Review ~OF~ Evil Inc. Vols 1 and 2

Evil Inc. is one of those strips that I always wanted to get into. A ridiculously long Google Reader’s worth of webcomics always drove me away from it’s daunting archives and rich, deep cast of characters. When March’s Webcomics Weekend provided me with not only the chance to jump on board the good ship Evil but also to meet The Nicest Guy In Webcomics in person, I dove head first at both opportunities. That, plus Steve, a long-time Guigar supporter, noted that if I didn’t meet the man himself, I would be missing out on meeting a true webcomic luminary. Good call, Steve.

It broke my heart a little to get home and find that Evil Inc. Annual Report: Volume 1 had suffered some damage to its cover, but luckily the stories and artist’s sketch on the inside cover had survived intact. Having finally observed for myself the warmth and silliness that is Brad Guigar, I was ready to begin my journey into the world of Evil Inc. And, just as I assumed, this creation of pithy puns and average superheroes in a modern workplace turned out to be right up my alley.

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The Comic

Calling ALL Superheroes (and Their Respective Nemeses)

Opening to the first page of Vol. 1, I was immediately introduced to the main cast of characters: Evil Atom, Lightning Lady, Miss Match, Dr. Haynus, Dr. Muskiday, and Captain Heroic. Not included in this list are the multitude of other characters who are introduced throughout the course of the book. True, these other players are minor in their roles but it’s the diverse pool of characters that Guigar has to pull from that make this superhero effort really soar. And by the end of the first volume, nearly everyone is connected in some way or another and the smattering of odd superheroes and supervillains feels more like a well-oiled machine that is working towards telling some great stories.

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All characters have different interactions that make watching them bounce off one another that much more fun. None of these are more fun than watching Evil Atom torture the dog-transplanted evil genius, Dr. Haynus.

It’s also interesting to see how the heroes and villains swap places, trading in archetypes and cliched character moments for role reversals like bad guys languishing in debt due to owning too many foreclosed secret lairs and good guys that try so hard, it just comes off as desperate and showy. Indeed, by the time Captain Heroic is introduced, I found myself naturally just booing him from  strip to strip, maybe because all I’d seen up to that point was villainy of all shapes and sizes, or possibly he’s just well-written in his cockiness. Either way, down with the superheroes! The villains get their spotlight in Evil Inc. and it’s about dang time!

Let me subdue you and THEN I’ll tell you of my plans for your demise

A massive cast of idiots, malcontents, and do-way-too-gooders is nothing without some solid, original stories to put them in precarious and hilarious situations, and in this respect, Guigar delivers nearly every time. From the never-there-but-then-totally-there love affair between Miss Match and the office sleaze to the aggressive takeover that Captain Heroic and the League of Justice attempt of Evil Inc. itself, there’s always some twist waiting in the wings to keep all the characters on their toes (not sure how that works when you can fly, but there it is).

With the takeover itself, easily the most major story in these two collections, the opportunity presents itself to finally bring the previously two disparate elements, namely the forces of good and evil, together in a way that still allows for minimal kicking of butts and optimized potential for comedic moments. After all, what’s better than a company run by and catering to supervillains than a chance to have that same company bailed out by the same men and women they have dedicated their lives to destroying?

Getting To The Point

Evil Inc. is told as a comic strip, meaning each strip ends with either a cliffhanger or a punchline. Many creators, especially those who present their work on the web, believe that giving the audience something special in each update is tantamount to delivering a satisfying experience. Even when the strip is updating on a daily basis, it is still important to offer up either a significant character moment or a jaw-dropping story break to bring the reader back for more with just as much enthusiasm as the previous update.

In this regard, Guigar does the method proud, following the traditional strip flow (introduce/reintroduce characters or situation, add something new, provide punchline/cliffhanger). As a matter or personal preference, fewer puns and plays-on-words would amount to a less hackneyed approach to the comedy, but this is simply a preferential critique. If puns and Vaudeville-esque jokes are your thing, this brand of comedy is right up your alley. Balancing things out, there are plenty of devious tricks and turns-of-phrase from both the heroes and villains alike that offer up the juiciest laughs (Evil Atom’s treatment of his overly chatty secretary being an early favorite, below).

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Silly yet sadistic, Evil Inc. founder Evil Atom is always on hand to keep things interesting.

It’s Not About How Bad You Are, But How Good You Look

Guigar is a self-professed comic book fan, and his work with Evil Inc. stands as the prime example of his desire to craft his very own tales of superheroism. From the classic designs to the cliched-but-still-believable dialogue, everything about this comic screams, “love-letter to the comic book industry”. As a less-kinetic, dialogue-driven strip, the characters and scenes are well-crafted and establish the setting and mood like few others. When the action ramps up, the constricting space of a comic strip sometimes restricts things from becoming overly superheroic (or villainous, as the case may be). Luckily, the pithy comments and one-liners are the comic’s strong suit, and are able to support the faster-moving scenes to bring a nice harmony to the overall comic.

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Moments of action sometimes suffer from the smaller, compressed comic strip format, but the overall enjoyment of the strip is never an issue thanks to sharp writing and great character designs.

My biggest complaint about this work comes at the expense of committing the webcomic to a physical page, so I’ll talk about that more in the book section of the review.

As a whole though, the artwork ends up being Guigar’s tribute to the multitude of superhero books he has obviously loved for the better part of his life. And with this intention in mind, no one can fault him in this area.

The Book

Riddle Me This…

In most books featuring comics in a strip format, the gags and/or strips are organized just as they were originally viewed; from left to right, one strip stacked on top of another. This negates some of the freedom and versatility that comic books offer in terms of panel layout and flow. With Evil Inc. being a comic book in comic strip form, Guigar decided to meet fans halfway, arranging the strips in a more organic fashion, blowing up panels here and shrinking panels there to give the illusion of Evil Inc. being more like a comic book.

The problem with this solution is that comic books are set up as a series of panels with a deliberate flow and sizing that cuts out the work the reader has to do, moving from one panel to the next with little effort as they follow along with a story. Here, it doesn’t necessarily hurt the process of reading one Evil Inc. strip after another, but it doesn’t really help either, so it’s curious why the change was made at all. I would much rather see a from-the-ground-up build of a comic book page from Guigar than a strange amalgamation of comic strip/comic book format choices that just don’t add anything to the reading experience.

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Some rearranged pages work better than others, but never does the shuffle of panels confuse the flow enough to harm the reading experience. It remains, however, an interesting experiment that doesn’t appear to pay off.

Like An Abandoned Warehouse

The other significant stumbling block for these collected editions explains the thin, 80+ page size. These bare bones collections are lacking in any additional content, now a staple of several webcomics collections, including The Superfogeys Vol. 1 and Rice Boy. Both of these books offer a great amount of special content that expands upon either the making of the strip or the world that it inhabits. The first two volumes of Evil Inc. tout the new, graphic novel approach to the layout as the only new content for these books, which, depending on your mileage, may make it worth the purchase price.

With the original content from the Evil Inc. webcomic already being of a stellar quality, it’s harder to make an argument for the inclusion of bonus features and additional content. However, the other books previously mentioned are collections of likewise amazing comics, made even more valuable with the included commentaries, sketches, and world-developing background information, so the omission is still worth noting.

Verdict

Guigar’s vision of an evil conglomerate of supervillains is enjoyable no matter what medium it’s viewed in. Though the book is lacking in extras and is organized in a manner that doesn’t really change the story itself, the bottom line is that these are great stories crafted by a man with an obvious affection for the superhero genre. Why then, does he want the villains to get top billing? You’ll have to ask him that yourself. But tracking down the Nicest Guy in Webcomics at your local comic convention to get that answer shouldn’t be too difficult.

__________________________________________________________________

Evil Inc. Annual Report: Volume 1 (2005)evilComicBooks
Brad Guigar
Lulu.com, April 2006, ISBN 978-1-4116-8070-8
64 pages, $14.24

Evil Inc. Annual Report: Volume 2
Brad Guigar
Self-published, 2006, ISBN 978-0-6151-3620-2
84 pages, $15.00

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