Get out your rockets and duck n' cover videos, we're reviewing Whatever Happened to the World of Tomorrow? by Brian Fies!
This is the story about a father and son, Pop and Buddy respectively, growing up in the age of rockets and spaceships and seeing how they and the times change with each passing decade.
I know I go on a lot about stories involving straight white dudes, angry dad/tragic dad stories and how they're all boring and we should be more diverse in this day and age, but I'm giving this one father-son story a pass. It is a legitilately great comic about a father and son growing up together. It's really touching, has a buttload of information about the science and history of space travel, and is beautifully illustrated with many nods to other comic eras.
This is less a story about an actual father and son and more a story about the image of the iconic father and son. They're only ever called "Buddy" and "Pop"and Fies draws them in a very simplified iconic manner. The whole book spans decades and takes place in the 40's, 50's, 60's and 70's, yet Buddy ages in a way that most cartoon characters through decades of television age. After decades of story when he should be 30, he's closer to his pre-teens. It's a really interesting way to marriage how a boy grows up with how America's thoughts on space travel are at the time, going from child-like wonder all the way up to teenage apathy. It can drag a bit at the parts where he's talking about the history of the time, so if you don't like history and learning junk, you might find parts of this boring. Basically, your enjoyment of this book depends on how much you enjoy the show Cosmos.
Interspersed with these are comics within comics involving "Commander Cap Crater" and "the Cosmic Kid" who reflect the Pop and Buddy characters. These inner-comics do a great job of reflecting the style of comicsof that decade from the story structure to the art style right down to having those particular pages of the book be in yellow newsprint. These characters also change throughout the decades and it's really interesting to see the differences in comics. Thankfully, they stop before Cap Crater and the Cosmic Kid are Liefelded in the 90s.
I'm giving this book a big pass because, yes, it's about two white characters we've seen before, and yes it's a father son story we've heard before, but that's kind of the point. These are how we saw and represented media and characters for so long. And at the end of the book, a grown up Buddy hands the reigns to his daughter, giving a nice nod that it's her time now. Plus, while most books would stop there and ignore everyone else, they don't shy away from putting other races and genders in their story or in the pieces of history they talk about. Even in the earliest meta-comics, they've got Police Woman Mooney who's obviously smarter than the chief or Crater give her credit for, but is always overshadowed by the white male hero. Then in the last comic, she's finally promoted over the chief and given the recognition and power she rightly deserves.
The mother is never mentioned, which is kind of weird. At first you think maybe it's just them having a day to themselves and then you realize that she's just not there. It's never explained if she's dead or has left. More likely, she doesn't exist, because the creators of that time didn't see a reason to make a mother character. And on one hand that's a really weird really big detail to leave out and robs the story of having a mother's perspective, or even a kid's perspective of the mother, but on the other hand it lends itself more to the idea that these are more icons created for their time than people. It's horrifying to think that women didn't fit in that storyline at the time, but that totally fits with how stories would be told then. Because women complicate things I guess! It's weird, but I find myself more fascinated by the idea than offended, though you might feel differently.
I don't know if I can say the story resonates with me as a white male who also has a father, but I think it's a pretty nice story. The book makes a point that so much of the space age was filled with wonder and optimism and that's rarely seen today, and I agree with that, especially in modern comics. Everything is always so grim and dreary and grimdark. Our superheroes aren't allowed to be happy or have emotions other than brooding. It's nice to have a story with characters that look towards the future as a thing of beauty and a book that is generally excited to see what comes next. It's just nice darn it!
It's a really great father-son story, a great look at our space age past and the future that never was, and it's a well done book with a lovely simple cartoony style.
THE GOOD: Great father-son story, great generational-spanning premise, simple beautiful style, great look at comics from past, well-put together book, informative and educational.
THE BAD: No mother character, not for people who like to learn stuff.
THE VERDICT: $$$$ This is a really well-done book and a fascinating look at how we fell in love with space-travel and then let it fade away. It's informative and optimistic.
BOOKS LIKE IT: Shock Rockets, Terminal City, Flash Gordon, Afrodisiac
ONE-PAGE METAPHOR: It's 1955, and Buddy is busy reading his comic while Pop is busy putting together a fallout shelter. Buddy asks if his friends can play in it when they're done, but Pop makes him promise not to tell anyone because it's better the less people know. It's one of the few disturbing points in the book where they're preparing for Russians to drop bombs on them, but they're still doing it with a smile and sense of wonder, and it's a fascinating slice of life of what that must have been like.