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‘The Scumbag: Complete Edition’ HC (review)

Written by Rick Remender
Art by Roland Boschi, Lewis Larosa, Andrew Robinson,
Eric Powell, Wes Craig, Bengal, Francesco Mobili,
Alex Riegel, Jonathan Wayshak, Matias Bergara

Published by Image Comics

 

The trouble with any long form serial storytelling hits right at the start.

How does a story grab and keep the audience’s attention?

In contemporary comics—where the endgame is the graphic novel, the collected arc, the proverbial trade—the traditional standalone issue bears the burden of both supporting the larger story and maintaining its own self-contained integrity.

A first issue must leave the audience wanting more by delivering a compelling initial dose of a comic as well as telescoping where the story is heading.

The Scumbag is a comic I dismissed after the first issue.

I could see who it was about but not where his story was going. And that’s the trouble with serials: The Scumbag reads better as a novel.

The Scumbag: Complete Edition hardcover collects all 14 issues of the series from writer Rick Remender and artists Lewis Larosa, Andrew Robinson, Eric Powell, Roland Boschi, Wes Craig, Bengal, Francesco Mobili, Alex Riegel, Jonathan Wayshak, and Matias Bergara. Moreno Dinisio provides colors, and Rus Wooton lettered the book. The Scumbag is published by Image Comics under Remender’s Giant Generator imprint.

I decided to take a second look at The Scumbag because I’ve found Remender to be a writer of consistency and quality throughout the independent work I’ve enjoyed, from Fear Agent to more recent Giant Generator output like Deadly Class, Black Science, and Low.

Ernie Ray Clementine is the titular Scumbag―a profane throwback to a sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll ethos of excess who accidentally receives a serum making him the world’s most powerful super spy. Ernie Ray is disgusting in every way imaginable and can be counted on to make bad choices at every turn.

To be clear: Ernie Ray is shitting himself on a public sidewalk while trying to shoot heroin when he “accidentally” shoots up the serum. The Scumbag isn’t for all tastes.

However, it is a glorious, grotesque satire of the kind I rarely find in comics anymore.

Remender sets his sights on America’s culture wars as Ernie Ray is pitted against white supremacist techno-Nazis, Moon-based mind-controlled ultra-progressives, and his handlers at the status quo maintaining Central Authority. Remender’s aim is omnidirectional, sparing neither himself nor the reader. As Ernie Ray’s handler and sometimes narrator Sister Mary observes, “We all love stories about scumbags.” Remender employs his acerbic wit to pick apart our inability to listen to each other as he skewers the politics of extremism and our cultural preoccupation with fetishizing loud mouths, oafs, and sociopaths.

Lewis Larosa sets the artistic tone for the series in the first issue, rendering Ernie and his world in an exaggerated, cartoonish style that plays well with Remender’s sense of humor and animates every grotesque detail.

Subsequent artists put their own distinctive mark on each issue while keeping the story in visual territory somewhere near the intersection of Mad Magazine and Heavy Metal, both showcases of the brand of boundary pushing cartoonish satire The Scumbag channels.

The Scumbag is gross.

It’s meant to be.

Satire has always employed shock and confrontation to land its points.

Some readers will inevitably take offense. But this collection from Rick Remender and his team of artistic collaborators succeeds hits the target and provides a reminder of comics’ versatility as a tool for exploring and commenting on the human condition.

Bonus material includes a cover gallery, sketchbook, and process pages for issues 1 and 14.

 

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