Monday, March 26, 2018

Book-A-Day 2018 #85: Groo Vs. Conan by Sergio Aragones, Mark Evanier, and Thomas Yeates

Something can be both an obvious idea and a bad idea. I think we've all had that weird vertiginous feeling when looking down from a great height, like we want to jump off.

Nearly all of us manage to foil that impulse, and, of the few who don't, a large proportion have tethers or parachutes or other safety apparatus to save them from immediately dying. But that's the feeling I mean: the sense that doing this thing would be really dumb, and yet wanting to see what it would be like anyway.

I have to assume some such impulse led to the 2014 comics series Groo Vs. Conan. It's such an obvious idea -- two barbarian adventurers! utterly different worlds and personalities and styles of story and even art! -- and just as immediately a bad idea.

And yet, as we can see, it happened.

The story is by Groo creator Sergio Aragones with his long-time collaborator Mark Evanier. The art is by Aragones (the cartoony, Groo-filled bits) and by Thomas Yeates (the heroic-fantasy stuff with Conan in it), regularly drawing radically different images in the same panel. And, yes, it is about Groo meeting (and fighting) Conan.

But wait! There's an even worse idea lurking within!

Groo Vs. Conan tells two stories: one is the regular fictional story that starts in Groo's world, heavily features the words "mendicant" and "Crom," and has a lot of swordplay of varying levels of silliness. But the other story, and I swear I am not making this up, is about Aragones himself trying to save his favorite comic-book store from an evil developer (who is also very, very parallel with the villain on Groo-world) and along the way is treated with so many random medicines that he goes crazy and starts believing he is Conan.

This may be a spoiler, but I will at least admit that the two levels of story never interact: Aragones does not summon Groo to cartoony-Los-Angeles through the power of his dementia. And this is entirely a good thing.

Now, many of the panels here are amusing, particularly the all-Aragones ones. Aragones and Evanier are good at humor involving dumb swordsmen; they've been doing this for decades. But the Yeates art sits very uneasily alongside Aragones's art to begin with -- they don't mesh at all, or seem to depict the same world -- and the more serious tone of the Conan bits are a drag on the whole proceedings. There's no way to take Groo Vs. Conan seriously, but the reader keeps running into serious sword & sorcery art and dialogue that are supposed to be taken seriously.

Groo stories were never high art, and never tried to be. But they were internally consistent, and stayed on a particular level of abstraction. This thing, though, is all over the place, trying to be serious, silly-funny, satirical-funny, and just plain goofy, all at the same time. I don't want to say that level of tonal shift is impossible in one work, because it isn't. But it's as hard as all of those individual things put together, and they're each already difficult. Plus doing it with cliched, well-known characters adds yet another level of complication and difficulty, and then throwing the metafiction on top of that...

Groo Vs. Conan is a mess: a weird, shambling combination of things that don't really work together. That it exists at all is impressive, I'll admit. But it's the book equivalent of Doctor Frankenstein's creation, and I'm afraid I have to lift my pitchfork at this point.

No comments:

Post a Comment