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posted January 28, 2010
Jim Rugg, Brian Maruca
AdHouse, hardcover, 96 pages, December 2009, $14.95
I love the potential shelving tips on the back of AdHouse's new hardcover from Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca. It reads "Hip Hop, Superhero, Comedy, Art." Works for me. Rugg and Maruca expand their briefly-seen character (a cameo in Street Angel
; a short story in a Superior Showcase
) in a way I found artistically admirable, ambitious and yet fully cognizant of its own absurdities. Afrodisiac
presents stories from its title-bearing hero's imagined comic book past. Rugg and Maruca don't stop there, though, provideing snapshots of hinted-at stories, reproducing covers that suggest the character's range and influence, and even duplicating the physicality of the comics themselves by publishing several pages that look like scans of pages instead of reprinted ones: think Pimp & Francie
. The reader not only receives a satirical treatment of blacksploitation-era superheroes -- the confident sexuality neutered in characters like 1970s Luke Cage becomes our hero's primary superpower -- but a larger, sprawling meditation on how these images of race and class (towns like the one depicted here had undergrounds in the 1970s a Wal-Mart economy means they can no longer afford) and power and limitation exist with a not insignificant level of twitch and discomfort on the page.
Mostly, though, Afrodisiac
is an extremely handsome book that fosters 10,000 giggles. The humor also operates on many levels and at many degress of insistence. The stories themselves are conceptually funny -- Dracula horns in on Afrodisiac's circle of ladyfriends to improve his performance in his softball league; Hercules shows up for no apparent reason and picks a fight with our hero -- and executed with a significant amount of aplomb. Maruca drops a couple dozen all-world throwaway one-liners, while Rugg digs into moments like a face meeting a glass mug or a brain being punched out of someone's head with grotesque intensity. There are subtle moments galore as well, the way a romance-style comic book cover shows a woman basically cupping Afrodisiac's genitals, or the misspelling of our hero's civilian name in homage to the way superhero comics and their inattentive editors would famously do this to their men behind the masks. It's the best kind of humor: one with a point and
one with no point at all beyond making one laugh. This is what an Afrodisiac
comic book would look like, but of course there never would have been anything close to an Afrodisiac
comic book. What a clever, satisfying way to approach such a project.