Friday, August 7, 2015

Recommended Reading for 8/7: Quantum & Woody

There are many intentionally bad super hero teams, including The Legion of Substitute Heroes, The Justice League Antarctica, and the Great Lakes Avengers (there are also the unintentionally awful, like the Champions and Extreme Justice, but we won't go there), but there's only one that actively bills itself as the world's worst superhero team, and that's Quantum and Woody! Part of the Valiant renaissance (I'm talking about the current series, from writer James Asmus and various excellent artists, not the original Chris Priest/MD Bright version, although I might get to that some day too), Quantum and Woody features two brothers Eric and Woody Henderson, one of whom at the series' beginning is an uptight security guard and the other is a con man who's not as slick as he thinks he is, who through an accident of super science gain super powers but must touch the bracelets they both wear together every twenty-four hours (with a great sound effect of KLANG) or their molecules will dis-corporate, and so they decide to become heroes for hire. And they have a pet goat who's the Poyo ungulate world. And things just get crazier from there.

The events of the series are set off by the murder of Eric Henderson and his adoptive brother Woody's father, a scientist working at Quantum Laboratories. Eric and Woody haven't seen each other in years, since Woody ran away when they were teenagers. But as they begin to investigate their father's murder separately (after getting into a fist fight over his coffin), they are drawn together, both figuratively and literally as one of their father's experiments explodes, granting Woody the ability to fire energy blasts, and Eric, who dons a mask and starts calling himself Quantum,the power to create force fields. Their investigation leads them to a cabal of scientists Edison's Radical Acquisitions (ERA for short), who are all bizarre, freaks of science, including The Crone, who is seeking immortality through harvesting organs from her clones, Beta-Max, a cyborg from the 80s, and a bunch of equally creepy others.

Quantum and Woody are a classic odd couple pairing. Eric is type A personality who has everything in his life scheduled and to a pattern. Woody is constantly on the move since he does whatever he can to not work an honest day in his life, usually by committing some sort of con. Also, just to make it clear that the differences are both skin deep and deeper. Eric is black and Woody is white. The interaction between the two of them, this strange love/hate relationship that you can really only truly understand if you have a frustrating brother, is the cornerstone of the series, and the engine that drives the emotional core of the title.

So I've talked about super science, murdered dads, and feuding brothers, none of which makes clear something that's also really important here: this comic is hilarious! Like completely fall out of your seat, squirt tears out of your eyes funny. The banter between Quantum and Woody, the bizarre rogues gallery, the Goat (more on him later), and just the situations they wind up in, and all perfect fodder for comedy. There are bits about whether Woody disguising himself as Eric constitutes blackface (the actual scene takes place off page, so it's only conceptually offensive), of Eric trying to get Woody to do one normal thing in a day that spirals out of control, and Quantum having to defend a group of white supremacists as they are the lesser of two evils that all just play out as screwball superhero comedy in the best tradition.

The circle of supporting characters is kept pretty tight in the series, really meaning two characters. Or is it one? Oh, clones... Yes, the two other recurring human characters are both clones of the ERA member The Crone. The Crone sent her clones out into the world to have them in positions where they would benefit ERA before she harvested one. One of these clones became a Washington DC police detective, Alejandra Cejudo, who got involved with Quantum and Woody as they investigated their father's death. She's not just a competent cop, but she does not want to take any of the crap that Woody, and to a lesser degree Quantum, dish out and get suckered into. She also declares autonomy from The Crone, trying to make her own life, which doesn't go over well. The other clone in the orbit of our hapless duo is Clone Number 69 (yes, yes, get all the jokes out of your system now, and be prepared for new ones in the comic, because they plum the depths). 69 is a naive clone in her late teens who leaves the ERA base with Woody and the two become a couple. There's a lot of humor on how she interacts with the world, not knowing much about the outside, and also in how she interacts with Woody, since the only thing she seems to know less about than the normal world is relationships.

And there's one other character I mentioned earlier who is a series regular, and that's The Goat. The Goat is, well, a goat. A goat that ERA experimented on. A goat that now has more super powers than it probably should, and is clearly more intelligent than a normal goat. I compared The Goat to Poyo, Chew's luchador rooster, earlier, and I think the description is apt, as The Goat is a breakout hit, who got an origin story in Quantum and Woody #0 and let me tell you, that origin is more involved than you can imagine and is something I don't want to spoil. The Goat is just awesome, and if there's a way for a new Valiant and Image crossover could ever happen, like the 90s Deathmate event, I think it should totally be called Deathbarn, and just be Poyo and The Goat destroying everything in their path.

Oh, and all this plot stuff I've talked about, with the ERA and the investigation of Quantum and Woody's dad? Yeah, that's just the first volume of Quantum and Woody! One of the things I really have to give Valiant credit for is that nearly all their comics are jam packed with stuff. I can't think of one that is a comic you just breeze through in five minutes. Volume two is a story where the now stuck together Quantum and Woody move in together, only for Quantum to get a new security job that isn't what it seems and our hapless heroes have to stop a war within the United States from breaking out. And volume three has the return of a vengeance seeking ERA and the rise of a reborn Thomas Edison who is... yeah, I'll let you read that for yourself.

And after those first three trades, Quantum and Woody went on hiatus and was replaced by The Delinquents. This was a crossover between Quantum and Woody and Valiant's other mismatched and hilarious duo, Archer and Armstrong. I went to link to reviews I did, and am kicking myself for seeing I only reviewed one issue of what is one of the best crossovers I've read in years. It's two odd couples having to work together to solve a mystery involving The Hobo Code (not to be confused with The Hobo Way of Thrilling Adventure Hour fame), genetically modified foods, Cow/man hybrids, and The Big Rock Candy Mountain. It's a great comic, you don't need any previous knowledge of either series to enjoy it, and it probably deserves a recommended reading of its own someday, since it is an absolute joy to read.

So, that's Quantum and Woody. Seriously, if you enjoy superhero comics like Deadpool, the Giffen/Dematteis Justice League, or Archer and Armstrong, all of which mix strong character work with zany humor, you can't go wrong with this comic.

Three trades of Quantum and Woody, "World's Worst Superhero Team," "In Security," and "Crooked Pasts, Present Tense," are all out and readily available, as is the trade for The Delinquents. The fourth volume of the series, "Quantum and Woody Must Die!" comes out on Wednesday.

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