If megalomaniac John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) in Jurassic Park was able to reconstruct whole dinosaurs with just a tiny bit of DNA, this section’s intention is to reach conclusions about cartoons –and, why not, life and everything else– taking as a starting point, on each occasion, a single vignette isolated from the whole work it belongs to. To sum up, stolen cartoons turned into fingerprints on a crime scene or Rosetta stones, instants of frozen genius and wit offered as an invitation to reconstruct a whole that this humble window will leave off-screen.
Let’s get to the point: Gene Colan drew this cartoon following an Arnold Drake script. It appeared on volume 18 of the Marvel Superheroes! Comic Book, published in the United States in January 1969, within the cartoon entitled Guardians of the Galaxy!, a cornerstone of one of the most eccentric groups –with continuously shifting members– of the Marvel team. Colan composed the pages as if it was an alien cartoon: to be precise, one that was found on a planet with a gravity force three times stronger than the Earth’s. That’s why Charlie-27, the first character that appears on the story, has that flattened shape that would conform the rest of the narrative’s formal structure.
But it would be best not to beat around the bush and stick to the vignette in question: on it, seen from the back and all in red, major Vance Astro –a guy who spent ten centuries cryogenically frozen to finally discover that his sacrifice had made no difference at all– confronts the Supreme Commander of the Eastern Sector of Badoon Empire. Up until that moment, their conversation had verged on the possible comic nature of the tragic destiny of the Earth’s inhabitants. When questioned about the identity of his colleague –a guy with a Mohawk, seen on the forefront and coloured with maroon ink, that quietly occupies the right-hand-side corner of the drawing–, Astro reveals it, but, with a tactic manoeuvre that will allow them both to escape from the Badoons, affirms: “I only keep him at my side to make me laugh!”, a sentence that involuntarily reminds us of the popular sevillana –occasionally interpreted by Las Paqueras and Raya Real– “Me casé con un enano, salerito, pa jartarme de reír” (I married a jaunty midget, to piss myself laughing) . We should see in this sentence the door through which, several years later, script writer Steve Gerber –the most countercultural presence at Marvel in the 70s– would join the series and, also, a sort of encoded declaration of principles about the essentially Dionysian nature of the superhero comic book. The genre has become a lot more serious in the past years due to the combination of the traces left by the 80s revolution and the pomp and ceremony popularised by Christopher Nolan and sanctified by some fans hungry for cultural legitimation. It should be best not to forget the truth hidden within this cartoon: sometimes, Marvel comics are only there to make us laugh.