Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Happy Birthday Clownface and Panda: ‘Body Bags: Father’s Day’ Turns 15

It’s easy to forget how Quentin Tarantino’s masterpiece Pulp Fiction forever altered the course of American pop culture.  Its influence reverberated far beyond the confines of American cinema and could be seen in a variety of different mediums.    In the years immediately following its release, many tried to ape its style, often failing miserably.  In 1996, comic book artist Jason Pearson paid tribute to the film as only he could, with an irreverent yarn that told the not-so-tender tale of an estranged father and daughter becoming reacquainted with one another.  

Body Bags: Father’s Day is set in the fictional city of Terminus, Georgia.  Various bounty hunter assassins, also called “body baggers,” battle each other for the contract jobs being offered by powerful underworld figures.  Mack Delgado, also known as the fearsome body bagger Clownface, is out to settle a score.  A former protégé attempted to assassinate him and his partner Pops after the pair was awarded a particularly lucrative contract.  The assassination attempt having failed, Mack and Pops frantically hunt down the traitor.  In the midst of all this, Mack’s estranged daughter Panda arrives at his doorstep unannounced and eager to follow in his footsteps. Things go haywire when Mack and Pops attempt to fulfill the contract they’d been awarded.  Panda is then forced to decide if she really wants to be a part of the family business.

Pulp Fiction offered a rather offbeat view of American crime.  In actuality, it was a dark comedy that used the underworld as its backdrop.  Its universe was populated by inept, drug addled crooks that often embarked on some weird adventures.  Body Bags: Father’s Day operated on that same wavelength, albeit with a few sci-fi embellishments.  Terminus is populated with cybernetically enhanced killers and cyborg bodyguards.  The main characters are essentially flamboyant racial caricatures.  Clownface’s I similar to that of the Cholo and Pachuco subcultures.  Throughout the series, he is shown sporting khakis, wallet chains, and Chuck Taylor Converse sneakers.  The characters also refer to each other in terms of racial epithets.

Long before Tarantino ventured into comic book territory with Kill Bill, Jason Pearson was applying the Tarantino sensibility to the comic book page.  Marvin getting his brains splattered all over the inside of Jules and Vincent’s car was seen by many as the epitome of bad taste. The violence in Body Bags: Father’s Day went many steps further, combining the physics of Looney Tunes shorts with splatter film level bloodletting.  The voluptuously bosomed Panda seems light as feather as she bounds through the air, semi-automatics blazing.  By contrast, Clownface barrels through each and every panel like an unchained wrecking ball.  The contrast of is at once outrageously silly yet undeniably cool.  This is due in large part to Jason Pearson’s amazing artwork, which combines gross exaggeration with an eye for detail.  Pearson never forsakes the basics of good comic art, but still plays fast and loose with the rules.

Clownface’s imposing shadow looms large over the whole affair.  He’s an impossibly muscled behemoth, possessing the ability to throw knives with such speed and force that they explode upon impact.  In the very first issue, He famously stabs a pregnant woman in the belly in order to extract vital information her from her coke dealing husband.  Curiously, the act is suitably horrific but does not affect one’s ability to like or relate to the Clownface.  

Body Bags: Father’s Day was released in 1996 to great controversy.  It was a gift wrapped present for the likes of Bob Dole and others who felt that popular entertainment had long since overstepped the bounds of good taste.  It featured a scantily clad 14 year-old female assassin.  That showed a level of balls that even Tarantino might’ve lacked at the time.  The influence of Panda and Clownface can clearly be seen in such characters as Big Daddy and Hit Girl from Kick-Ass.  Unlike that series, Body Bags never presented itself as being a realistic take on anything. It had no such pretensions.  It was a wild, rollicking ride that only wanted to entertain readers.  It did that in spades, and left them clamoring for more.  If there is any justice in the world, Body Bags will one day become a monthly series.     

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