Brewster Rockit, Space Guy! Close Encounters of the Worst Kind. By Tim Rickard. Andrews McMeel. $12.95.
Anybody remember Flash Gordon? How about Buck Rogers in the 25th Century? Maybe the marvelous Chuck Jones parody, featuring Daffy Duck and called Duck Dodgers in the 24½th Century? Okay, okay, maybe at least the original mid-1960s version of Star Trek???
Brewster Rockit, Space Guy! draws on all those influences and more. Really draws on them: the characters seem to be wearing Star Fleet uniforms, minus the insignia, and the aliens they encounter are strictly of the Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers variety. And this stuff is funny, in a ridiculous and sometimes rather cruel way. The cruelty is part of the funniness.
The stereotypes of the “bold adventurers in space” are all here, but they’re all neatly skewed, skewered and twisted. Brewster Rockit is commander of a space station called R.U. Sirius (yes, the puns are all that bad, including the title character’s name as a pun on “booster rocket”). Brewster’s about as dim a bulb as a person can be without going out altogether for lack of discernible mental electrical impulses. He gets help (if you can call it that) from Cliff Clewless, the clichéd brilliant chief engineer – who in this case is a moron: when a device is turned on that incapacitates lower life-forms, an invading blob is not affected, but guess who is? Also aboard is the attractive token female in the form-fitting spacesuit, except that here she’s a 35-year-old single mom named Pam who can’t always get day care for her two kids (one of whom shoots down a NASA satellite, leading her to yell, “OK! That’s coming out of your allowance!”). And then there’s Dr. Mel, the obligatory scientist in the obligatory white coat and dark gloves, who demonstrates the effects of a meteor hitting Earth by smacking other crew members with cream pies. And there is good-hearted, all-American boy Winky, assistant to Dr. Mel and a sort of station mascot, to whom Brewster gives all the dirty and dangerous jobs and who keeps ending up in the hospital as a result, often after shouting, “AAHHH! MY SPLEEN!”
Every strip is in color – an approach that Andrews McMeel is taking for an increasing number of its comic-strip collections – and in this case, the old-fashioned, flat, blocky color perfectly matches the old-fashioned, flat, blocky drawing style. But Tim Rickard’s sense of humor is strictly modern, or postmodern, or post-apocalyptic, or something. It’s certainly weird. One recurring character is a purple alien with an elongated head, who calls himself Enigmo and demonstrates his supposedly unlimited power by asking the space-station crew to pick a number between one and 10. Another is Bucky the robot – nothing but a bucket with a smiley face drawn on it, inverted on top of a coat rack. There are adventures with tribbles (remember those from Star Trek?), dinosaurs and huge ants, takeoffs on Star Wars and Planet of the Apes, and all sorts of other traditional space-opera stuff. No matter what may happen, though, the square-jawed (in fact, rectangle-headed) Brewster comes out on top by dint of unrelenting stupidity.
There’s a fair amount of death and pain and similar forms of amusement here, usually inflicted on Winky – no wonder Stephan Pastis, creator of the hilarious and death-obsessed Pearls Before Swine, agreed to write this book’s introduction. And there are occasional strips that are absurd to the point of hilarity (or the other way around), such as one in which Pam gets a cell-phone call during a battle with a monster: “Honey, Mommy can’t talk right now! She’s very busy killing space squids.” Not everything works – a long simultaneous parody of The Wizard of Oz and The Lord of the Rings is just too juvenile and silly – but most of Brewster Rockit is genuinely funny. Rickard uses the three-panel-per-strip format popularized in Dilbert and also used to good effect in Pearls Before Swine, but he plays with it by sometimes making the three panels all different sizes or collapsing two of them into one large one. Brewster Rockit is a real winner of a comic strip, and promises to keep getting better as long as Rickard doesn’t go all upscale and try to make Brewster, like, you know, smart or something.