You know how in Transmetropolitan, the glasses that Spider Jerusalem wears are shaped as though the wearer is permanently displaying a look of “what the heck am I looking at”? I think it’s a funny appearance. Skeptical and slightly comedic at the same time.
Literally every character in Johnny Space Commander has that facial expression melted into their skin. And I’m okay with it, somehow.
Somehow, also, I feel like I shouldn’t be laughing at anything in this multi-issue comic by Sean Parnell; it’s cheesy, low brow, and it looks like something right off a Sunday morning newspaper comic page. But that just makes this whole thing funnier to me. I can’t stop reading it. I like it too much.
I mean, Johnny Space Commander is basically Bill Watterson’s Spaceman Spiff with dick jokes. Its tagline is even “Saving The Universe One Ridiculous Situation After Another.” It’s old sci-fi pulp like what Calvin and Hobbes would lightly satirize, with a caffeinated story pace, simple-as-bread plots and cookie cutter characters, and it’s funny. Johnny Space Commander and his trusted sidekick, D.I.C.K. D.R.O.I.D., fly around the universe defeating every kind of Saturday Morning Cartoon villain you can think of, and they do it in a style that’s 60% drama, 30% dirty humor and 10% fourth-wall bashing shenanigans. The writing depends on the humor, of course, since even making fun of these types of pulp plots got old with Mystery Science Theater 3000. Combined with the speedy plot pace, it managed to make me laugh pretty often.
The jokes are ostensibly crude. Characters with names that are puns on genitalia, giant acronyms that spell out insults a second-grader uses, you know how it is. I like that Parnell can shovel in good sci-fi references without being overbearing though. My favorite jokes are the ones that break the wall, but not too much. They take you out of the action very briefly with something that forces you to consider how dumb this whole thing is, then, just as quickly as it came, it disappears, and you’re back in cheesy drama mode. I mean, the heroes find themselves in a life-or-death situation, and Dick Droid still manages to insult the villain with a facial expression and a tone and that looks and sounds like he’s reacting to somebody peeing on his pet dog. Why am I giggling?!
Some of his jokes are a little drawn out, like when he decides to get real obvious about the Star Trek reference he was making for issue 1, but more often than not I think Parnell’s work is amusing. It’s impossible to take seriously, but he stays inside the bubble this kind-of-sci-fi constructs for itself just ever so delicately, so you’re never left feeling like the satire is too transparent. If it were too meta, it wouldn’t work.
It helps that the art accentuates the goofiness of the dialogue. It’s energetic, full of whacked-out poses, and nobody ever sports a facial expression that doesn’t imply that they’re sniffing crack. And God, does it ever look like Spaceman Spiff. You remember that, right? Please don’t make me cry. It’s normally a style you might associate with wacky kid-grade entertainment, but in spite of its relative simplicity Parnell does some pretty dynamic stuff with it for action scenes. He can go a pretty long way with basic shapes and colors, and he can fill up a scene with detail without making it look cluttered.
You know, in spite of some missteps, I think this is an alright comic. If you don’t take the jokes too seriously, I think you’ll find this to be funny. Also, he has some promo stuff in the back of the comics for several other projects, and they look like they could be good too. Though I’m not sure if the below image is a real project or not.
TL;DR: Sean Parnell set out to make a comic that mixes meta-humor with low-brow comedy and manages to come up with something that at least had me laughing even when I didn’t mean to.
A review PDF of Johnny Space Commander was graciously provided to Spandexless by the creator.