Ah, nostalgia! Be it that old cartoon, a favorite toy or a comic book from days gone by, isn’t it great, when out of the blue, the memories come flooding back, and you’ve no choice but to exclaim “Holy Crap! Remember?”
Written by John Arcudi
Art by Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen
Published by DC Comics
You all remember the nineties, don’t you? It was that time when we were only at war for a few months, the economy was mostly stable, and the most talked-about political issue was the President’s extramarital affairs. The decade was also defined by some pretty horrible comic books, but there were a few gems to be found here and there. In an era of “grim and gritty” heroes and gimmick hologram covers, DC’s Major Bummer was one of those rare books that managed to be both fun and contemporary based on the strength of its story and art. Created by John (B.P.R.D.) Arcudi and Doug (Green Lantern) Mahnke, the same team behind Dark Horse’s The Mask, Major Bummer was a tongue-in-cheek sendup of superhero tropes that featured a very unconventional protagonist and hilariously skewed storylines. Naturally, it didn’t last long in the sales-driven, style-over-substance marketplace of mainstream comics, but it is still remembered quite fondly by those few comic fans who actually read it.
The young “hero” of Major Bummer is Lou Martin, a twentysomething slacker who works part time as a VCR repairman and spends his free time planted on the couch in his parents’ basement, watching TV and playing video games. One day, he receives an anonymous package in the mail, and after opening it, he is transformed into a muscle-bound, bullet-proof behemoth. This is all standard superhero origin stuff, but the twist is that Lou has no interest at all in being a super hero and feels like his newfound powers are cramping his style. He soon discovers that the package that gave him his powers was part of a bizarre alien scientific experiment to see how ordinary human beings would react when given extraordinary powers and that the package, which should have been given to a man named Martin Louis, was sent to Lou’s house by mistake. Not long after gaining his abilities, Lou meets a group of wannabe superheroes who also received their powers from the alien experiment and try to recruit him to be their leader. Lou rejects their advances at first but soon finds himself inadvertantly allied with them against a series of supervillian threats, some of whom were also created by the aliens.
What made Major Bummer such a unique entity in the world of superhero comics was the creators’ decision to make the main character as unsympathetic as possible. Lou is selfish, shallow, and mostly unconcerned about the world around him, while his accidental partners all want to use their powers for good. The humor in the book is very reminiscent of The Tick and Mystery Men in that it constantly pokes fun at superhero archetypes and includes several sly parodies of movies, TV shows, and other aspects of pop culture. It features inane characters like Lauren Isley, an elderly woman who can predict the future but is fuzzy on the past and present, and Tyrannosaurus Reich, who is – you guessed it – a Nazi dinosaur. Editor Peter Tomasi also joined in the fun by including slacker-centric creator credits in each issue, much like the titles of The Simpsons’ popular “Treehouse of Horror” specials did with horror-themed credits.
Major Bummer was eventually cancelled after 15 issues due to poor sales in the fall of 1998, but it enjoyed a small cult following and critical acclaim while it was on sale. In the abyss of self-important crossovers, ultraviolent antiheroes, and Clone Sagas that marred this decade, it stands out as one of the few comics of that era that dared to be just plain fun. DC has yet to collect the entire series in trade, but the individual issues are sure to be easily found in the back issue bins of your LCS or on EBay. They are well worth checking out. The series as a whole gets 4 out of 5 VCRs converted into ray guns.