Futurama Comics #16
Title: Kickin' It Old School
Writer: Ian Boothby
Art: James Lloyd, Steeve Steere Jr., Joey Mason, Karen Bates
Simpsons Comics writer Ian Boothby returns, after writing the good Futurama Comics #13, and the rather poor Crossover #1 and Crossover #2, with a tale about Cubert going to school, and duping Fry, Leela and Bender into it too. Now to carefully grade Mr. Boothby's performance in this different project of his, and see whether his efforts will be a pass or a fail.
As I stated, this is a story that starts of focussing on Cubert, though actually doesn't stay there for long (in fact, there's a running gag around his disappearance in the mid-section of the story towards the end). Basically, when Professor Farnsworth finds out that Cubert's grades have slipped from A+'s to mere A's, he decides to send him off to a boarding school. However, once one is found, Cubert dupes Fry, Leela and Bender into enrolling, and they are forced to stay there too, each having their own adventures throughout: Fry going through his dreaded high school gym again, Bender becoming a nerd, and Leela becoming popular because she has a ship.
Things get off to a good start. An excellent start, in fact. There's a lot of classical Futurama gags to kick things off with, and despite his tendency to be annoying, it's nice to see Cubert somewhat of a focus in a comic after 15 issues where he's either not there, or he makes no real impact. We have some good character moments with the Professor, particuarly when he tells Cubert he doesn't want him hanging around with Fry, Bender and Leela, only to immediately put Cubert into their care when searching for schools.
Things get even better from here, as Cubert and the trio explore an underwater school that rewards good work with oxygen rather than grades, a telepathy school, and Harry Potter-esque parody of Hogwarts. Normally I'd think such a trendy parody as being rather cliche, as well as unfitting in a universe that is based so heavily on science, but it's pulled off with some rather classy jokes overall.
Good parodies don't stop there, as some even better ones come up when the teenagers from The Breakfast Club are shooed away by a Detention-bot, and a nice nod to Logan's Run. And, I have to add, I'm glad this really didn't retread any Animal House-esque ground that had already been covered in the series' own "Mars University" too. Fraternities and the like are avoided, with the focus being pretty much squarely on the popular, nerdy and athletic side of things, with the triple plots of Leela, Bender, and Fry respectively.
Characterisations are pretty good, speaking of that. Bender as a nerd would be something that at first thought wouldn't really fit his character, but the motivations and reasoning behind his nerdish actions make a lot of sense, and there's a great spin put on the whole situation where upon Bender basically tries to become more of a nerd to make things better, and is blind to the whole fact that that's the problem in the first place. It's very well done in that respect.
Fry's being bullied by his muscle-bound (and muscle-shown... yes, you read correct.) gym teacher, Mr. Deltoid, brings out some great character humour for everybody's favourite cryogenic defrostee. Lots of good visual humour with regards to this too.
Leela is just as well handled, and is probably shown here, more than any other comic to date, with the widest range of her character traits and quirks yet. Her initial reluctance due to her upbringing is rightfully brought into her situation for a start, but the way she jumps at the chance to be popular, even doing stupid things to do so, is very realistic and well done. It's nice to see a bit more of the playful, carefree Leela, rather than just the stern, tough one.
The art is great. Absolutely no faults there at all. James Lloyd once again does a fantastic job of transferring the world of Futurama from TV to print, and with Steeve Steere Jr's assistance, and the dazzling colours of Joey Mason, literally paints a vivid and exciting series of visuals to go along with the story. Characters are always on model, action and angles used are perfect, and almost every panel is busy and brimming with activity. Definitely one of the best looking issues to date.
Now, from what I've said so far, you'll probably think this is a winning issue, and will get an A-grade score. Well, I'm afraid you'd be wrong, and I'm going to have to pull things back into reality now. This issue suffers from a major problem that kicks in right after Page 20.
In Leela's plot point, she is going to be late for class, but can simply go back in time by slingshooting around the sun, ala Star Trek. This provides an initial problem: it goes against the idea that Groening and Cohen had that time travel was something next to impossible to do. Cohen says himself on the commentary for "Roswell That Ends Well" that when they did, after much debate, decide to send the crew into the past, they did it only after coming up with an idea that means that they couldn't just do it whenever they felt like it. Here, Ian Boothby's story completely vomits all over that, making it not only easy, but common knowledge to several of the characters, who shrug it off like it happens every day. To me, this goes against the spirit of the show, and is kind of lazy, as well as diminishing its effect. A big "no no" in my books.
Things get worse from there too, as this starts off a chain of rather silly events. Apparently, a tiny ship slingshotting around the sun can cause it to supernova. Yeah... that's right. A bit insane really. This leads to the crew rushing to try and stop it, and then Cubert finally appears again to propose a plan that's really given no explanation, takes just a few panels to actually fix, and then leaves the whole thing finishing on a set up for the next three issues. So, basically, what starts off as a quality issue with some great character moments and good laughs ends up becoming silly and absurd over the last third or so, in order to quickly set things up. Reasoning is weak, it's handled rather clumsily, and is executed in a very rushed manner. I can help but think that this would have best been left to finish up as a good story by itself instead. Being a set up for what's supposed to be a trilogy coming up just cheapens it all, both for this issue and what's to come.
Overall, is it still worth getting? I suppose that depends on how things go for here (note: as of me reading this issue and writing the review, I have also read the next issue, but no further). I'll let you read the three reviews that are to follow to judge them, but it's still a hard call. There's definitely some very good stuff in here, and if you can overlook the silly, weak and rushed latter part, you'll probably find this a highly enjoyable read. That said, it's hard to ignore really. I'll neither recommend you get it, nor advise you not to. I'll just conclude by saying that it's an issue of lost potential, and that had it ended as well as it had started, would have been up there with the best of them.
Most Memorable Moment: There's a lot of good ones. Either the Logan's Run parody or Fry losing his ear after having to shower in liquid nitrogen... I can't decide.
Worst Moment: The horribly cheap and rushed resolution to the already cheap problem towards the end.
- Kenneth White