Only one thing I hate more than terrorists…. Hostages.
King Rad, Brat Pack
The 1980s and 90s saw serious and satiric critiques of the superhero genre become a major part of that genre. DC’s The Dark Knight Returns (Amazon.com
and Watchmen (Amazon.com
remain the best-known, but Rick Veitch’s Brat Pack, created after he left DC in anger, may be the harshest. This reassessment of super-heroes, their underlying ideologies, their control by market forces, and, in particular, their young sidekicks, makes for a disquieting and compelling read.
Title: Brat Pack
Author/Illustrator(s): Rick Veitch
Introduction by Neil Gaiman
Original Publication: 1991.
Cover Price: US: $19.95 Can: $32.95
In a dystopic alternate world the sidekicks of four troubled superheroes die, and replacements are sought. How does one train a junior superhero? And why do so many heroes maintain their principal relationship with adolescents?
And what does it mean when the bottom line controls adolescent dreams?
This graphic novel does not have a single high point, but rather, a remarkable set of conceits. A variation of DC’s infamous vote on Robin’s death starts the story in suitably grim fashion. More significant is the various uses to which Veitch puts the hero/sidekick relationship.
An adult’s relationship with a younger person need not be sordid, but it certainly can be, and Brat Pack presents every possible violation of children’s trust: neglect, ideological brainwashing, sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse, financial exploitation…. That he handles so many topics, while effectively drawing parallels between the comic-book sidekicks and the default comic-book readership, is remarkable. While hardly subtle, his satire proves gut-wrenchingly effective in places.
The ending suggests the possibility of a positive future, or at least a positive concept of heroism, and I have no problem with that. As presented, however, it doesn’t really work for me. The inconclusive conclusion also represents a significant revision (according to Neil Gaiman’s introduction) of the original comic books. I’d be interested in learning what happened the first time around.
Originality: 4/6 Other grim reappraisals of superhero comics preceded this one, but Brat Pack differs in many significant ways from these.
It’s also a lot less pleasant.
Artwork: 6/6 Veitch’s grim artwork reveals influences from multiple comic sources: Silver Age superheroes, EC horror, and Jack Chick. The results– absurd and disturbing– reflect the story.
Story: 4/6 Veitch’s work certainly provokes thought, as intended. Satire often targets multiple topics, and here super-hero conventions, the ideological implications of superheroes, merchandising, the comic business generally, and adult abuse of youngsters all come under fire. The results can sometimes be considered a book that works on many levels, but it’s at least as often a story with intentions that become horribly tangled and confused.
Emotional response: 5/6
Flow 5/6 The explanation of the various heroes’ origins, in particular, gets woven together effectively. The explanation for various elements that appear along the way also work most of the time.
In total, Brat Pack receives a score of 33/42.
Midnight Mink and Moon Mistress are, to some degree, ironically literal takes on Frederic Wertham’s reading of Batman and Wonder Woman in Seduction of the Innocent, and they serve multiple satiric purposes well. Yet the often confused and always hyperbolic satire could be interpreted as actual homophobia and misogyny by some readers. Brat Pack concerns many topics at once, and this fact necessarily leads to uncertainty. I leave it for individuals to decide how to interpret certain scenes.
Finally, Michael Chabon makes a very different point about fictional sidekicks in the later chapters of The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay. Real-life people often do have healthy intergenerational friendships, within and even outside of families.
Of course, suspicion of such relationships is to be expected. It’s a horror when someone abuses that trust.