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Soulsearchers and Company: "On the Case!" Written by Peter David and Richard Howell. Penciled by Amanda Conner. Inked by Jim Mooney. Leonia, NJ: Claypool Comics/Boffin Books, 1996. 152p. $12.95. ISBN 0-9653109-1-4.

Superheroes (sort of); parody; humor

Adults, teens, older kids; mild violence, mild sex

This title collects the first six issues of Soulsearchers and Company, a team of rather misfit "psychic investigators": Bridget Lockridge, former Olympic athlete with a magic pole and a shambles of a personal history; Baraka, fire demon and horny li'l devil from the Arabic hell (who pants after Bridget); Kelly Hollister, airhead witch-in-training; Arnold Q. Stanley, founder of the Soulsearchers and, for some unknown reason, stuck in the shape of a prairie dog; Peter P. Peterson, prissy financial consultant with a bag that "packs itself"; and Janocz, a.k.a. Creature Feature, a teenager who has the slightly uncontrolled ability to turn into monsters (and who pants after Kelly). Based in Mystic Grove, Connecticut, they attempt to make their business profitable but, to the vast annoyance of Stanley, they often end up working gratis.

The first story pits the first five against the Grand Guignol, who is infuriated by mindless kidvid and rampant commercialism and sends his army of puppets to massacre hosts of children's programs. He also wants to knock the Soulsearchers out of commission, though a well-placed Barbie Dream House and slice of broccoli pizza help foil the dastard's plans.

In the second story, the Soulsearchers acquire Janocz when they are asked to investigate the mysterious monsters that seem to be following a tribe of gypsies in Pastramia. The unfortunate Janocz is nearly roasted by the annoyed gypsies before the Soulsearchers agree to take custody of him.

Next, Baraka must enter Bridget's dreams to confront Nightwanker, mortal enemy of Dweeb, the Lord of Sleep. What will Baraka find in Bridget's sleeping mind, and will he be able to capitalize on it when he leaves?

From this we go to Peter's embarrassed attempts to justify the peculiar receipts of the Soulsearchers to an IRS auditor. From rescuing Baraka's current bottle-residence from a Poopsico recycling machine (and trashing it in the process) to the large bills racked up when Kelly accidentally transferred Janocz's powers into her baby sister Lena, Peter senses he's not going to convince the taxman.

"Into the Woods" is the title of the fifth story (ah, Sondheim). Little Cindy Queen is missing, and at the same time, all kinds of odd things are being spotted in the Limbo Woods: the Headless Horseman, Yogi Bear, Regis and Kathie Lee singing "Send in the Clowns" (gack), etc. Are the apparitions and Cindy connected? (You better believe it.)

Finally, the most popular of the early issues of Soulsearchers: "Spin Cycle," in which the satanic Mr. VaNeer remakes the Soulsearchers in the image of... well, Image (as in Comics) in an attempt to help the group be profitable. Skimpy costumes, much larger and barer breasts, and ultra-stupid dialogue are the least of it. Only Arnold is immune to, and horrified by, the grinning ghoul's patter--and VaNeer offers him his humanity back if he stops trying to break the spell on the others.

In a nice touch, each separate issue of the comic is either introduced or followed up by one of the Soulsearchers, who explains a bit about either the issue or his/her role in it and even clarifies some after-plot details (e.g., after the tax issue, Peter mentions that the IRS agent was so traumatized that he quit the IRS and became a headwaiter). Finally, Peter David provided an introduction and Richard Howell supplied an afterword.

Soulsearchers is a winner from the first page. I have my fair share of parody titles in my comic collection, and this one immediately vaults into the top three, if not higher. The trouble with most parody comics is that the humor is often inconsistent or juvenile or both--or, worse, the jokes just aren't funny. But the wit in Soulsearchers is sharp right at the start and never lets up. (Really, you'd expect material of this quality from Howell and multiple award-winner David.) I mean, you gotta like a title where a kiddie show host is assassinated by Pinocchio-like puppets who skewer him with their noses, which grow when one of the puppets says, "Okay, boys! Tell lies!" And the issues devoted to vicious parodies of popular mainstream titles such as Sandman (Dweeb and his sister Deaf, the Dreamworld is separated from the waking world by the Imaginot Line, Dweeb's white-on-black word balloons are all but impossible to read, etc.) and the various mindless Image comics are just wonderful, though of course they'll be meaningless to people who haven't read those things. In general the book has a lot of comics industry in-jokes and pop culture references; for example, Cindy Queen looks like Cindy Brady from The Brady Bunch, complete with nasty siblings Marcia and Jan and a leather-bitch-goddess Carol stepmother. And don't forget the sleazy puns! Lots and lots of sleazy puns!

Conner's black-and-white art is crisp, clean, accurate, and attractive. (Color comics should look this good.) Lots of creative use of panels, shadowing, camera angles, etc. Long may she draw! In the best humor comic tradition, she sprinkles all kinds of funny touches in the background: a license plate that says "Lot-Bux," a can of "Diet Croke," a Mary Poppins-like figure feeding pigeons, Baraka's collection of rented porno videos.... And Mooney's inking really brings out the best in Conner's work.

Soulsearchers would be an excellent title for a comprehensive general collection or a humor collection. Readers will need to be reasonably well grounded in comics and the comics industry in order to get many of the jokes, but the book is funny enough even without them. Budding comics artists would do well to forget about all that crappy manga and superhero art and learn a little something from Conner.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild


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