Superslackers, by Steven Charles Manale

First published in The Webcomics Examiner, September 2005

These days, there are two major camps in superhero parody. On the “traditional” side, you’ve got derivatives of Ben Edlund’s The Tick: over the top absurdity centering on heroes whose powers range from the genuine, but incompetently wielded to the blatantly ridiculous, but whose intents are generally sincere. These are true would-be superheroes, who demonstrate the very silliness of the idea of superheroics.

On the other end is the more modern sit-com style superhero parody, such as David Yurkovich’s Less Than Heroes. Yurkovich described his own creation as “the Seinfeld cast in masks.” These parodies feature characters who claim to be heroes, but who are too self-involved and apathetic to ever actually do anything heroic, demonstrating perhaps, that the thing that separates most people from being superheroes isn’t just the lack of powers.

Somewhere in the middle is Steven Charles Manale’s Superslackers. Superslackers follows the misadventures of a group of high-school superheroes who don’t seem to spend much time either at school or involved in heroics. Manale’s character concepts have a good deal of Tick-esque absurdity to them—take for instance, the team leader, Invisible Right Leg Lad, or his unrequited love, the pirate-girl, Arrrlene—but the personalities, as should be clear from the title, are in the apathetic non-hero mold.

Despite the apathy of the characters, the tone is light-hearted and fun; Superslackers is not weighed down by the moody cynicism typically found in this type of parody. The story is light on continuity, following a gag-style format, though frequently with a full eight-panels, rather than the typical three to four. This allows for considerably more interesting build-up to the punch line; this is an especially good thing, considering that many of the punch lines are self-consciously painful puns, ala Bazooka Joe. You can practically hear the rim shots. There’s a nostalgic quality to this humor, reminiscent of old Saturday morning cartoons. Not the full, half-hour episodes, mind you, but the silly 30-second fillers that ran between larger episodes, and invariably ended with all the characters laughing hysterically at jokes that really hadn’t been funny. And yet, Manale’s horrid puns are balanced with the character-driven buildups in just the right way to make the whole thing strangely entertaining.

The tone is well-matched by simple, cartoonish artwork—with occasional lapses into classic super-hero art styles to depict fantasy sequences—thickly outlined and filled with bright, solid colors. The resulting look, like the writing, is energetic and appealing.

All told, Superslackers is a fun, quick read that’s accessible even when read out of order. What it lacks in originality of concept, it certainly makes up for with enthusiastic execution, fun visuals, and unrestrained silliness.