...reading comics from the year i was born!
Tales of the Cyborg Gerbils #1 (Harrier)
By John Jackson
On a conceptual level, there’s nothing wrong with the premise behind 'Tales of the Cyborg Gerbils' : a team of intelligent, anthropomorphic, partially-robotic Gerbils from the future trying to survive in modern times. It’s not the most original or enticing idea, but there’s something vaguely amusing about it, and surely it’s a workable starting point. The problem is that the comic stops there, without adding any purpose to the Gerbils’ lives aside from not wanting to be discovered or killed. They’re not trying to get back to their own time, or establish a stable home in ours, or accomplish much of anything beyond making it from the start of the day to the end of it without dying. In the four short stories contained in this comic, the Gerbils see their fair share of action and danger, but they never go anywhere or give the reader much of a reason to get into their adventures. It’s not all that clear why this comic was made, and why these stories had to be told. They are too airy and brief, with a laziness to the humor and structure that makes me wonder how seriously writer/artist John Jackson even took this project. It feels more like a half-baked gag that was accidentally published than a legitimate attempt at comic book entertainment.
The first story is pretty much exactly what you’d expect, almost an obligatory introduction to who and what the Cyborg Gerbils are. On the very first page, one of their number (Jezz) is captured by a wicked professor and his equally wicked assistant to be dissected and studied, so the rest of the gang has to save him. Luckily, they have super advanced weaponry on hand to get the job done. In relatively short order, they find the professor’s lab, burst in guns blazing, decapitate the assistant with a blast from their most powerful weapon, and escape intact. It’s a brief but brutal bit of violence, almost ill-fitting in the otherwise tonally comedic narrative, but the sheer ridiculousness of the image of the professor’s assistant having his head blown off makes up for its underlying intensity and overlying gore. Once the skirmish is over, the Gerbils regroup, and wonder if they’re truly safe from the professor just because they got away this time. It’s a valid question, even interesting, but they quickly push it aside because it’s time for this story to conclude so that the next can start. The potential future foe/threat for the Gerbils is hand waved out of existence to make room for something truly mundane.
Somehow, almost impressively, Jackson puts the worst and best of his writing into the final tale, also six pages long. After four painfully empty pages of the Gerbils killing time on the hood of a car with activities like shadow puppets, fly-swatting, and yawning, suddenly comes the smartest, most self-aware dialogue in the comic:
To the best of the knowledge that my Internet research skills can provide, this volume is the last Cyborg Gerbils material to ever be published. And for all I know, that was the plan. The cover matter I mentioned above indicates as much in some of what it says, and there’s nothing about “next time” anywhere that I can see. I doubt if anyone missed this when it was gone. As for Jackson, I can’t dig up anything on him, so if anybody’s aware of what he got up to after this, let me know. I can imagine reading and enjoying him in a comic strip format, where the stories would come in shorter bursts, if he could find content that inspired him a bit more. Alas, 'Tales of the Cyborg Gerbils' was not that.