient masters, an encyclopedic knowledge and expertise of every firearm ever invented and the financial and corrupt political operations of every terrorist network in the world downloaded into his head, hopes to live a life of solitude and regular bowel movements, mourning the recent death of his wife and finding solace in his pet sugar glider, Sweetums. Those hopes are irrevocably dashed when his dark and dangerous past comes back to haunt him! Mike’s former partner and best friend, Damian Antagonist, now turned evil terrorist mastermind, sets his sights on Mike… with deadly results! Now Mike must stop reading comic books on the toilet and writing about them on his (fairly) regular column and start his quest of vengeance for Sweetums’ cruel death and possibly… just possibly… save the world!

 Boasting a A-list cast, beautiful women, exotic international locations, the most accomplished and creative stunt team ever assembled, brilliant pyrotechnics, top notch CGI (including a digitally resurrected and de-aged Ernest Borgnine as Mike’s former commander “G”) and commanding a budget of $630 million dollars “COMICS ON THE CAN – The Highwaymen” will be the must-see summer tentpole movie of 2020!*

 

 *due to all theaters and general civilization being closed because of Coronavirus “COMICS ON THE CAN – The Highwaymen” will be made available on “The Paramount streaming network” for free starting next monday.

 

 I’ll be honest, I LOVE me some action tropes. Actually, I love me most any tropes; romantic comedy, slobs vs snobs, superhero, growling tough guy with guns, horror etc. I love ‘em but not necessarily in the way you might think. When done poorly genre tropes can become annoying and lazy; the writer knows you (the consumer) know how all this breaks down and doesn’t try to inject any type of fun or creativity into the process. For example ANY jump scare in a horror movie. When a goddamn cat knocks over something then pounces out of the darkness scaring the protagonist who then turns around to see the slasher killer right behind them I’ve cashed out before the feline lands on the ground. Lazy and bankrupt of ideas. The cinematic equivalent of a Kale Salad.

 When done right writers and other creatives use the tropes as a jumping off point and bring in some sense of fun or a subversion of the expectations bundled therin. Think of the movie “Cabin in the woods”. I’m not going to spoil a nine year old movie that you should’ve goddamn seen by now if you have any respect for yourself as a horror fan. I’ll just say that the whole movie grabs your familiarity with horror in general and the slasher sub-genre in specific and twists it like “silly putty” with your favorite comic strip pressed onto it. 

 Subversion of expectations is just one way tropes can be appealing. Another great thing about tropes, when they work, is the comfort food essence. Meatloaf (the comfort food dish not the singer) works as a comfort food. You can dress it up with fancy, foody additions like ground bison and pork mixture, from scratch organic heirloom tomato sauce, garlic aioli whatever, which is nice, but meatloaf works because it’s MEATLOAF! The core element, meat in loaf form, is comforting. The same can be said for tropes. Arnold Schwarzenegger with a mini-gun in “Predator” is meatloaf. Keanu Reeves with a minigun in “The Matrix” is venison meatloaf with a hard boiled egg in the middle. It’s still enjoyable for basically the same reason.

 I’m hungry now.

 “The HighwayMen” falls squarely into the comfort food version of tropes. A nice big slice of meatloaf with both ketchup and BBQ sauce poured liberally on top before putting into the oven. The synopsis reads like a madlib for an early aughts action movie: “Two men. One shoots. One drives, couriers. Thirty years and a river of bad blood between them. Called back into service by the late President Clinton, they must deliver one final package: Grace Anderson, a cute virus-carrying weapon of mass-destruction.” I say early aughts simply because there is a mention of Bill Clinton and the McGuffin is a sassy girl carrying an experimental virus in her blood. Change those details to President Regan and the girl is nuclear launch codes and it would be an 80’s madlib synopsis. President Bush (the first one not the second one) and an experimental microchip and you got a 90’s madlib. You get the point.

 This riffing on familiar tropes has a “I’m too old for this shit” one-liner kinda attitude: Two bad-asses who don’t like one another anymore but must begrudgingly work together. They have to pull off a final mission only they can do. With the world at stake. All these familiar plot items make The Highwaymen easy to get into… despite me reading the fourth in a five issue limited series I knew EXACTLY what I was getting into. It’s essentially EVERY 90’s action/buddy movie ever made! Even before the powerful, connected bad guy with the nefarious plan shows up in the third act I know I got meatloaf! Any details are, metaphor dovetailing nicely, just gravy.  

 Why does The Highwaymen becomes meatloaf and not kale salad? By fully embracing the tropes with a hardy laugh and a tough guy glower. The issue (and I’m assuming the bulk of the story) is one big car chase with some sassy quips from the girl and glib dialogue from the two bad-asses. Able and McQueen (wearing homage on the sleeve, another trope) are racing against time and the entire police department of “Neo Orleans” to get the McGuffin to the CDC in Atlanta. Action ensues.  An implausible but no less fun car stunt concerning a cargo plane. A trusted secondary character betrays them to the megalomaniac bad guy (could be played by Gary Oldman at his 90’s bad guy peak, possibly Kyle McLalachain if you wanted to go the chilling, weird, stone cold psycho route). An awkward chaotic assist from the McGuffin girl allows the Bad-asses to rally after the bad guy explains his evil plan. A gunfight follows and the doomed bad-ass (apparently) self sacrifices. The issue caps off with an action cliffhanger that I’m sure “The Fast and Furious” did somewhere in one of the last three movies. I mean I’m sure I saw a car driving out of the back of a plane in one of those trailers. The whole thing rockets from scene to scene with a cinematic flare and the good sense to keep things moving lest you stop to consider the improbability and silliness of the whole thing. But then why would you if you’re having this kinda fun?

 Artist Lee Garbett deserves the lion’s share of kudos for making this happen. Benardin and Freeman’s script is fast and slick but that wouldn’t make a lick of difference if Garbett didn’t do his part so effectively. His art is kinetic but never loses the through line on the action. The characters all look distinctive and cool. The cinematic feel comes across in his excellent pencils and layouts. It’s no wonder he’s moved on to much bigger things (Captain Marvel for instance).

 The writing does fall down a bit when it comes to characters. Specifically, as in most action movies, the female ones. The McGuffin girl mostly just reiterates her function in the plot with tepid sass. The betraying friend seems wishy washy; it’s stated that she does it for money but the vibe is more “loved one held hostage” she’ll probably flip again then die in issue five. The villain, an upper government wonk who probably put them on the mission in the first place, essentially just monologues. He’s a RCH away from a cackling sneer. A bit more banter between the bad-asses would’ve better defined their supposed long and temulchuous relationship. There seems to be a running Joke about McQueen’s first name that most likely pays off in the denouement ending issue five (along with, no doubt, a promise of further adventures). The action and sense of B movie fun covers up the holes for the most prt, though and there is something to be said for the writers NOT trying to be Tarintino and just having fun.

 Cinema and comics have continually influenced one another since the 90’s. Action in both might be the biggest utilizer of the well worn tropes, Batman wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable if he was smiling all the time. It just takes some effort and creativity to wrangle something familiar into something familiar that feels fresh, or at least fun. My buddy Bill Shakespeare said “…  there is no new thing under the sun.” and your junior year english teacher may have said something similar with the “man vs himself, nature, man… etc charts”. That doesn’t mean that stories shouldn’t be told, just that stories need flavor and verve (the attitude not the band) to make them worthwhile. The Highwaymen pretty much has the requirements covered; it knows what it is and has no pretense to be more. A fun romp! Hardy action comfort food that fills the belly. As familiar as it is, when done right, meatloaf always tastes great!

 

Ideas tangential to the main column that I couldn’t work in organically

 I wanted to take the comic picture in a gas station bathroom but… ya know…

Also from the the person who brought you “Cultural Junkdrawer – Roboboning“, “Adult Continuity – Ten Inch Mutant Turtles!” and The Hilarious web comic “Fantoy Nation!” Read ’em all, you’re gonna be spending a lot of time indoors in the next few months.

 Speaking of the jump scare cat cliche the brilliant TV show “Community” sent it up on their horror parody episode.

 I hear that some horror fans HATE The Cabin in the Woods. I don’t get that. Maybe because it calls most of them out for enjoying the cruelty inherent in the genre. Maybe they don’t like the rabid and thorough deconstruction of the genre. Or the tonal whiplash created by the comedic juxtaposition. Who knows. 

 But they’re wrong. 

 I love Meatloaf (I’m talking about the singer, not the comfort food dish). “Bat out of Hell” is one of my desert island albums and I’ve owned it in pretty much every format that has existed (including 8-track).

 I love Meatloaf (Now I’m talking about the comfort food dish) too.

To extend the metaphor I’d say Duane “The Rock Johnson” with a minigun is the open faced meatloaf sandwich with a side of mashed potatoes and gravy.

 I used to make it a point to watch every odd numbered Fast and Furious but I missed 7. 

 I did see “Hobbes and Shaw” though. A great (big stupid) example of what I’ve been blabbering about this whole column. Stupid fun which got by almost solely on the charisma of the four leads. Gastropub meatloaf with “handmade” BBQ sauce on the side.

 Five leads if you count Idris Elba’s nearly sentient motorcycle.

 Now I gotta wait an extra year for 9. Thanks Coronavirus!

 Idris Elba got Coronavirus.

If anybody can whoop Coronavirus’ ass it’s Idris Elba!

Fuck you Coronavirus!

 A little research finds that the writers also went on to bigger things: Bernardin writes for TV (Carnival Row, Castlerock and more). Freeman also writes for film, comics and TV, is a producer and has a stand-up career. 

I name Kyle McLalachain because I’ve been binge watching Twin Peaks. That guy has made a huge career out of playing just slightly off characters hasn’t he?

 I also love The Verve (I’m talking about the band, now). At the risk of sounding pretentious; I got into them in the early 90’s and their “A storm in heaven” album. Years before “Bitter Sweet Symphony” became a radio hit.

 Stay safe out there, everybody!

 

 Next: Something called “Killer Princesses” if I take the next book from the box.

 Later: Probably the collapse of civilization followed by a significant reduction in entries because I’m rocking a fur loincloth, wearing a goalie mask and commanding wasteland S&M punks.

Anytime Costumes

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