Friday, June 3, 2016

It Came from Kickstarter: The Hero Business: Season One

One of the problems with buying as many novels and trades as I do, and contributing to as many Kickstarters as I do, is that I have constantly growing stacks on unread books. I get a new one, and unless it's part of a continuing narrative, it usually joins the stack. And then sometime when I'm between books, I'll grab a random book off the stack. Last week I was looking for something light and fun, and I saw a book from a Kickstarter that I received back in December, and thought that it fit the bill, and it really did.

Created by Bill Walko, The Hero Business is the story of a business that provides marketing, consulting, technical, and PR services for super heroes. If you're new the super hero game, they have a consultant for you,to learn the ropes. Have you been through a cosmic crisis that has re-written your history? That's what public relations are for, to get the word out! It's aware of pretty much every genre trope you can imagine, and plays them all for laughs, but never pokes at those of us who love them. It's quick-witted super hero pastiche with its tongue planted firmly in cheek, with office drama mixed in, and some great characters.

The Kickstarter for The Hero Business funded a collection of the first season of the web comics, the first six storylines. We're introduced to the series through Parker, the new receptionist for The Hero Business, which is the name of the company as well as the comics, on her first day of work, so we have a solid point of view character that allows the reader to not only see how the business works, but the other principal characters.

Parker (center) is a smart, level headed young woman who is also working on her dissertation while dealing with the wacky hijinks at Hero Business. Morgan (far right) is the Director of Public Relations; she's probably the best of the senior staff at what she does, but she's also a workaholic. Simon (first from right) is the Marketing Director, a smarmy Brit who is always looking to get ahead and always has a scheme up his sleeve. Brody (far left) is the art director, who feels like doing this commercial work is below him, that he's a real artist, but that doesn't pay the bills. Finally. there's Bravada and Dr. Malefactor (on Parker's left and right, respectively). These guys were once Superman and Luthor-esque arch-rivals, but now have to work together, with Bravado as official superhero of Hero Business, and Malefactor as Head of R&D, meaning he still builds mad science stuff, but he theoretically isn't doing it to take over the world. Bravado is pretty out of touch with the modern world, and Malefactor still is more mad scientist than corporate scientist, and they still profess to hate each other, but there's something close to friendship hidden underneath that.

Each of the six chapters of the first season of The Hero Business are short stories that can be read on their own, but have subplots that feed into each other. Chapter One, "Orientation," is the aforementioned first day of work for Parker. She has to show a celebutante who has gotten herself super powers around, introduce her to the people who will help her become a superhero. We meet the cast, and get to really see just how smart Parker is, as she's the one who solves the problem when the celebrity brat decides it would be much cooler to be a super villain. But in the epilogue, we see that Parker has a secret of her own, one that she is keeping from Hero Business and might mean she has an agenda against the business.

Chapter Two is "The All-New, All-Different Bravado," where a popular TV show about superheroes says Bravdo is old news, so the Hero Business decides to rebrand him. It's a hilarious take on superhero reboots, as three members of the hero business select creators to help design Bravado's new image. Brody brings in a '90s Image Comics type creator who tries to make Bravado grim and gritty; Morgan brings in a hip, young TV writer from the "EW Network," to try to make Bravado relevant to the youth market; and Simon brings in a Grant Morrison analogue to make a trippy, confusing Bravado. The ending, where the people who initially were against Bravado are now begging for the classic one back, is interesting to read as we see DC Rebirth taking shape and the return of classic versions of heroes.

"Cry, Malefactor!"the next chapter, focuses on "reformed" mad scientist Dr. Malefactor trying to find a new job that will allow him some more freedom to do mad science while leaving an android duplicate in his place at Hero Business. We get to see that Malefactor has more levels than just the evil scientist and that he's got layers, that he feels like a failure for not having conquered the world yet. We also get our first look at Infernal Enterprises, the Hero Business's rival, a company that does similar work, but is evil, run by the malevolent Demonatrix and her assistant, Primstone.

Morgan is the focal character of Chapter Four, "Frenemy Mine." Glamazon, one of the world's leading superheroines, has written a tell-all memoir, and the Hero Business, as her PR firm, is hosting a book launch party. Glamazon was Morgan's school roommate, and the two of them go back years, and Morgan isn't exactly flattered by the things Glamazon has to say about her. But she's a professional, and wants to grin and bear her way through it. But things go wrong, including certain revelations about Morgan's past, and we get a wild fight in the middle of the party. This chapter gives us more depth for Morgan, who has been up til this point been mostly portrayed as a driven business woman, and we get dimension on Glamazon as well, one of the more regularly portrayed super people in the comic.

The last of the single character centric chapters, "Simon Sayeth," pretty obviously from the title focuses on Simon. Simon has developed a new app called "kickr" which works as a way to let heroes meet other heroes for team-ups. But when the other senior staff members aren't being as helpful as Simon wants, he uses a book of black magic to cast a spell to get them to. Only, as anyone who has ever read anything about mind control or wishes knows, be careful what you ask for. And despite remaining a jerk, the story gives reader a bit more understanding of why he is such a jerk. And while his plan doesn't work out, the eventual use of his app is absolutely hilarious.

"Bad for Business," the final episode of season one, is a perfect finale, bringing together all the things we've learned about these characters, and answering questions about Parker's secret and origins, what Infernal Enterprises is up to, and provides a cool cliffhanger for the next season. It's an exciting payoff, as each character gets to show off what they are best at. I love the scene where Parker, Simon, and Malefactor are brainstorming ways to stop Infernal Enterprises's hostile takeover of the Hero Business, because even if Simon is willing to do anything to get ahead, and Parker needs to prove she's on the side of the angels, neither are quite willing to go down Malefactor's mad science route, no matter how frustrated he gets by it.

It's obvious from these descriptions that Bill Walko knows his superhero tropes. He plays off all the hero vs. hero, the retcons, the plans gone wrong, and so many more. The Season One collection also has a bunch of "Coffee Break" strips; one or two page shorts that are quick set-up punchline gags. The covers to each of the chapters, as well as various pin-ups, are homages to classic superhero comic book covers. And the background and supporting super characters all play on classic hero types that all of us super hero fans know and love.

The most important thing about The Hero Business, though, is the first line of creator Bill Walko's introduction, "Comics should be fun."And at its heart, below all the pastiche and parody, is what The Hero Business is: fun. It's quirky superhero sit-com at its best, enjoyable both for those of us who get everything that Walko is alluding to and those who just know that superheroes fight supervillains in flashy costumes. And hey, I'll always read for the fun of it.

Since The Hero Business was a Kickstarter, you can't get it through most of the usual channels. But you can visit The Hero Business website, where you can buy the complete Season One, various prints and merch, or just read the series as a web comic. Season Two, episode one is running now.

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