The Beano #4039-4065
Medium: comic
Year: 2020
Keywords: The Beano, UK kiddie comic
Format: 27 weekly issues
Website category: Comics
Review date: 10 February 2021
Natsuki has a subscription to The Beano. It started almost exactly halfway through 2020. I don't read the magazines week by week, but in January I sat down and read the stack.
Well, that was a shock.
THE GOOD
There are some positives here. Bananaman, the Numskulls and Betty and her Yeti are all worth reading. Les Pretend I quite like too, although he only gets a fraction of a page. I also really like the fact that the magazine now credits its writers and artists, which never used to happen for fear of poaching from rival magazines. (That's supposedly the explanation, anyway.) These days, though, with the Beano now the last survivor of an entire industry, there's no reason for us not to know that, say, the mighty Hunt Emerson's talents are being wasted on Make Me A Menace! or that the Sharp Brothers (Joe and Rob) are the ones doing surprisingly sharp work on Dangerous Dan. (They also draw mainstream comics, incidentally, and their credits include IDW's Star Trek/Doctor Who crossover.)
Bananaman's like nothing else in the magazine. It's a superhero parody that'll also do pastiches of 1980s grimdark and Silver Age comics, cowboy movies, spy movies, Rambo, Willy Wonka, Minecraft, copyright violations and (in #4046) a deconstruction of comics art itself. He turns into a milk shake. He wonders what could make YouTubers less annoying. There's a Journey to the Centre of Bananaman. It's still a light-hearted goofy comedy about a musclebound idiot, but it's a funny one with surprisingly varied content.
On reflection, Betty and her Yeti isn't dissimilar. It's much simpler and not parodic, but the Yeti and Bananaman are the magazine's two big, strong idiots. Both make me laugh. I also like Hugh Raine's art, which has personality.
Finally, the Numskulls are still a fantastic idea. Little people live inside Edd's head and control his body. The best Numskulls strips are the ones that explore this whimsical biological premise, although there are weaker episodes that focus too much on Brainy.
THE ACCEPTABLE
And then we have the others. Calamity James is passable, but has lost that anarchic, slightly savage snap. (Different creators, although Leslie Stannage is trying to draw like the old days.) Meanwhile, the Bash Street Kids are still being drawn by David Sutherland, which is insane although his art doesn't look the same with computer colouring. (Sutherland's been drawing this strip since 1961. That's sixty years.) Billy Whizz is okay. Minnie the Minx I don't mind, although I don't usually spend much time on her pages either.
THE UNACCEPTABLE
Dennis the Menace... whoops, sorry, he's not a menace any more. He's "Dennis and Gnasher Unleashed as seen on CBBC!" (Also, sometimes, "The World's Wildest Boy". THIS IS A GODDAMNED LIE.) He does nothing bad. He's not even naughty. There will occasionally be dialogue references to him having done something extreme, but stuff we actually see him do includes: (a) his homework, (b) tidying his room. The only person who's bad in Dennis's strips is, paradoxically, Walter the no-longer-a-Softie. Dennis is a goodie, whereas Walter is evil and in #4046 pushes a supporting character off a bridge to crocodiles.
That was actually a good bit. I want to read Walter strips. What I don't want to see is Dennis... but he could be worse. The weirdest thing about this run of Beanos is how restless they are, as if they don't dare keep the same format for too long. There were two major revamps in these six months.
(a) up to #4043 = I know what happened. DC Thomson did a reader survey, or hired a market research company. "You're not doing enough to relate to modern youth who can't interacting with anything except a screen." That will have been the message, so Dennis the Menace and Roger the Dodger have become blobs who don't want to do anything, show scorn for anything ancient (i.e. pre-2019) and only care about video games. Dennis's strip in #4039 is beyond belief. You could submit it to Viz as a parody of itself. I hated hated hated this era. These Dennis strips can die burning in a ditch. It's horrific and I don't understand how Natsuki was capable of reading it.
There's also cool kid dialogue like "whatevs" and "laters". This became dated five minutes before publication.
(b) #4044 to 4050 = overnight, the video games disappear. Suddenly, the magazine's got adverts for "Dennis and Gnasher Unleashed as seen on CBBC!" We get occasional six-page stories, although it had already had regular three and four page stories in every issue. (The three-pager at the start, then a four-pager in the middle.)
(c) #4051 onwards = another reboot. Half and quarter page strips, with new characters. (Les Pretend is actually a resurrection, though.) #4051 also has a Funniest Family page that's so excruciating that even the modern Beano realises it's a bad idea and drops it. The Beano likes involving its readers, you see. Every issue has a #SOBEANO reader who gets written into the magazine as a sort of guest editor and a "Make Me A Menace!" that makes me cringe on the back page. The Funniest Family was like those, but worse.
There's been an editorial push for inclusiveness. It's blatant, but also harmless and doesn't hurt the strips themselves. Beano characters these days can be black, Asian, female, disabled, etc. The magazine's also not afraid of jokes that'll go over their target audience's head, e.g. John Carpenter references (Assault on Aisle 13), Little Shop of Horrors or the gags about playing a game of "unbranded flying disc". ("Frisbee" is a registered trademark of the Wham-O toy company and I bet they got heavy-handed with the Beano at some point.)
There are occasional special issues. They do Halloween in #4058 (which is startlingly full-blooded, in which the supernatural and horror monsters are real), a jumbo-sized Christmas issue in #4065 and a 44-page special issue including a "Beano for grown-ups" in #4062. The latter isn't very good, but it's still surprising to see the Beano talking about COVID-19, politics, failed Brexit, etc.
OTHER CHARACTERS
I'd usually skip over any classic character from the 1950s, except sometimes for the Bash Street Kids. They've dissolved into sludge. Minnie the Minx has survived semi-okay and could still at a pinch be called naughty. Roger the Dodger is better than he was when drawn by Robert Nixon, though.
Incidentally, there's a character in the modern Beano who's theoretically a lot closer to what Dennis should be. His name's Tricky Dicky ("Beanotown's TOP trickster!"), but unfortunately he's also annoying.
Rubi's Screwtop Science is odd. Rubi is a genius inventor, with her foil being her elderly Einstein-hair dad.
Mandi is, uniquely, the only time the Beano acknowledges 2020's COVID-19 lockdown. The magazine gives the impression of flailing around in a panic for direction... and yet when there's something massive in the real world that affects its readers' lives, it ignores it and has its characters continue with business as usual. The exception is Mandi. She addresses issues. She talks about lockdown stress. I really liked Mandi. What's she doing in the Beano, then? Answer: she's a paid advertisement from Young Minds. For help and support with how you're feeling, visit youngminds.org.uk/find-help.
OVERALL
I'd be sad if the Beano died. It's the last dinosaur. It's the brave survivor of an industry. However, it's also at times an abomination. Dennis the Menace needs putting out of our misery. Give the boy a lethal injection. There's also good stuff here, though, with a few good strips and a decent amount of non-horrible pagefiller. Bananaman is great. I enjoyed the Halloween issue. The magazine's computer colouring doesn't work with strips that are drawn in an old-fashioned style (Bash Street Kids, Calamity James), but there's some interesting artwork here.
Natsuki likes it, anyway, and his opinion matters more than mine. He's the target audience. Asked to name his favourite characters, he said the Numskulls and Minnie the Minx.