Modern-day comics icon Rick Remender (F.E.A.R. Agent, Uncanny X-Force) teams with artist Lewis LaRosa to craft “The Scumbag” #1, a book about a stumbling, disgusting, uh, well you saw the title. While this seems like the perfect Remender book on the outset, this comic reads as if the writer is parodying himself. With a ridiculously stereotypical main character and an uninspired plot, this comic is saved solely by its gorgeous artwork and potential possibility of the story improving in its later issues.
“Ernie Ray Clementine is a profane, illiterate, drug-addicted biker with a fifth-grade education. He’s the only thing standing between us and total Armageddon because this dummy accidentally received a power-imbuing serum, making him the world’s most powerful super spy. The Fate of New York rests in the hands of the worst person in it!”
Writing & Plot
Rick Remender has grown into one of the most prolific comic writers in the industry currently for his surprisingly intelligent plots and ability to create awful characters sympathetic. When “The Scumbag” #1 was first announced, there was a sort of running joke about this being yet another Remender comic about a POS human being turning reluctant hero. Unfortunately, this first issue reads like an amateurish parody of Remender’s style. The introduction of Ernie Clementine is so full of uninspired cliches, vapid humor, and charmless characterization that it’s difficult to believe that it was Remender who wrote this. Now, great low-brow comics use their crass humor and subject matter in conjunction with earnest storytelling and heartfelt characterization in order to make them rise above their surface-level absurdities. Great examples of this include Remender’s own F.E.A.R. Agent and Eric Powell’s award-winning The Goon. As it appears in this first issue, “Scumbag” has no intention of becoming anything more than what it is. This would be fine if there was anything more than some over-the-top nastiness and some occasionally funny situational irony carrying the plot forward. The climactic moment where Clementine becomes the one person who can save New York is so buried under the protagonist’s own need to be a stereotype that it buries any exciting or humorous potential the moment might have offered. Outside of a couple of fleeting moments of introspective narration, there’s nothing to this comic’s script that offers any motivation to pick up a 2nd issue.
To say that Lewis LaRosa is the saving grace of “The Scumbag” #1 is to put it mildly. The grungy details and sordid, believable dirty denizens of New York’s back-alleys and bars are brought to life in all their slimy glory thanks to LaRosa’s talents. Outstanding variety in character design is combined with stellar animation and environmental work, but drawn with a textured realism that gives each panel a depth seldom seen in comics. The visual of Ernest Clementine openly crapping himself on a crowded New York sidewalk while onlookers gawk and scream is permanently branded in my brain, and for better or worse it’s thanks to the artist. LaRosa gets to flex his talents for drawing fights and action as well, for while the grandiose sci-fi plot just kinda sits in terms of the writing, it’s given brilliant momentum and design from a visual perspective. Enemies visibly vibrate with power and have their facial features drastically shifted by an oncoming fist with incredible detail. The colors of Moreno Dinisio work greasy wonders in conjunction with the pencils, as every individual, article of clothing, street sign, and wads of booze and heroin stained cash are bathed in painted grim realism. It’s reminiscent of the work of Lee Bremejo, albeit with heavier inks and thicker lines. Visually this is some seriously outstanding work, and since this series is going to have a different all-star artist on every issue (like Andrew Robinson and the aforementioned Eric Powell to name a couple), this may be a reason for some to pick up this comic. Maybe. The lettering from Rus Wooten is just as fitting to the book as the art. The wavering font stumbles around in the same fashion as our protagonist, perfectly capturing the inebriated stupor he speaks in. It straightens up when the dialogue comes from one of the story’s interdimensional secret agents, and offers subtlety in its font changes for tone and volume. From the visual end, this is a great looking book.
“The Scumbag” #1 is a great looking comic that also happens to be the most disappointing Remender chapter I’ve ever read. Instead of capitalizing on his usual emotionally effective handling of stereotypically broken men, this comic offers nothing but crude humor and absurd irony but with nothing to latch onto about any of it. Lewis LaRosa and Moreno Dinisio’s visual work here is absolutely outstanding, full of smoky, grimy life that is far better than this script deserves. This could be one of those cases where the story actually picks up and goes somewhere in later issues. If you think that may be the case, and you love LaRosa’s art (as well you should), then go ahead and grab this comic when it hits shelves on 10/21.