Thursday, May 13, 2010

Don Simpson's Bizarre Heroes

If I could name just one comic book series from 1990 to now that I wish would make a thrilling comeback, it would be Don Simpson's Bizarre Heroes. I realize that's not a typical answer to such a hypothetical situation. Then again, Bizarre Heroes was not a typical comic book.

Don Simpson had a hit with his first-ever comic, Megaton Man. There was even (apparently quite serious) talk of MM becoming a movie. But then, Simpson's comic book fortunes morphed from a yellow brick road to a long and winding road. It turned out to be the Image Comics revolution that altered it into the pathway that led to Bizarre Heroes.

Don Simpson wound up doing Image's self-produced parody book, Splitting Image, and also teamed Megaton Man with Erik Larsen's Savage Dragon. The royalties from these books generated a comparative windfall for Simpson, and when that much money falls into your lap, the thought turns to what you should do with it. There was something in the air at that point in time about self-publishing, so Simpson chose that route and launched his Fiasco Comics imprint with Bizarre Heroes.

Simpson had been working on Bizarre Heroes for some time, with an eye toward trying to sell it as a graphic novel to someone. I think it worked better as an ongoing comic though. The high concept of the series was that ALL of Simpson's characters - the parody ones, the less zany ones, and the "serious" ones - all occupied the same universe. After all, "uni" means "one", right? So there's just the one!

It was novel and it was fresh. The comedic trials of Megaton Man were in the same book as a dark and sinister conspiracy storyline, and the plotlines actually intertwined. It was all propelled forward by Simpson's semmingly-boundless capacity for character creation, his appealing cartooning, and his distinctive and slightly askew storytelling sensibility. If you doubt my word that a B&W book can be colorful, peep out these covers and try to tell me you wouldn't buy these comics.

Unfortunately, the self-publishing initiative preceded the bottom dropping out of the comic book industry. Simpson tried his best to weather the storm, altering the numbering system for the book to increase #1 issues for skittish buyers and lowering the grade of the paper stock. The book itself was still doing wonderful things, and was even making inroads into incorporating Simpson's SF series Border Worlds and his "adult" comics characters into the mix. But alas, it was just too much, and Don Simpson eventually had to throw in the towel.

Since then, there have been scattered shots of Don Simpson's work here, there, and for a little while, everywhere. This particular piece isn't the place for me to catalog all of them - maybe we'll go into more detail another day. What you need to know is that Simpson tied up a lot of his outstanding plotlines as best he could in some books from Image that collected older material with new stuff - Megaton Man : Bombshell #1 & the 2 issue Megaton Man : Hardcopy. And that, as they say, was that. There was a false start or two since then, but it looks like Megaton Man and friends are on a permanent vacation.

Don Simpson isn't in the comic book industry anymore, but I have heard he is enjoying his life away from it. That's good news to me. While I often had my differences of opinion with his public statements, he was always unfailingly gracious to me in our correspondence when I subscribed to his book. I loved what he was doing then, and I tend to think it has influenced some of what I've done with my own works since that time. Plus, I always knew I'd be entertained when I saw the latest issue of Bizarre Heroes on the racks or in my mailbox.

Thank you, Don Simpson. I miss your comics a lot, but I'll treasure the ones you did create.

2 comments:

Mikester said...

I always thought of Bizarre Heroes as "what if the entire '60s Marvel Universe took place in just one comic book?"

That was an awesome series, and I sure do miss it!

C. Elam said...

That is an excellent way to think of it, and not far from Don's intentions as near as I remember.

I was nostalgic for BH not long ago, and found the trade which I had never bothered to get when it was new. Still a fantastic read.