Tuesday, 8 September 2015

Haranguing Hank Johnson, Agent of Hydra #1

Or a look at joke structure in Hank Johnson AOH #1
by David Mandel, Michael Walsh, Matthew Wilson, and Clayton Cowles; Marvel Comics

One of the more amusing motifs in Superhero comics is the faceless minion, those hundreds or even thousands of anonymous hench-persons who fill the ranks of dozens of evil organizations like Hydra and AIM in Marvel comics. The notion of actual human people signing up to essentially be canonfodder to nigh-invulnerable superheroes is existentially funny, especially when you consider that these unfortunate souls may have spouses, mortgages, kids and hobbies. Hank Johnson Agent of Hydra capitalizes on this concept to deliver a delightful sitcom comic.

Hank Johnson AOH #1 is also, I think, a great example of joke structure in a comic. 

There is will be *SPOILERS* for HJAOH #1 in this post.

I feel like the majority of jokes in comics work by throwing out amusing quips or by setting up a premise and immediately deploying a punchline. HJAOH, in contrast, uses a more nuanced strategy that frequently plays a longer game with its humour, setting up jokes in one part of the story and then paying them off much later, or making several callbacks to the same premise to establish running gags and making every escalation feel earned and amusing. Like, take the example above, which shows the beginning of the comic and the end. At the start of the comic, on the left, Nick Fury effortlessly dispatches two Hydra goons in traditional fashion which introduces us to Howard and the concept of the hapless minion in a succinct coda. Then at the end of the issue, on the right, the exact scene plays out again, even after all of Howard Johnson's plot development and plans, which is a pretty funny comment on the futility and cyclical nature of a Marvel henchmen and the perfect way to end the issue.

And this is the general structure of many of the jokes in the comic. While there are many throw away quips, or joke sequences within pages, there are also many jokes that build and weave between pages, many of which are ingrained into the plot of the issue (look I made a joke-map diagram!). What this does is add a level of nuance to the comedy in the comic that allows the comic to really maximizes the humour generated by the premise. It's also why I think I enjoyed Howard Johnson, AOH #1 as much as I did and why I found it one of the most amusing comics that I've read in a while.

If you are on the fence about this new series, I think it's probably worth a look.

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