MAKE WITH THE FUNNY COMICS: PLANETARY BRIGADE
BY LUKE FOSTER

So what good is having a critically acclaimed comic book if youíre not going to cash in on that fame and create a spin-off? In the case of Hero Squared, Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis did just that. That book was Planetary Brigade, which told the tales of Captain Valor and his superteam in the years before Caliginous destroyed their universe.

Five books have come out under that title, all from Boom! Studios. The first two were in the two-part Planetary Brigade miniseries. In that series the team has to face off against an unending horde of demons from another dimension that are using an innocent man as a portal to our world. The second series was the three-part Planetary Brigade: Origins, which showcased the team at different stages in its life, all linked by their fights against supervillain Mister Master.

But while these series showcased a bit of superheroics, they were far more character-driven than action-oriented. And it was the interactions between the characters that drove a lot of the humor.

For example, take the relationship between the Mauve Visitor and Mr. Brilliant. The Mauve Visitor is a snooty alien whose species has different social morays and values than ours, or so at least he claims. Mr. Brilliant is a grossly obese nerd who, if he wasnít such a genius, would be just another fat guy in a floating chair. Heís also a bit self-conscious, which gives the Mauve Visitor unending delight when he makes passes at Brilliant. Whether itís because he likes to toy with the genius or heís genuinely attracted to him, you never really know. But itís a great bit of character interaction.




The Purring Pussycat is another member of the team, and with a name like that you can safely guess she fills the ďfemme fataleĒ role. Her story is actually one of the key driving points in the books, particularly in ďOrigins,Ē up until her big secret is revealed at the very end. And just for fun, do this: once you know what the secret is, go back and read both minis again. The Pussycatís story elements are suddenly thrust into a whole new light, and her background is suddenly, blindingly clear.


The Earth Goddess and the Third Eye were the other women on the team. The Earth Goddess was, well, a goddess who was the embodiment of the Earth, and the Third Eye was the requisite mystic. The Third Eye spent a lot of time creeping out her teammates when she wasnít saving the day, and Earth Goddess had a bit of a thing for Captain Valor. This isnít a very good paragraph, I know, but itís late, Iím running up against deadlines, and Iím tired.




Speaking of Captain Valor, letís not forget our team leader. Sure, he got plenty of ink (electronic ink, anyway), in my Hero Squared column, but itís important to write about him here because of how heís portrayed in Planetary Brigade. Actually, heís the exact same guy he is in the parent title, but with one big difference: heís on his world, not Miloís, so we have no other Milo to compare him to. And when heís seen solely in the context of a superhero book, he just comes off as a generic superpowered strongman. Think about that, and think back to how much of a joke his mannerisms were in Hero Squared, then think about how he seems so typically superhero-y in Planetary Brigade. Thereís no commentary I could make about superhero comics that would work better than Captain Valor. But donít judge me for that opinion. Unless you agree. I crave validation from strangers.


Valorís relationship with the Grim Knight was mentioned a few times in Hero Squared, and explored further here. They were best friends in the Superman/Batman vein, with Valor always trying to be heroic and open and happy, while the Knight was surly and a loner and hated Valorís interference. Or so he says. In ďHero SquaredĒ Milo would accuse the two of being gay, and a few jokes along those lines were made in this series, too.




There were also plenty of jokes in this series that poked fun at the structure of comics. In Hero Squared a few comments and jokes were made about how Valorís world is one thatís much more open and amenable to the notion of heroes. Variations of those jokes are made again here, but thereís so many more to make because weíre in an entire world accommodating to comic book heroes. Those jokes include the rambling monologues that cover someoneís origin, or the tragic fates of Grim Knightís numerous teenage sidekicks.

Of the two minis, Iíd say ďOriginsĒ was the funnier of the two, and not because it was longer. It had a bit more of that character work I said I liked and did a good job poking fun at comic book stereotypes. Okay, and because it was longer. Anyway, the first issue sees the team members drawn together, perhaps by fate, to stop Mister Master and his army of sentient prairie dogs (yes, prairie dogs. They were irradiated by a big olí bomb, okay?) from destroying an army base. They didnít know at the time they were coming together as a team, but that didnít stop the Fighting Man, the spirit of all American soldiers, from quitting. In the second issue the Purring Pussycat and Mauve Visitor compare an episode of the Brigadeís cartoon show to the real battle it was based on. The Pussycat was especially miffed because at the time of the battle she was a Planetary Brigand, one of the villains in the cartoon, and she was portrayed totally wrong. We also got her origin in that story. Finally, issue 3 sees the team fight off a giant space artist in the vein of Mr. Nebula from the old JLI at the beginning of the book. Also, the Pussycat is also a bad guy again after being kicked off the Brigade because of her secret, only to switch sides again when Caliginous kills Mister Master and steals a universe-destroying weapon of his. We all know how that ends, eh? Bummer.



The first mini was a bit darker and a little more serious, but it works here. And though itís only two issues, itís structured to make it seem like part of a larger series that we could have been reading for years, but with all those forced explanations about who people are and why they do what they do just in case someoneís reading the book for the first time. You know, like every comic from the 1960s through 1980s was structured.

So if youíre interested in the adventures of Captain Valor and friends before, you know, their universe exploded, you can pick up the trade paperback that collects both mini-series. Itís only a few tiny glimpses into a very funny universe, but theyíre pretty good glimpses.



Luke Foster is a writer and stand-up comedian who wishes he was eating pie right now. Pie rules
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