Graphic Novel Of The Month
Afrodisiac (AdHouse): This hardcover collection of The Adventures of Alan Diesler opens with his wordless origin story, which relies on intensely iconic images of the stereotypical inner city to inform the narrative. Young Alan’s deal with the devil catalyzes events and ultimately leads to him becoming The King of the Urban Jungle. Lines like “watch my wheels, young blood” operate with a certain swagger and attitude that let you know exactly how Afrodisiac is going to roll. It’s no surprise that the women surrounding Afrodisiac stare at him, but look at where they specifically stare. If you follow the trajectory of their eyes, you find them consistently either looking at his crotch or at his head. Yes, they are either mesmerized by his sexual prowess or his powerful force of will. It’s so powerful that he can even attract his lesbian would-be assassins with double entendres like “you’ve got to be the sexiest pair of assassins I will ever come across.” Afrodisiac is a funny piece of work, but it’s interesting to look at how and why it’s funny. It’s actually not as “haha” funny as I recall the first runs of pieces being, which appeared in books like Project: Superior, Meathaus: SOS, Street Angel, and Popgun: Volume 2. The “funny” is more of a sly parody that pokes fun at the “isms” that seek to denigrate or marginalize segments of society. It does this by examining the perceptions of white society and their relation to a previous era’s black characters. Specifically, it tries to understand how that previous era’s audience interacted with those blaxploitation style characters, and what the audience wanted from the experience, how that audience valued the “mystique” of black men and their… mojo, for lack of a more sophisticated term. In short, women want Afrodisiac, and men want to be him. This programming is primarily sexual and not-so-subtle. It suggests that the white audience was secretly envious of the black man. Not only of his sexual prowess, especially with white women, but of his ability to flaunt societal rules by engaging in crime, as he is so frequently depicted. Many elements of pop culture have reflected that, but this being a comic, it’s particularly concerned with that medium and the examples are heavily weighted toward showing this dynamic through the kaleidoscopic lense of the 1970’s Marvel Comics stable. We’re treated to ghetto versions of Thor, Captain America, and Spider-Man, but also touch on Kung Fu properties, EC’s horror line, a Mignola-esque two page spread with Dikembe the lion (itself probably a Jack Kirby Black Panther riff), Dell’s funny animals, manga, Kirby’s 1950’s romance work, a Jack Cole style Christmas card you typically would have found in Playboy, and even see Afrodisiac as a Saturday morning cartoon bearing the general aesthetic of Super Friends. I think there’s a specific reason that the paradigm attempts to succeed in so many venues. It’s about reclaiming power in as pervasive a manner as possible. By sublimating as many negative connotations as can be found in blaxploitative work, they can be reclaimed and “infused with their own insider meaning,” to borrow an apt phrase from Ryan Claytor. This process of reclamation allows for the rejection of the derogatory elements, while retaining and wearing the positive attributes like a badge of honor. Afrodisiac comes with so many alternate origins (even to the point his name changes, which may or may not be intentional, sometimes Alan Deasler, sometimes Alan Diesler) of untrustworthy narration. In one key strip, the structure is deliberately repetitive, repeating the exact same panels at one point until Afrodisiac can break free the bonds of continuity and stereotype. With that development, the goal of eradicating the racial “ism” that spawned it in the first place is accomplished. Afrodisiac is able to revel in the stereotypical depictions, thus destroying them from within. With its faux creased covers that are tattered and written on, there’s an impressive level of pure craft on display here regardless of any message, regardless of the humor being in your face or more subdued at times. Remember, “payback’s a .40 caliber bitch.” Grade A.