Friday, January 23, 2015

The Trouble With Girls, Vols. 1 & 2 by Jacobs, Jones, & Hamilton

We all dream of something -- usually what we don't have. Walter Mitty dreamed of adventure to break up his drab life, and millions of others have done the same. But what if it was the other way around? What if there was a man stuck with a life crammed full of adventure -- international intrigue, gorgeous women, exotic locales, luxurious meals and houses, ever-present danger -- and just wanted a Mitty-esque quiet life?

That man would be Lester Girls, star of the satirical comic series The Trouble With Girls. The adventures of "the man called Girls" ran, off and on, from 1987 through 1993, starting at the tail end of the '80s black-and-white boom and managing to keep going until just before the comics market imploded in 1994. Girls was burdened with movie-star good looks, a marksman's dead eye, the martial-arts skills of a little old Chinese man, and a list of enemies that ran from Terry and the Pirates (the nefarious Lizard Lady) to Daredevil (the villain called The Windbreaker) -- none of which he wanted, and none of which he could avoid. Girls only wanted to settle down in a little house in a bland town with a mousy wife and a dull job -- the dream of '50s conformism, obviously, which was central to this series written by two Baby Boomers, Will Jacobs and Gerard Jones.

Comedy is about expectations and desires thwarted, so The Trouble With Girls had a lot of material to work with in its initial premise. But Jacobs and Jones also threw in every other cliche they could think of, with two obnoxious occasional kid tagalongs (lampshaded with the two writers' names), the obligatory tough reporter Maxi Scoops, and Girls's compadre and sidekick Apache Dick. (Apache was one of a world-wide network of cousins, all named Dick, who aided Girls in his battles -- from Osaka Dick to Pampas Dick.) If an adventure-fiction cliche existed before 1993, it's in The Trouble With Girls somewhere.

The first fourteen issues -- the first run of the book, leaving out a giant-sized annual -- were collected about a decade ago, as The Trouble With Girls, Vol. 1 and The Trouble With Girls, Vol. 2. Nothing else has emerged since then; the other thirty or so issues of the series (twenty-three of the second series, a four-issue mini-series, a Christmas Special, and several spin-offs) remain moldering in the back-issue bins, having never seen a square-bound cover.  Maybe they'll be collected someday, but this is enough, actually -- The Trouble With Girls kept expanding and elaborating its premise, finding new puns and targets for its satire, but the essential set-up and conflict stayed exactly the same the whole time. (And no one needs to read fifty issues at a sitting of any one premise.)

I've slighted the art so far, which the books also do -- Jacobs and Jones are credited by the title, with penciler Tim Hamilton and more-often-than-not inker Dave Garcia getting a separate set of credits in a much less prominent position. But Hamilton's art -- clearly of its era, in a slightly rough indy-comics style -- does as much as anything else to sell the premise. Hamilton draws Girls as the perfect square-jawed hero, befuddled and valiant in equal measure, in that quintessentially comics Clark Kent mold.

Lester Girls is a great comic invention, and the world Jacobs and Jones built around him is full of equally inspired comic ideas -- this could have made a great movie, around about the first Die Hard. Or maybe even today. As it happened, it was a comic, and comics are pretty nice, too.

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