Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen (Oni Press)

tekjansen-header.jpgThe Colbert Report host’s swashbuckling sci-fi alter ego takes centerstage in this silly space adventure.

 

   

 

 

136 pgs., color; $19.95

(W : John Layman, Tom Peyer, Jim Massey; A: Scott Chantler, Robbi Rodriguez)

If you’re one of those people who just can’t get enough of Stephen Colbert you’ll probably love Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen, a hardcover compilation of the five Oni Press issues featuring the Tek Jansen character who premiered in a series of cartoons aired on The Colbert Report. If like me you prefer Colbert in small doses, you may find that it’s the same joke over and over and just a little too meta for its own good. And yes, I do know that the annoying nature of his character is part of the joke: the humor just runs out rather quickly for me.

Tek Jansen is an idealized Stephen Colbert in outer space: he has the trademark glasses, artfully-arranged hair, well-practiced smirk and unlimited self-regard, but is also rippling with muscles (we see him in the altogether several times to make it clear that he’s not wearing a muscle suit à la Michael Keaton in Batman) and the space babes swoon at his mere presence. I’m surprised they didn’t have him hitting the winning home run for the Yankees as well so we could just fulfill all the fantasies of 12-year-old-boys in one character, but I guess that would have been hard to pull off in outer space.

There are two series within this volume. The first is a five-part arc written by John Layman (Chew) and Tom Peyer (Hourman) and illustrated by Hawaiian Dick artist Scott Chantler (1st chapter) and Robbi Rodriguez (chapters 2-5) involving the Optiklons, a race of humanoids who have a big heap of eyes where the rest of us have our heads. The second is a set of five shorter and self-contained "case files" by Jim Massey and Robbi Rodriguez, the creative team behind Oni’s Maintenance series (in their original form as comic books each issue contained one chapter from the arc and one of the standalone stories). In both, Tek confronts the space version of various issues familiar on our home planet such as: should a people blessed with superabundance share with their less fortunate neighbors? Should people be discriminated against because of the way they look? How best to battle the evil doppelgänger version of yourself? I guess that last dilemma doesn’t really exist on earth, although I had my suspicions during the last presidency.

There’s nothing terribly sophisticated about these comics, but they’re amusing enough in a moment-to-moment way with double points if you’re a member of the Colbert Nation or if you really love old-school space operas. The main problem is that there’s practically no story to be found in either the arc or the self-contained segments. What narrative does exist serves primarily as a delivery system for satirical speech balloons, which are so self-aware and loaded with pop culture references that the whole book becomes an exercise in showing off how clever the writers are rather than developing either character or story. Tek travels with two companions who, like most sidekicks, exist primarily to give him someone to talk to: a radioactive space monkey named C.A.S.E.Y. (Computerized Automated Simianoid Engineering Unit) and a nasty little blob called Meangarr who says things like "I’ll tear your head off and make it my wife."

Both Scott Chantler and Robbi Rodriguez achieve a clever retro feel in their art which may overcome the slightness of the narrative for fans of Silver Age comics and, with more issues to work with, Rodriguez does achieve greater variety in his pages (although he can’t seem to decide just how muscular Tek is supposed to be). The book also includes several full-page renditions of Tek’s character by other artists, including John Cassaday, Laura Martin, and Dave McCaig. You can see a 26-page preview of Tek Jansen at  http://www.onipress.com/preview.php?bid=385&pid=197. | Sarah Boslaugh

   

 

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