If there’s one thing this webcomic denizen loves more than anything else in his stories, it’s superheroes. Fantastic and iconic, these figures of American lore make us want to be more than we are, they inspire us to be better, and they live their lives to make our world a safer place.
How shocked was I, then, to find someone has decided to depict these dooers-of-good well past their prime. Brock Heasley is (to my knowledge) the first creator to base an entire comic series out of a retirement home (here appropriately named Valhalla) for superheroes. With his strip, The Superfogeys, we are offered a glimpse into the life of those fantastic adventurers once their spirits and/or flesh have been made weak. What this entails is great fun, good laughs, and a cast of characters that are at once ridiculous and pitiable, extraordinary and plain, and full of life in their own particular ways.
Cast of Characters
Things begin right where you think they would: a meeting of the minds between series regulars, Captain Spectacular and Dr. Rocket, who are instantly familiar as arch-rivals. From there on out, it’s a roller-coaster of new faces, new situations (Captain Spectacular’s old flame, Spy Gal, coming to Valhalla is the first major storyline) and lots of laughs. Heasley infuses each character with a separate personality, making it that much easier to focus on the stories without fear of the characters stepping all over one another.
Featuring the first few characters of the strip (final panel, from left to right: Dr. Rocket, Jerry, Spy Gal, Captain Spectacular)
the good, but static art still shows off the sharp writing. Better, more kinetic art is soon to follow.
A quick smattering of these characters include: Jerry, the Captain’s sidekick and all-around aloof loser; Swifty, the resident speedster who now sports a gut, a walker, and a horribly bad temperament; Star Maiden, Captain Spectacular’s ex-wife and general mental vegetable; Tangerine, a Wolverine knock-off who’s just as mean and short-fused; Space-Pig, the anesthesiologist whose urine serves as a natural sedative; and Dr. Klein, the man behind Valhalla who has also been revealed to be The Third Man, the shadowy villain behind all the bad goings-on thus far.
And with this diverse, broad cast growing literally by the day, there’s certain to be at least one character for every fan to love or hate.
Throughout the now 209-strip-deep run, comedy is king but somewhere along the line, you can see Heasley growing a respect and a bond with his characters, leading to more poignant and impactful moments amongst the cast. Regardless of whether or not a story brings the funny, it’s easy to follow each arc as the strips are broken up into chapters, conveniently titled to convey the overall story (as evidenced by the section of the site, pictured right). So if you’re looking for formative, frantic fun, Chapter 2: Bingo Night is right up your alley. If you’re more in the mood for drama and big reveals, however, the current chapter, Chapter 6: Funeral for a Frenemy might be more your speed. And within each chapter there’s a good dose of both comedy and drama, though characters like Swifty make sure the quips flow faster than the tears. (More about the actual chapter navigation later.)
The writing itself is never a mixed bag, even if the motivations and story beats themselves are. While you could argue that the more dramatic issues are played up too heavily for a cartoony-styled, gag-a-day formatted strip, the voices of the characters are always clear and the dialogue is consistently sharp. This means that one reader might be turned off by a dramatic turn in the plot, but never will they lose track of who the characters are and what motivations they retain.
Never is this more apparent than in the fifth story arc, “The Redemption of Dr. Rocket”. This arc about the nefarious Dr. Rocket and his seeming turn towards the bright side of life reads more like a soap opera/radio drama, with shocking reveals and relationship twists in bountiful supply. There’s the introduction of Tangerine, the build-up to the wedding of Captain Spectacular and Spy Gal (made more comical by the presence of the Captain’s ex, the mentally-stunted, Star Maiden) and the titular supposed change in Dr. Rocket.
But throughout this entire chapter, every character rings out loud and clear. Jerry, still recovering from his gunshot wound, is the pitiful, bedridden fool; Captain Spectacular remains stoic yet simple, enjoying the journey and the simpler things in life; Swifty can be counted on for the mean-spirited quips and realist view of things; Spy Gal still has her spunk and adventurous spirit, which leads to a startling revelation; and newcomer, Tangerine, comes packaged with the fury and insecurities you might expect of a man named Tangerine who isn’t inclined to exotic dancing. Together, they make the situations, which are typically the method by which humor is derived (see: sitcom) that much more potent because they know who they are and it’s an immense joy to watch them bounce off one another.
The true joy of The Superfogeys comes when the characters are allowed to ricochet off one another
as seen in this scene from “The Redemption of Dr. Rocket”
The art is something that starts off good and only gets better over time. While I disagree with the smaller, more common gag strip, four-panel layout as it just doesn’t allow the characters enough room to breathe, the line work and coloring here is top-notch. The style starts off a bit stiff and static, with the characters only seen from a single viewpoint and very little movement, almost suggesting a template-driven creation type. Sure, you could argue that a strip set in a retirement community shouldn’t have much in the way of kineticism, but these are superheroes! Dynamic structure and exciting flow are the name of the game!
Luckily, once the stage is set and the main cast is introduced, the style starts to loosen up, offering varying perspectives and more detail per character and setting, a trait we’ve come to expect from any creator worth following. Really, by the time strip 209 (the most current as of this writing) rolls around, the art is of a comic book quality, easily as good, if not better, than that of many artists who regularly see work at both Marvel and DC (though the style would probably be more fitting for an indie title, the quality is present nonetheless). And that’s about the highest compliment I can pay to the overall artwork. The style is exactly what I tend to enjoy and when paired with well-written, fun characters, it makes for immensely satisfying reading.
Coloring in superhero comics is typically bright and charismatic, and in this respect, The Superfogeys differs at least a little bit from the norm. While the color palette itself is bright and, well, superheroic, the tones are more muted, possibly to echo the low-key setting of Valhalla. It’s nothing super-spectacular, but it gets the job done, which is all I expect from a guy who’s doing the entire strip himself. The same can be said of the lettering, though this is typically only a problem if the creator decides to use Comic Sans for whatever ungodly reason (seriously, don’t ever do it). Nothing exceptional, but innovation in lettering is rare, so job well done is all that can be said.
This strip, set during a flashback in the latest storyline, shows the leap in
quality and depth that the art has taken since the comic began.
By and large, the overall layout of the strip falls into this category as well, though again, is it really expected of a creator to go out-of-bounds with a typical, four-panel layout? From time to time, Heasley expands the strip to another row of panels, though nothing too outrageous comes from these casual jaunts into unexplored territory. Though I would personally like to see comics featuring The Superfogeys more akin to the Superfogeys Origins editions, which are drawn by T.L. Collins and feature a more sprawling layout, the recent deal Heasley got to have his comics on the iPhone certainly works much simpler with this standardized format. There’s a whole other conversation to be had about digital comics on portable devices, so I’ll just say that the increased exposure certainly can’t hurt The Superfogeys and wish the strip the best.
Between the great writing and artwork that only stands to get better with each update, The Superfogeys couldn’t come with a higher recommendation. And for those that don’t like scanning through page after page of archives online, there’s always the option of dead-tree editions, as the comic has been collected into three volumes already with a fourth on the way!
In webcomics, the site the comic is hosted on can sometimes be just as important as the comic itself. After all, I can think of several, high-quality comics that I will never read online unless a new site design is considered. So how does The Superfogeys fare in this regard?
A slice of The Superfogeys site, complete with Twitter badge (in the left sidebar), chapter selection
(in the top-right), and the Blog posts (underneath the strip). Overall very impressive design.
The Superfogeys is part of the Th3rd World Studios family, so the site design is nothing different than the other home pages for the other comics hosted on the site. Luckily, the design is a solid one, with the standard features already in place; the comic is featured front and center in the design; a series of pages are used to flesh out the longevity of the story, including Characters, Bio, Links, and Story pages along with the typical Forum to hash out those lengthier debates that won’t fit within the confines of the Comment thread (which the strip also has); and a Blog post accompanies every episode. Again, a standard of every comic these days (especially if you utilize the Comicpress WordPress theme) but still a welcome addition to the Th3rd World suite.
Other handy little widgets, like a Twitter badge hooked into Heasley’s Tweets, give a bit more of a personal touch to the whole presentation and News and Latest Blog blocks at the bottom keep things up to date. Regardless of whether this is Heasley’s doing or Th3rd World had it all ready to go the moment he signed on, it’s a solid layout that impresses, even compared to the tried-and-true Comicpress format.
As I previously mentioned, the separate but still integrated chapter navigation drop-downs make going through the various chapters and their respective episodes a breeze. Many people might not think to judge a strip based on this, but if you’re looking at a good number of strips, especially for a review such as this, or searching an archive for a specific strip (also handy when it comes to reviewing), a look-up index like this is essential. Clicking on a chapter title instantly takes you to the first page of that chapter and the second menu changes to only include the episodes associated with it. It’s slick, intuitive, and non-cluttering, a big win in the navigation department.
As for navigating the strips in a back-and-forth manner? Typical links are included (First, Previous, etc.) though only above the strip. This is fine for the usual one stripe layout but when the story calls for a broader page that takes the strip below the fold, another instance of this interface would be handy so the user doesn’t have to scroll back up to hit the next page. A small gripe for sure, but after ten scrolls or so, you really have a craving for that simple tool. Other than this small misstep (which is easily fixable) the navigation is a breeze and every comic with more than one chapter to its name should consider a widget like the one The Superfogeys employs.
With a great, young creator and a stellar, clean, and appealing site behind it, The Superfogeys will only move on to bigger and better things from here on. Make sure to check out the easy-to-read archives yourself and pick up a book or two to help Heasley realize that dream!