Webcomics tend to fragment themselves into easily recognizable subcategories. There’s the parody strip, for one. And then there’s a subset of the parody strip: the one where the characters are portrayed as wide-eyed children. It’s kinda like Tiny Toons or Muppet Babies…. Well, actually, it’s more like the super-deformed or chibi characters that you see in manga and anime. Matt Moylan, for example, combines super-deformed characters with Transformers to create his webcomic, Lil Formers — which may yet be a subject of a future Webcomic Overlook.
“Lil Formers,” however, is just beginning. Today, we’re going to look at a webcomic that may be either drastically changing format or on its last legs. It a series created by M. Parkinson called Year One.
For those not indoctrinated in comics, the title “Year One” is a reference to the first year of a rookie superhero. It’s a reference to the Frank Miller graphic novel “Batman: Year One,” which follows Batman around while he’s learning the ropes. The “Year One” title is apt in this case, since it portrays Marvel superheroes (and sometimes DC superheroes) as schoolchildren.
“Year One” is for folks who want to see their favorite Marvel characters as children. Oddly, Marvel did comic strips with similar childlike characters in their “Bullpen Bits.” So basically “Year One” is for that crowd of people who needed more chibi-Marvel than the officially sanctioned strip could provide.
The characters are drawn in M. Parkinson’s somewhat Precious Moments-like style. The main character promoted on the site is L’il Spidey. However, pretty much all the Marvel characters — from Cap to Reed to pre-emo Speedball to fan favorite Doom — get their place in the spotlight, so I hesitate to declare a main protagonist in the entire bunch.
So the humor is derived from the characters and situations being placed in a schoolyard environment. For example, instead of Spidey getting his black costume from an alien symbiote, they come from a girl’s cooties. And Falcon’s partner, Redwing, is a sparrow instead of a eagle. In a way, it’s sort of like the Jetsons or the Flintstones. You’re supposed to laugh that these guys are using a pterodactyl with phonograph stylus, or that Punisher is using a nerf ball gun instead of an AK-47.
However, for the most part the reader has to have a good knowledge of Marvel history and storylines to get the jokes. Like the different transformations of the Hulk. Or the origin of the blue, furry Beast. Or Spider-Man’s cartoon from the ’80’s. Or the pacing differences between the 616 Marvel Universe and the Ultimate Universe.
This is well and good, since the typical “Year One” audience are all, ah, well read individuals. However, I am one of those individuals who do have a cursory knowledge of comic book history, and at best “Year One” is good for a chuckle, and at worse just mediocre. Doom acting pompous in the middle of class is funny sometimes, but there is a point where it does seem kind of old. And I never found “Year One” Speedball to be cute or funny, despite M.’s attempts to turn him into the Marvel Universe’s version of Tigger. (Though, I suppose to M.’s credit, “Year One” Speedball is far more tolerable than what Marvel did by turning Speedball into the super-emo character, Penance. Oddly enough, familiarity with chibi-Speedball actually increased my disgust with Marvel’s actions. Nobody likes Penance. Although P-Cat, the Penitent Puss is pretty funny.)
I feel bad giving this webcomic a low rating, since M. Parkinson seems to be close to wrapping up the current incarnation of the strip at #500. But I’ll have to go with my gut and give this webcomic a middle-of-the-road rating.
Final Grade: 3 stars (out of 5).