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Quantum and Woody by James Asmus & Tom Fowler

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<i>Quantum and Woody </i> by James Asmus & Tom Fowler

Writer: James Asmus
Artist: Tom Fowler
Publisher: Valiant
Release Date: July 10, 2013

Do you ever fight crime with your buddies? I mostly just get drunk with mine, and maybe play a little pinball. Buddies are always fighting crime in movies, though, even if a lot of the time they only begrudgingly acknowledge that they don’t actually hate each other and are, indeed, buddies.

Quantum and Woody is a buddy-cop scenario with two guys who share superpowers. One’s a straight-laced soldier-turned-cop, and the other’s a pocket-picking flim-flam man. One’s white, one’s black. Only one of them wears a mask. Guess which one.

Maybe it’s the sociological and political climate of the day, but that really stuck out. (Or maybe it’s the sociological and political climate of every single day humanity has ever existed, and we’re just in the middle of one of those occasional patches where reality is a little too raw and exposed to ignore). Quantum and Woody started as a series back in 1997 through Acclaim Comics (a comic line owned by a videogame company), but I had never read any version of it until Valiant’s brand-new revival. Whatever possible quasi-racist conspiracy theories I might have pondered died as soon as I learned that Christopher Priest created these characters. Priest is a smart and talented writer who is also an African-American.

If there is any subtext to the black guy wearing a mask, it’s probably an intentional commentary on how black characters have been handled by the comic industry throughout its history. This is an industry whose self-regulating body tried to force EC to change a black character to a white one even though it undermined the entire point of a story that had already been published without complaint a few years earlier. This is an industry that would ink over the half-mask that Jack Kirby drew as part of the Black Panther’s original costume out of fear of putting a black character on a cover. As a co-creator of Milestone Comics, Priest clearly knows the troubled racial history of the comic industry, and there’s no way putting the black guy (and only the black guy) in a mask wasn’t some kind of a statement on his part.

But hey, Christopher Priest didn’t write this comic. James Asmus did. And he did a fine job of swiftly setting up the premise. Woody’s smart-ass attitude might be a little over-the-top — almost every one of his lines is a joke, and maybe half of them land — but then broad strokes are as ingrained in the superhero genre as capes and six-packs. Just like they’ll eventually need each other to survive their new-found powers, Woody’s excessive sitcom patter is a counter-balance to Quantum’s deathly dull stoicism. Both characters are at either ends of a spectrum, and I imagine as the book continues they’ll gradually rub off on each other.

Tom Fowler executes the art, and that’s why I first wanted to read and review this alone. Fowler’s a comedic champ, a whimsical and expressive cartoonist who’s contributed to Mad Magazine. I’ve never seen him on a superhero comic before, even a so-called “funny” superhero comic. He’s working in a more conventional tights style here (our heroes have bodybuilder physiques), but the energy and fluidity of his comedic work is unmistakable. It’s the main reason to track Quantum and Woody down.
Since the late ‘80s Justice League series, any comic whose jokes work at least half of the time and whose art features fantastic facial expressions is considered a “funny” comic. Fowler draws perhaps the best facial expressions in comics. Does that make this the “funniest” of the “funny” comics?

 
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