Overview

Maintenance #1

Review

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Maintenance #1

Credits

  • Words: Jim Massey
  • Art: Robbi Rodriguez
  • Inks: Robbi Rodriguez
  • Colors: N/A
  • Story Title: N/A
  • Publisher: Oni Press
  • Price: $3.50
  • Release Date: Dec 20, 2006

Manny and Doug work clean-up for Terromax, the world’s foremost laboratory in evil science. It’s an inspired idea, but one which could use a bit of clean-up itself.

In the first issue of Maintenance, protagonists Doug (the skinny one) and Manny (the fat one) are followed about during an ordinary day at Terromax. Readers are gifted with an inside view of the operations as Doug and Manny snack, clean up massive, malodorous scientific spillages, wrangle with a carnivorous kitten to get it out of the lounge’s vending machine, pick up hitchhiking aliens in search of fresh and fulsome cafeteria fishsticks, and befriend a semi-failed experimental manshark self-christened Cobra McPunch. The book is nice and meaty (32 pages of story and art), and the concepts brought to bear inside its covers are exquisitely geared toward the genre-fiction reading public. But – and in case you hadn’t picked up on this – the book aims for the belly-laughs, and while it indeed succeeds and succeeds wildly when it does, it also flails its arms and waggles its tongue and pratfalls about as if some desperate stage comedian in sudden realization that he’s about to lose his audience en toto. This first issue is almost fifty-fifty, cut down the middle, half funny as hell and half: yikes…they tried, but…yikes. For, as with any loud and brash, vaudevillian attempted yuk – when it fails, all that remains in aftermath is a seemingly undying echo and an audience feeling as uncomfortable as its entertainer.

Writer Jim Massey is best known for his online comic strip Death Takes a Holiday, a title that literally delivers the strips’ conceit (the Grim Reaper tries to take a much-needed break). So Jim has already proven both fond of and as creatively equipped in handling such outlandish and by-default amusing setups. Yet with Death, Massey managed both story and art. In Maintenance, he teams up with Hero Camp’s Robbi Rodriguez, and the duo seem to stumble somewhere in the communication of the many jokes’ timing and presentation. A few notable maladroit moments include a number of gags that involve multi-panel mugging on the part of the characters; basically, three or four panel attempts at rhythmic comedic timing. While Massey’s art in Death was always very simple and only subtly expressive, Rodriguez’s characters do the aforementioned mugging, and I think Massey’s imagining of how such moments would explicitly play out (and how I’m assuming he wrote the script for Rodriguez to illustrate), ultimately requires the poker-faced deadpan of Massey’s own sketches, rather than the Ralph Bakshi-like ham-fistedness of Rodriguez’s. In more than a few instances, the flavor of the writer and the flavor of the artist gelled like peanut butter and pickles with nary a banana or jar of jelly in sight.

Additionally, Massey’s reliance on pop-cultural references was overbearing and detrimental to the reading experience, especially in juxtaposition to the more sincere episodes of naturally occurring mania. As much as the occasional nod or easy lean-to reliance upon a product placing chuckle can be effective, an inundation (and what issue #1 gives is close to such) is merely aggravating and unconsidered; it’s as frustrating as trying to read a story amidst a cavalcade of adverts stapled in bundled bunches between every third page (mainstream comics, I’m looking at you!) and as disappointing as any comedy is that’s merely self-referential to its own wink-wink cleverness. As high as writer Matt Fraction has risen in fame as an action writer, his Tozzer was not on anybody’s must-pull list, and the above mentioned reason is the only reason that such was ever the case.

Beyond these points, though, there’s still a lot that works in Maintenance #1: the evil scientists and their experiments are beautifully handled, as is the sequence involving an alien ex-Area 51 inhabitant named K’arl. And last but far, far from least, the manshark Cobra McPunch steals the show and the entire comic out from under our protagonists’ very noses before the issue is through. In fact, the entire final third of the issue is pure comedy gold; a sequence that any reader will fondly recall and mentally replay long after the book is closed. Rodriguez’s art, too – while there does seem to be some growing pains between his style and Massey’s – the artists’ actual art, on its own merits, is polished, beautiful and clean as effortlessly enjoyable as any animation.

The concept of Maintenance, in the end, is ludicrous and logically extends itself to comedy and even outright farce and therefore the harder the writer or the artist tries in bringing such efficacious humor out, in making it apparent and blatant and unmistakable to even the most untutored in the art of spotting hilarity, the more transparent and less affecting the jokes ultimately become. While this first issue is well worth purchasing and reading and even placing within one’s collection of meritorious small press gems, the creative team seems to only be in the adolescent stages of their collaborative growth, and both their synchronicity and Massey’s personal deliberation on to-pop-culture-reference-or-not-to-pop-culture-reference (note to Massey: don’t) could still use Doug and Manny to whip out their gear and get to work on polishing off their rough edges and spit-wiping the book’s finish to a shine. It may come, though only future issues will tell.

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