I'd forgotten that I owned these issues. I must have bought them back in the 1980s, then decades later bought an American Flagg! trade paperback from a bargain bin without joining the dots. The franchise had evaporated from my brain. Reading that graphic novel the other day, I thought this was the first time I'd met Reuben Flagg, the Plexus Rangers and the rest of Howard Chaykin's universe.
On rummaging through my old comics, though, I found these seven issues and was gobsmacked. Obviously, I had to read them. Issue 20 was pretty much worthless and halfway through issue 21, I'd decided to bin all my American Flagg!s. Raul the cat having his own talk show is amusing, but otherwise it's just a soup of sex, sleaze, gangsters, politics, more sleaze, etc. I wasn't interested. Didn't care about any of the characters.
Imagine my surprise to find an Alan Moore back-up story.
This is a monthly 28-page series, you see, originally by one writer-artist. The early issues almost killed Chaykin. By this point, though, he'd worked out a formula to let him hit his publication dates. Each issue would have 20 Chaykin pages and an 8-page back-up by guest creators.
- ISSUE 20 = Bullets & Ballots part 2 (Chaykin), Birthday Bullets part 2 (Maggin & Hunt). If I cared, I'd hunt down issue 19.
- ISSUE 21 = Bullets & Ballots part 3 (Chaykin), The Hot Slot (Moore & Stroman).
- ISSUE 22 = Bullets & Ballots conclusion (Chaykin), Luther Ironheart: Machineries of JOY (Moore & Stroman).
- ISSUE 23 = Mad Dogs & Englishmen! part 1 (Chaykin), Raul: There is a Heppy Land, Fur, Fur Away (Moore & Stroman)
- ISSUE 24 = Mad Dogs & Englishmen! part 2 (Chaykin), Jules 'Deathwish' Folquet in Zen and the Art of Motormater Maintenance (Moore & Lomax)
- ISSUE 25 = Mad Dogs & Englishmen! part 3 (Chaykin), Medea Blitz: Welcome to the Pleasure Dome (Moore & Lomax)
- ISSUE 26 = Mad Dogs & Englishmen! conclusion (Chaykin), The People's Choice (Moore & Lomax)
- ISSUE 27 = The Erogenous Zone (Moore & Lomax for the whole 28-page issue, with Chaykin taking a holiday)
Chaykin's 140 pages are sort of okay. Their dedication to grime, sleaze and drawing sexy girls stands out, I suppose. "And... I hope I don't seem too forward... but... would you be interested in fathering my child?" (This is from someone Flagg's never met before, incidentally.)
I was here for Alan Moore, obviously. 76 pages is almost a four-issue mini-series, although it's definitely not one of Moore's more heavyweight stories. It's a sex comedy. There's innuendo (which is funny). Subliminal messages sneak into some Mark Thrust reruns and turn Kansas sex-crazy. (Incidentally, it's good to see some of those famous Mark Thrust TV episodes we've been hearing about since the series began. They're pornographic trash.) This attracts the attention of a porn mogul who'll break your arms if you call him Daddy Fleshbucks. He thinks all this is great. He turns Kansas into AphroDisneyland.
Eventually, things go from depraved to deadly. Berserk pleasure droids, snuff parlours, cannibal saunas, etc. All the American Flagg! regulars go to investigate, mostly one by one. Everyone gets a focus episode. Moore creates a Tom and Jerry dynamic with robot animals for Raul, which is awesome. There's also some mind-boggling dialogue. Shamelessly juvenile, yes, but funny. "Jules! Get up! This thing's trying to rape our patrol wagon!"
The art fits the tone. (Don Lomax did all of it, either by himself or inking Larry Stroman's pencils.) It's cartoonish and gives almost everyone a duck face, but at least that's announcing that the story's silly. It's also, amazingly, fit to be published on American newsstands. The plot's all about pornography gone wild, but the art isn't even showing nipples.
Moore finds ways to make these relatively bland regulars memorable, so for instance Jules Folquet looks like Mr T but talks like a transcendental meditation guru. Luther Ironheart (the robot with a holo-head) is a commie-hating patriot, which is funny because Flagg's Russian and quite often speaks in his native language. (Luther creates lethal chaos, gets reprogrammed into a choose-your-worrying-hologram S&M sexbot and then at the end is only reluctantly rescued by Flagg.) Raul scared me. "Hello, room service. This is room 714. Could you send me up a duck? No... no, a live duck." Even Flagg himself is funny in the last few pages, despite having been absent on Chaykin-written adventures for most of Moore's episodes.
It's a laugh. It's not aiming any higher than that, but it hits that mark.
"One day, while we were spooning with our neighbours and their doberman, I turned to Glenda here and I said, 'Mummy, this has gone far enough!'"