Friday, October 3, 2014

Recommended Reading for 10/3: The Middleman- The Pan Universal Parental Reconciliation

I wrote a recommendation for The Middleman before, and did a little post about the crowd funding to get a new volume out. I contributed to the IndieGoGo for it, and on Monday, the fifth Middleman graphic novel (sixth if you count a collection of shorts of Middlemen through the ages) arrived on my doorstep, The Pan Universal Parental Reconciliation. And holy cow, was it awesome.

There are so many things about this graphic novel that are great, I don't even know where to start. The plot revolves around a classic comic book trope, characters from different realities meeting. In this case, it's the versions of Wendy Watson from the TV universe meeting her comic book counterpart. Only the comic series ended with the death of the Middleman, and so comic Wendy is travelling with her new boss: her dad, Wally Watson, who both Wendy's believed was dead.

Parents and children are the emotional core of the book. While Comic Wendy is dealing with her returned father, TV Wendy and Lacey Thornfield, her roommate, are getting ready for Art Crawl, where their moms will get to see the art they create. But when the stuff hits the fan, both Wendys deal with the return of their deceased father (even if he isn't the actual father of one of them) and both go through what feels like many of the stages of grieving, only in an odd reversal. It's also interesting to see how the TV Middleman reacts, as we learn a bit more of what he knows or has known about Wendy's dad, and exactly how he feels about Wendy. The Middleman never shied away from giving the hero an emotional side that many classic tv manly men don't have, so it's interesting to see Comic Wendy interrogate TV Middleman and see exactly how he reacts.

Peter Wallace "Wally" Watson is a great addition to the cast. He is still a Middleman, still this sort of jack of all trades superhero kind of guy, but doesn't affect the stiffness The Middleman we're used to. Exactly where he has been is very Middleman, a classic sci-fi trope that is kept fresh by exactly how it is used.  He also clearly loves his Wendy, and tries to build a rapport with TV Wendy. Even though Wendy and The Middleman have a parent/child relationship, it's very different when it's actually Wendy's dad, and seeing this other version of Wendy get her dad back opens up some old wounds for Comic Wendy.

There is, naturally, a plot to the book besides the alternate universe doubles meeting each other. Writer/creator Javier Grillo-Marxuach could just write these characters sitting around and talking for eighty pages and I would love reading it, but that wouldn't pack the kind of jam packed punch The Middleman usually does. No, before the story is out, there are other alternate universes, high tech vaccum cleaners, alien empires, and Noser, Wendy and Lacey's neighbor, playing a game of Stump The Band.

As with everything Middleman, while there is a great emotional heart, there is so much more on other, tremendously fun levels. I love the fact that they directly call out the far more multicultural cast of the TV show versus the much more Caucasian cast of the comic. TV Wendy, who has a hispanic mother, gets off a great line to Comic Wendy, who is white, about Hispanic women in her reality. There's a joke about Noser, who is white in the comics and not in the TV show, and some wonderful lines about trying to come up with a way to address the two Wendys without using race as the line of demarcation. This isn't a ham fisted attempt to "say something." it's just a funny bit of repartee that might get you to think. Oh, and like the TV show, this graphic novel does indeed pass the Bechdel Test.

Their are countless pop culture references, to everything from Ghostbusters to Star Trek to Lost, which is one of the trademarks of The Middleman. The story not only picks up right after the end of the third volume of The Middleman comic, so it's got references to that world, but to various episodes of the TV show. There are references to the cross dimension ep, "The Palindrome Reversal Palindrome" and the Clotharians, the alien race who popped up on a couple episodes of the show. There are some handy annotations to all the references in the back of the book, but you don't need to know any of that, or really much about the world of The Middleman to enjoy this book. Also, I have to call out the hilarious use of the captions that appear at scene changes. Trust me, these are the best captions you will EVER read.

The Middleman is a smart, fun, well told story that is a love letter to everything that I love: sci-fi, fantasy, horror, comics, great characters, you name it. To get new material from it after years is exciting, and to see that the quality has not slipped in the least is even better. I can not recommend this book, or any of The Middleman comics or TV episodes, highly enough. Check them out, and fall in love.

The Pan-Universal Parental Reconciliation is now available for sale on, the internet home of The Middleman, along with all the other collections of Middleman comics.

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