4 out of 5
The art, oh man, the art. While Doug TenNapel’s random-ish, juvenile humor was certainly a big part of the appeal of Earthworm Jim, and the subsequent works of his I’d read / discover, his art style – some kind of mad, unleashed mash-up between Looney Tunes stretch-and-squish and classic comic book dynamism and underground nerviness – was what was so grabbing, and arresting. And as I’ve followed him along in the years since EWJ, while he has some tropes of big ol’ bug eyes and his human characters fit a few main molds, he’s also very notably continued to push himself to bring energy to each and every panel and page; that is, I never tire of his art. And Bigfoot Bill’s over-sized presentation, and page-bursting ideas, making it a feast. This thing is an utter joy to flip through, with ridiculous concepts like Matrix-y motorcycle pursuits – except with Krakens and tiny Loch Ness monsters – rendered in to pure entertainment, with masterful choreography and page flow. On top of that, this has to be the best colored effort of Doug’s crowd-funded hardcover efforts – flatter Jose Flores and colorist Gabe Eltaeb sit in a general range of Earthy blues and greens, but make each and every page pop. Combined with TenNapel’s animation, even dialogue pages are a blast.
And the presentation. Thick pages; an embossed hardcover with astounding front and back images; super-cool interior covers. The printing is great, the book feels weighty but isn’t a struggle to flip through… That same passion in the art is evident in the design and production.
And the story!… …Is where we struggle a bit. Doug has (to my recollection – apologies if it’s faulty) admitted to not necessarily being the greatest plotter, and I’d agree with that: dialogue and concepts are generally pretty straight-forward, with black-and-white morality a fallback theme. Value friendship! Value being a good person! These aren’t silly lessons, but they’re not explored with much depth. That said, the way TenNapel has generally combatted this weakness is by stuffing his stories with so many wonderful visual ideas – and goofy extras around those core concepts – that the simplistic dialogue and themes become background to the general insanity. That holds true here. Volume 2 is, essentially, the big showdown between Bill and Poseidon – we dually track Bill and friends, following a seemingly kidnapped Sharon, while Sharon and the crypto-keepers are tracking Poseidon on his race to the sea, building up to an awesome kaiju throwdown – and the scope of the adventure has crazy ideas popping up every few pages, keeping the thing fresh. When Doug just sits with that – or with his kooky dumb yuks, with some toilet gags in this eliciting some genuine laughs from me – the book is great; the best of his best. And the weaving in of mythology gives the title plenty of room to explore in that vein. But when he’s doing some more narrative-based story work, that black-and-white stuff seeps in – boys wear blue; girls wear pink; men are protectors – and it detracts from the otherwise imaginative and silly hijinks, while also reminding us, to a degree, of the writer’s personal politics (although, as I’ve commented in other reviews, I do think Doug generally does a good job of keeping that separated, but it nonetheless seeps in.).
These are, then, the usual pluses and minuses of Doug’s output. The reason those pluses keep me coming back, though, is because the dude’s dedication to delivering the best product of which he’s capable is there, from cover to cover, and the endless wellspring of fun visual ideas means that it’s quite a bang for the bucks.