Writer(s): Rick Veitch
Artist(s): Rick Veitch
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: King Hell Press (1992)
Every so often the sidekicks of the most famous heroes of Slumburg, PA disappear, and have to be replaced. This graphic novel deals with all the obstacles those youngsters have to deal with, plus other issues in the superhero genre such as commercialism, homosexuality, pedophilia, violence, and the fascist tendencies inherent in superheroes.
Ah…another unsung jewel of the superhero genre, that remains undiscovered by the general public and almost a cult item. And somehow, I wouldn’t be surprised if the majority of readers following this blog actually know and love this book already.
I know of some reviewers and comic-industry insiders that have qualified this work as a “Comic for comic-connoisseurs” much in the way that some films are done for directors, and labeled “films for film-makers”. I don’t want the readers unfamiliar with this Graphic novel to start visualizing some cryptic script with obscure references that belong in the category of the “you had to be there” jokes . Nothing further from the truth.
I also want to add that in my humble opinion, you can’t call yourself an expert on the Superhero genre till you have read this novel.
In the first years of 1990’s (1992 if memory serves me right) before the majority of the American comic book industry went to hell in a handbasket, Rick Veitch published the Bratpack, and almost immediately he polarized the comic book audiences in two fields:
One a huge and large field full of people who browsed the title and said out loud “Hey! There is something wrong with this book! It has no color!”
And a much smaller group of people that said (also out loud!): “This kicks ass!! This is the most insightful thing I’ve read in comics since The Dark Knight Returns!!”
Problem was that the group of the ones who could read a book without bright colors was much much smaller than the other group, and Mr. Veitch, despite garnishing mentions on the Eisner Awards, never got the recognition he deserved from the general public. Well, that’s the bane of working in an industry that intermingles culture with entertainment. Sometimes (often) the popular taste matches the lowest common denominator, and as proofs of concept I point towards the music industry and the movie industry.
The Bratpack is one of those rarities in American Graphic Novels where the author is the same as the artists, and it was (and remains) published independently. That is not uncommon in Japanese Manga, but in the US… is still pretty rare.
It is much rarer for it to be done in 1992.
The immense significance of this novel is hidden behind the time period of its creation. 1992 was still at time when comics in the US where trying to shake off that stigma of “FOR KIDS ONLY’ (yes some may say “It is still like that now!!” Believe me that back then, it was 10 times worst than it is now) and were struggling to come into their own, despite all the ground gained by The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen. In those years you could barely ever find a single (as in quantity of one, not her marital status) female customer in a Comic book store, (you may say again “It is still like that today!” To which I replay again, “It was 10 times worse then than it is now”) the majority of the people you find shopping there were teens who overcompensated their lack of social skills with their knowledge of artists and writers in the media. Generalization? Maybe, but eerily accurate.
The recession that came after Reaganomics left most cities in the US dealing with severe problems that affected the general population in different ways. Industries were changing, jobs were scarce, and our outlook was grim. The city that Rick Veitch chose to set his story in, Slumburg, was any city in the Eastern US back in 1992. New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, DC… take your pick. Veitch not only depicted our dire straits with accuracy and merciless realism, but he went one step further and said to all of us, the avid comic book readers “You want to know what it is to be a SuperHero?? Don’t you?? Well, here it is!!”
And then proceeded to throw in our faces a healthy dose of reality in the form of black and white art, and a masterful script.
This comic should be read with two objectives in mind: Remember how things were in a specific period in our history, and as a document that sets the superhero genre apart from what it was and stripped the altruism and the heroics, and left us the reality of greed and selfishness.
The four main points that I want to highlight regarding why this piece of Americana is so important to the comic book panorama are:
1. Portray of an Era.
Like I stated, Slumburg is AnywhereUS in the east coast in 1992. Grim, gray, busy, cold, disfranchised, disillusioned, sad. The importance of the radio is shown in the opening pages, (yes kids, back then people listened to something called radio) in the form of an introductory narrative device, the portrays of the graffiti, the subways, the buildings, the dirty streets, the mobs, the people in the streets, the police precinct where the Judge works… everything is a cartoon mirror raised so we can see how we were in those days.
2. Exercise in realism. Kids with Powers?
DC has admitted in many statements that the reason for the creation of the Sidekick was so the heroes would have someone to narrate events to, and so the kiddie audience will have someone who they can identify with. As a byproduct of that, who hasn’t wondered what it would be to swing through rooftops with Batman, or receive a cape as part of the Marvel family? Well, this work answers that question in spades.
It would be grueling, it would be the death of our childhood dreams, it would mean to enter a different world, where our previous mores and ethics don’t amount to much, and how can we expect to fare well, when no one is watching the watchmen? (As Moore asked before this book was published). So, with the same amount of trauma as when a kid discovers that Santa is not real, we read this book and discover that maybe it is not so cool to swing through rooftops with a middle age millionaire who has never courted a woman in his life, and actually prefers the company of young boys, and “keeps in the closet” deeper traumas and scarier skeletons.
3. Independent author, independent publisher.
This is something that Rick Veitch should be credited and recognized throughout the US Comic book industry everywhere. He managed to produce a landmark using an independent publisher (Tundra initially) and then his own publishing house, King Hell Press. The previous landmarks in modern Comicbook media came from one of the more reputable and established publishing houses, mainly DC.
Heidi MacDonald,the former editor for DC Comics’ Vertigo imprint went on record stating she considered Bratpack, The Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen “the troika of immortal works dissecting the superhero genre,” Well, the few fans of Bratpack back in 1992 already knew this, and never forgot it.
I still have that volume in my “Preferred” section of my comic bookshelf, the one published by the now defunct Tundra Publishing.
4. Satirical and psychological study on our superhero mythos.
All the archetypes are revised and dissected in this novel. Batman, Wonderwoman, Superman, Ironman, the Punisher… No one is directly mentioned, no one is overtly imitated. There is no need for that. Veitch wants concepts, wants us to close the book and remember ideas and retain the general message.
These heroes care about their licenses, care about their sales figures, about the industries they manage, their reputations, and as we learn later on, their own god complex has taken them to such highs that everyone is expendable. Nothing is safe from their egos.
The finale to this graphic novel is an allegory of our American lifestyle: Keep being selfish, selfcentered, and power-hungry and we will kill ourselves and take the world with us in the process.
The hens will come home to roost.
You will rip what you saw.
You will have to pay the piper.
Veitch has no qualms about touching some aspects of religiousness and makes a metaphor out the the return of the allpowerfull hero, and the idea that our own complacency will be the end of us. If you need further reinforcement of the links between religion and Superheroes, just look at the character of the priest that serves as a conduit for the events in the novel to take place.
But I don’t want to give too much away. If you actually think I have, you have no clue all the things I’ve left behind.
What does an amazon look like when she takes off her tiara?
What happens to your urine when you train with a merciless vigilante for months?
Are the villains the reason superheroes exist, or are they a direct product of the existence of superheroes?
I encourage everyone who hasn’t read this book and prides themselves as Superhero genre connoisseurs to go to King Hell Press and pick up this book.
If you are unsure about it, Rick Veitch will let you download the first chapter of the Novel for free at the Rick Veitch Store. Talk about an amazing deal!!
And if you like it, next time you see Rick Veitch’s name in a Comic-con, please stop by and say thanks for completing the Triumvirate of the Superhero genre. We all know that Frank Miller and Alan Moor have doing pretty well. Rick Veitch remains the great unsung hero.
So, on my Critics rating, Bratpack gets
PS. Always try to support your favorite authors and artist with the best tool in this comercial society of us. DOLLARS. Buy their work when you can… You may even buy it twice, once for you, and another one as a gift for someone you know will appreciate it!
No. I don’t get commission for anything I post here, or in this whole blog. I just want to see artists and creators get a fair share!