I've been meaning to check this out for a long while due to great word of mouth from many friends and after seeing the kick ass Nite Owl sketch Jacob Chabot did for Rickey at MoCCA, I decided to get to the borrowing.
It ended up being a relatively quick read that didn't change my worldview or anything drastic, but it entertained me and actually made me chuckle out loud more than a couple times; if a comic can do that, I deem it a successful venture.
First and foremost, I love the way Chabot draws, flat out. When it comes to humor comics, I'm a big fan of smooth Jeff Smith-style art that manages to take basic shapes and use them to tell as elaborate a visual story as need be without getting overcomplicated. Chabot pulls this off and makes his characters adorable and streamlined, but not simplistic, a point I can't stress enough. He also has a lot of energy in his art, right down to the small points like facial expressions and sound effects. I want a sketch from him really bad.
The premise of The Mighty Skullboy Army is one of those set-ups you'd only get in comics and it makes me love the medium: an elementary school kid named Skullboy who has a skull head and talks like a Bond villain also runs an evil corporation and tries to commit heinous crimes between classes with the help of his two henchmen, a robot and a monkey. I love the sentence I just wrote. I also love that Chabot doesn't give any backstory as to how this situation came about, it just is, as it should be (I'm not clamoring for a Skullboy: Year One mini...though now having thought about it for two seconds, maybe I am).
So with those ground rules established out of the gate, this collection is a bunch of short stories starring Skullboy and his cronies as they embark on various schemes. As you'd expect, some of the strips work better than others, some jokes soar while other fall flat. What I admire throughout is that while I got a kick out of this book, I totally think my kid cousins would as well, because at its heart it's a kids comic that also possesses a level of sophistication that adults can enjoy (at least I hope it's intended at least in part to be a kids comic, because otherwise I'm gonna feel like I just insulted Jacob Chabot without wanting or meaning to at all).
The humor that tickled my sensibilities the most came from the voices Chabot gives Skullboy and Unit 1 (the robot). Skullboy is more or less your typical megalomaniac, but aside from his situation setting him apart, he's also got this great unflappable confidence and drive about him that is totally endearing; he is never convinced he has been defeated and just can't understand why his sidekicks are unable to keep up.
Unit 1 was definitely my favorite character though. He's this fantastic mix of snivelling, condescension, arrogance, insecurity and wit. I love how he'll swivel from cowering in Skullboy's locker to firing his Death Ray to pining over his love for a soda machine. That's poetry, man! His inability to recognize the ridiculousness of his predicaments works perfectly with his unchanging expression to just make you smile. He's a great straight man. I wasn't that into Unit 2 (the monkey), probably because he doesn't say anything, but he was a perfect foil for Unit 1 (and the scene where they go hat shopping and he buys like eight hands cracked me up).
The stories where Skullboy gets an adult intern who then has to go try and collect leaves for a class project with the Units and the one where the Units pawn their pagers and attempt to earn money to buy them back with a lemonade stand are definitely my favorites. But just simple crap like the monkey putting a woman's hat on the robot's head and Unit 1 proclaiming "I can't see" really entertained me--it's not rocket science but it works! I also really really like towards the back of the book where Unit 1 starts becoming obsessed with love and tries to talk to Unit 2 about it to no avail. Fuck, I just love when Unit 1 disdainfully calls Unit 2 simply "Monkey"!
Chabot had fun with this and it comes through. The more I think back to write about it, the more I'm realizing how much I enjoyed it. The guy can write, he can draw, and he's got a cool sense of humor that doesn't need to be crass to be funny. I love it and I'd like to shake his hand (and get a sketch, seriously).