Friday, January 31, 2014

1987 and all that 022: two guys, zero purpose

by Matt Derman

...reading comics from the year i was born!

Kobier and Oso: The Adventures of Two Guys #1 (Gebhart)
by Brad, Chris, and Matt Gebhart

Sometimes you read a comic and it makes you feel nothing. To me, this is worse than a comic that fills me with rage or embarrassment or even disgust, because at least in those cases the comic is doing something. I’d rather read a terrible book that gets me worked up with its awfulness than one that just bores me and leaves no impression at all. Sadly, 'Kobier and Oso: The Adventures of Two Guys' falls firmly in the latter category. With all three creators and the publishing company bearing the name Gebhart, it seems safe to assume that this comic is a familial vanity project, something the Gebhart boys thought was worth putting out even if nobody else in the world agreed. What it reads like is a practice run, or something made by kids who are aspiring to be comic book creators but have yet to grasp the fundamentals of storytelling. With the thinnest plot and characters I’ve ever seen, sparse and rough black-and-white artwork, and a bizarre sense of humor that never quite finds its voice, Kobier and Oso offers nothing of substance.

Here’s as detailed a plot summary as I can put together: the title characters are a human and a dwarf living in a medieval fantasy world and adventuring together. On the very first page, they find the keep that they have apparently been looking for, though why they’re looking for it is never explained. They enter the keep, have a series of encounters that feel like the world’s most basic D&D session, get captured, escape somewhat inexplicably, and then the book abruptly ends. Its light, but it could theoretically be enough for some interesting character development and/or impressive action and/or solid comedy to take place. Instead, both heroes speak in the same stilted and weirdly formal voice, all the fights are dull and too brief, and the few jokes that pop up are poorly timed and weak.

The dialogue between Kobier and Oso is definitely one of the most frustrating aspects of the book, because there’s almost no distinguishing between the two of them, and neither has a voice that sounds natural. At times, it seems like the idea is to have Kobier be a sort of surfer/stoner character, using words like "dude", "man", and "like", but it doesn't happen that often and nothing else that he says or does really fits with this characterization. I guess it’s possible the Gebharts thought that throwing in a few bits of casual slang would be enough, but because those words clash with the rest of his dialogue, the result is a character whose personality is impossible to pin down. Is he a badass warrior, an easy-going bro, or something in between? As for Oso, he’s curmudgeonly (as dwarves are expected to be, I guess) but his grumpiness seems to have only about two levels: slightly irritated and totally frustrated. It’s rare that he tips all the way over into actual anger, which makes his generally foul mood pack less of a punch, since there’s no real threat that it’ll lead anywhere interesting. He may get annoyed by Kobier at times, but that never changes anything or affects what they do in any noticeable way, so who cares?

The pair of adventurers deal with obstacles like an invisible pit, a gang of goblin children, an attack from several large “crab spiders,” and the creepy hulking creatures that guard the keep. While each of these problems presents a slightly different kind of challenge, and therefore they each have a unique solution, none of them are complex or original enough to be interesting. Invisible pit? Kobier climbs it and Oso leaps across. Goblin kids? They’re kids, so the heroes just walk away from them after getting some helpful information. Crab spiders? The good guys beat them in not-all-that-well-drawn combat. As for the guards, at first Kobier and Oso try to run away, but they end up surrounded, so they give up immediately and get taken prisoner. Then just a few pages later, after learning that prisoners in this keep are fed to a demon, Kobier and Oso fight and win against more or less the same number of guards that they surrendered to earlier. Why did they let themselves get captured at all if they could have just fought their way out? No reason I can find except that it took up more pages this way. Although…it’s a 33-page comic with nothing of value in it, so it didn't really need that sort of filler material.

Chris and Matt Gebhart are credited with the story of the issue, while Brad Gebhart is responsible for basically everything else (editing, pencils, inks, letters). I mention this for two reasons. First of all, I seriously can’t believe it took two people to write this comic. It makes me wonder if maybe Chris and Matt are like Brad’s sons or something, and Kobier and Oso is just a make-believe game they sometimes played with their wooden swords or action figures or whatever, and then daddy Brad made it into a comic book just for kicks. That, at least, would be an acceptable explanation, whereas three adults collaborating to produce something so empty is harder to swallow. Secondly, I want to take a minute to address Brad’s art, because it’s arguably the best part of the issue, though that’s not saying much at all.

Visually, Kobier and Oso is as simple and dull as the narrative overall, but there are some specific things I liked that deserve to be pointed out, even in the midst of all this negativity. Brad’s designs for the crab spiders and for the keep’s guards worked for me as far as fantasy monsters go. The crab spiders looked exactly the way they should based on their name, and the guards were somewhat reminiscent of the Creature from the Black Lagoon, but a bit stouter and more muscular so they were appropriately scary-looking. I also quite enjoyed Oso’s look, which wasn't the traditional bearded and full-bellied dwarf that you see in pretty much every other fantasy setting ever. He’s totally hairless instead, and more wide than fat, plus he has strange pointy ears that are usually reserved for elves. Also, giving him a morning star instead of an axe or warhammer was a nice touch, since it’s still a recognizable weapon and one that fits his character, but not exactly what you’d expect. Kobier, unfortunately, is just your standard long-haired shirtless human fighter.

The best bit in the art, though, was also the funniest joke in the issue, a pretty dumb little visual gag but one that at least got a smile out of me. Kobier and Oso’s rations are basically just peanut M&M’s, but because, of course, they can’t be real M&M’s for legal reasons, they’re N&N’s, with Brad copying the style/font of the real M&M’s logo but using a different letter. It’s so minor, and not even the first time I've seen something like this done (Let’s potato chips, anyone?), but Brad does a pretty great job of mimicking the real-world logo, and it’s the most detailed work he does in the whole book.

In places, it seems like what Kobier and Oso wants to be is the fantasy genre equivalent of a buddy cop comedy—two mismatched guys teaming up to fight evil, stumbling through the process but winning in the end. That’s not a bad concept, but the execution is not just amateur, it’s immature. There’s no narrative momentum or destination, just a string of events that happen back-to-back, and we don’t even find out why the heroes of the story are doing what they’re doing in the first place. Kobier and Oso is a meal of marshmallows, and while I hope the Gebhart gang had fun putting it together, it probably would have been better if they’d kept it in the family, rather than powering ahead and self-publishing such lightweight junk.

Before I wrap this post up, I’d like to end on a slightly more upbeat note, so let’s look quickly at the two series that are teased on Kobier and Oso’s inside back cover, but probably never saw the light of day. At the bottom of the page is 'The Brood', which looks like a generic superhero team book that I couldn't care less about. But above that is 'YoYoMan the Researcher', which piques my interest more than anything else in this entire comic book. There’s no real information given, just a hilarious picture of the title character, but the name alone is enough to excite me, because it’s got to be in the top 5 all-time best/funniest superhero names I've ever heard. Does he research yo-yos? And is that how he became a superhero, a yo-yo research accident? Are his powers strictly yo-yo-based, or does he have superhuman research skills as well? Or is researcher just his day job, but he decided to include it in his superhero moniker, too, for some ridiculous reason? That I’ll never get answers to these questions is aggravating, but I’m grateful for the image that inspired them all the same.

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