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Two Reviews in One: Man-Man and Sarah Zero

It's short attention span review theater this week with two short reviews - Justin tackles Man Man by Matt Shepherd and James Duncan and George tackles Sarah Zero by Ace Plughead.

It's a Man's Man's Man's World

Man-Man, created by James Duncan and Matthew Shepard is a…different kind of superhero webcomic. It is a parody of the typical superhero genre, and of itself as well. Man-Man does not take itself seriously, which is one of its greatest strengths.

Every superhero has his amazing/tragic origin story, right? Man-Man does too. As a janitor working in a secret laboratory, our protagonist is attacked by a radioactive man! He is granted the proportional strength, speed, and agility of…a man! He finishes his day of mopping, then decides to use his new "gift" to fight crime. (He also has a second head on top of his own. It gets even weirder than that, but I don’t want to spoil anything.)

Man-Man begins with the introduction of Paul, who provides the most necessary and essential role in a comic that is as ridiculous and silly as Man-Man: Paul is the "straight man". That is to say, he is the only "normal" one in the whole cast of bizarre and zany characters. He’s the only guy who seems to think it obvious that multi-billionaire Wayne Wealthy is Man-Man (the only difference between the two seems to be a pair of sunglasses). He’s the only one without any quirks, or eccentricities. But there is the irony of the straight man: in a sea of chaos, he is singled out as strange for being the only one not exhibiting some form of insanity.

Following Paul’s introduction, he has an encounter with Man-Man in a convenience store, and from there the wackiness ensues. Paul is continually thrust alongside Man-Man, which leads to his eventual termination from his job at the Evil Corporation ("Proudly stomping kittens since 1917"), and the sudden accumulation of an enormous debt. To help make amends, Man-Man (who Paul refers to as "Manny") invites Paul to live in his mansion along with a cheese-obsessed super villain, and an irate, alcoholic Belgian butler who hates pretty much everybody.

All of that might sound like a little much, but the writing is done in such a way that the characters play off each other excellently, and each has his own unique and interesting relationships. There are more superheroes of course, such as Gutsy and Chiroptera. Paul and Man-Man are the nexus for all these relationships and interactions, but they don't become stale or overused. Paul warms up to Man-Man, albeit, grudgingly.

So the writing is pretty good, but what about the art? The art is actually a bit of a step down. The characters have a pleasant cartoony look to them which matches the tone of the writing perfectly. However, the backgrounds are faded out, saturated photographs that don’t mesh very well. The dark lines of the lively, expressive characters clash with the dull shades of gray of the sterile backgrounds. It’s not awful, but it’s not really fitting for the kind of artwork we’re seeing in the characters.

Essentially gag-oriented, Man-Man maintains a steady level of humor. Nothing is ever incredibly stupid or poorly done, but the comic never achieves gut-busting levels of hysteria either. It’s good for entertainment and the occasional chuckle. And while it may not be able to split my sides, it does keep me interested. I want to see what happens to Paul next. Is he going to expose Man-Man’s secret identity to those two moronic government spooks? Why is Chiroptera so angsty? Those questions and others are what keep me clicking eagerly on the "next" button.

Less than Zero? Not This Sarah

Sarah Zero by Ace Plughead (aka Stef M.) is the story of a woman who lives a secret life of action and intrigue. The main character is on a mission from the President to kill Osama bin Laden, but many odd and mind-bending things happen to her along the way. Will she complete her mission? What will happen to the nuclear warhead in the trunk of her Lime Green '70 ARR 'Cuda?

Sarah Zero had a bit of trouble when it first started out. It didn't know quite what it wanted to grow up to be. It started out as a gaming-style comic with rather rough angular art and disproportionate characters (much like Aeon Flux), frequent use of photograpsh for background art and enough pop culture references to make even the most die-hard pop culture freak's head explode. But eventually Sarah Zero started to come into its own, its pace settled down and its characters began to find their place and develop.

The creator, Ace Plughead, readily admits that his mind runs amok with pop culture references and sometimes it's all he can do to stop that tide from overrunning each installment of Sarah Zero. At least the lad's honest about his zeal, and he certainly does come up with some memorable references from his busy brain: who hasn't wanted to see the Kool-Aid Man flip the bird at a couple of speedheads re-enacting a race scene from The Fast and the Furious for almost running him over?

Since the first installment of Sarah Zero, the quality of artwork has been nothing short of astounding and it only continues to improve. Lines are far less jagged than they used to be, and there is better coloring and shading. Even relatively minor details, such as a reduction in the dependence of real photograph backgrounds, have helped. After only a hundred editions of Sarah Zero, Plughead seems to have a firm grip on how he wants the webcomic to look as he a much better balance of Photoshop, hand-coloring, inking and digital effects in his art.

Sarah Zero is not for everyone. It may often seem like nothing more then a vehicle for zany, irreverent pop culture references propped up by a seemingly loose plot. But Sarah Zero should please those webcomics readers who like some silliness with their drama and enjoy sticking their collective tongue out at everything pop culture holds dear.

Justin reviewed Man-Man. Justin is a first-time contributor to Comixpedia and works on his own little comics empire.

George reviewed Sarah Zero. This is George's first review for Comixpedia.