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Sunday, April 3, 2016

The Hero Busine$$: Season One. Bill Walko (Writer & Artist). theherobiz.com (2015)

Very entertaining, funny and consistently sharp and clever view of the superhero comic industry. Taking one of the most resonant phrases in superhero fiction and giving it a sharp twist the whole set up for the story is nicely laid out: "With great power comes great Marketability. The Hero Business is a personal management agency for superheros, they are image consultants, agents and managers for people who have fantastic powers and need a revenue stream to maintain themselves. Season One introduces the staff of the Hero Business, gives them some nice marketing problems to solve as well as having a story running that nicely ties everything together.
Superhero parodies are fatally easy, the sheer absurdity of the whole genre means that it is no effort to make them ridiculous, happily Bill Walko has chosen to go a different and for more interesting route. Much more interesting that mocking superheros is looking at the industry, the whole ecosystem including fans,that has developed around superheros. In the first pages of the book Bill Walko neatly spears the questions of superheros apparently dying and then undying and the possible back office management that the process requires. He also does a smart origin story that manages to sidestep all of the obvious pitfalls and focus on the actual marketing business that surrounds a self aware (too self aware) origin for a superhero.
 There is a story bubbling under that comes into its own when it should, it is necessary to give the whole idea more structure and some dramatic shape and focus rather than being a series of very enjoyable digs at the industry.
An idea like the Hero Business is going to lean very heavily on the cast, they have to manage the business of superheroics without being superheroic themselves. It is a great story problem and Bill Walko solves it with flair, detail and a strong sense of when something more than just being smart about the industry is enough. The mix of office work and super heroics is a difficult balance to pull off and Bill Walko does by having very recognisable office types that come to independent life by their vitality and commitment to the industry. Everything that is ridiculous about superheros is simply a matter for business management, opportunities to be exploited or minimised as required. By credibly working, using process that any reader has probably encountered at some point in a working life, they emerge as themselves. They are doing work that they really enjoy,they have careers in an industry that they want to be in, this makes the former enemies, a superhero now working for the business as a super consultant and a super villain as the Head of R and D much more integrated into the story. There is a solid context that allows the jokes to flourish without overcoming and smothering the essential balance of the story.
The art is cartoony, friendly and very inviting. The colours are bright and optimistic, they cover the very sharp points that Bill Walko makes about the industry. Bill Walko has found a way to be a superhero comics fan and to recognise the wheels of industry that support it without ever letting one upset the enjoyment of the other. This is a very smart love letter to comics by a perceptive fan that any comic fan would enjoy. A tonic and a cure for the days when comics have worn you out, a reminder of why you fell in love with them in the first place.

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