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Evil Foiled Yet Again, With Poison

(This  Stripped column originally appeared in the March 5-11, 1998, Long Island Voice. Click on the artwork for a larger image.)

by Beth Hannan Rimmels


"When this bloody war is over, only one set of prayers will have been heard. The other side will live under the shadow of conquest — and every Johnny Reb and every damn Yankee will be told to forget the last four years ever happened. You remember firing on Fort Sumter? You remember burning Atlanta? Hey, forget! We’re a nation again!"

—Thoughts on the scars left by the Civil War in Uncle Sam #1

Being a comic book columnist isn’t easy, folks. If I’m not fighting the hordes of IPE (Inept Publicists Everywhere), it’s averting sabotage from the nefarious Editor Man, who regularly tries to tie this column into the paper’s "theme" issues. He thought he had me with the Elvis issue, but he didn’t know who he was facing. I countered with Elvis Shrugged and a follow-up that tied-in killer Andrew Cunanan.

Editor Man waited until I was off guard before launching the "people we’re thankful for because they give back" issue, which wore me down from constantly explaining it to people. But luckily the guy with two first names, Peter David, filled that requirement nicely. By the time the Valentine’s "love" issue came around, I thought I could handle Editor Man in my sleep. But no, he was just softening me up for the toughest assignment yet: comic books that deal with housing issues. I was nearly overcome by a sleep wave just thinking about the topic.

But luckily The Grasshopper (a.k.a. mild-mannered retailer/Lost Stories scribe John Riley) leaped to my aid, and Editor Man was defeated once again. The weapon this time is Alex Robinson’s Box Office Poison (Antarctic Press, $2.95).

I had been meaning to check out Box Office Poison for months. The issues looked interesting, and I had heard good things, but I’m so far behind in covering books that it wasn’t a high priority. Or at least it wasn’t until Editor Man’s sneaky schemes. He’s been suspended from the supervillain club for a week for accidentally doing me a favor.

Anyway, getting into Box Office Poison is fairly easy since Robinson is only eight issues into it, and Antarctic Press tries to make the back issues easily accessible to readers. What does this have to do with housing? Well, issue zero starts with Sherman becoming the roommate of Jane and Stephen, who live in a funkily divided house owned by a whacked out, screaming hausfrau landlady.

Then throw in the complication that Sherm’s new girlfriend, Dorothy, used to be Jane and Stephen’s roommate. Sherman’s caught in the middle because Jane hates Beatrice, as Dorothy used to call herself, and Stephen’s just glad she’s gone. From them Sherman hears that Dorothy owes them money, was "dangerously irresponsible" and is possibly an alcoholic. Would you be shocked to hear that Dorothy explains things differently? I didn’t think so. You looked like smart readers.

Robinson also gets to comment on the current status of the comic book industry through Jane, who is a cartoonist doing a project on suffragettes (yeah, that’ll go over big in Wizard’s constant fan polls), and Sherman’s friend Ed, an aspiring writer/artist working for Mr. Flavor. Flavor’s an old-time comic book guy obviously inspired by Superman creators Jerry Seigel and Joe Shuster, and others like them. These great, lucrative characters were made under work-for-hire rules, which meant their creators didn’t make a penny off the merchandising, movies, etc. Ed’s currently trying to shame Zoom Comics into giving Mr. Flavor some compensation for the NightStalker character.

Robinson has interesting way of telling his stories — each issue usually contains a couple of shorter, self-contained pieces rather than one giant one — and portraying what really happened versus what people say happened. Problems with dead-end jobs and quarreling roommates sounds boring as hell, but Robinson spins it into an engrossing saga without being melodramatic. Rather than being soap operaish, which sadly has taken on an unrealistic connotation, it’s more voyeuristic. This is what it would be like to see what’s happening with your friends behind closed doors.

My favorite part is when Robinson throws a question out to his characters. For instance, where’s the strangest place you had sex yielded some interesting answers, including a "You kiss your mother with that mouth? Get your damned mind out of the gutter" from Mr. Flavor. Issue three shows one of those sex scenes in all its rooftop glory.

Robinson thought he was giving readers an antidote to the testosterone/silicon-poisoned superhero books available today.  Little did he know his Box Office Poison would fend off an especially snarky supervillain, even if this one's powers are waning. Sorry Alex.


Column 1998 Long Island Voice. Artwork 1998 Alex Robinson.