Weekly World News #1 (IDW Publishing)

The infamous supermarket tabloid returns in comic book form.

 

 

 

32 pgs. full color; $3.99
(W: Chris Ryall; A: Alan Robinson)
 
I was expecting Bat Boy. When my review copy of this issue showed up in my mailbox, it was in a white envelope (courtesy of comics editor Jason). I carried it up to my apartment and I knew that when I opened it, I would see Bat Boy. I hadn’t peeked at previews online, and I had no advanced knowledge of the comic, but I knew Bat Boy would be on the cover. He’s the most recognizable Weekly World News character—previously done up in comics form by Peter Bagge in pages of the original WWN tabloid. Bat Boy is the face of the Weekly World News. So I knew Bat Boy would be on the cover of the comic book that pays tribute to the original Weekly World News paper.
 
I was expecting Bat Boy, but not the alligator man. The half-man/half-alligator was my introduction to the WWN. It was the cover story in late June 1996, when I bought my first issue on a trip to the grocery store with my mom. I didn’t know it was supposed to be fake back then. I figured it was just another goofy conspiracy theory rag. Fourteen years and a journalism degree later, I get it. The Weekly World News was fake. Gloriously fake. The editors swam in fabrication; reveled in it. The headlines were outrageous: bat boys, alligator men, ape psychologists. It was like The Onion, only instead of skewering traditional newspapers, it was a parody of tabloids. Perhaps this was why WWN never earned the same credibility (a funny word to use in a piece on fake newspapers) as The Onion: it parodied a medium that was itself an imitation of a newspaper while The Onion cut out the middleman and lampooned the Times. Sure, The Onion is funnier, but the WWN had a larger prospective audience. It was a cheap supermarket impulse item. It thrived while The Onion was being stuffed with pizza coupons and given to Midwestern undergrads. But ultimately the WWN went under. It really wasn’t as good as The Onion. While the articles in the old WWN (all of which are available free on Google Books) were funny, the paper was stuffed with filler—horoscopes, Hollywood gossip, diet tricks, psychic quackery and right-wing politics—designed to appeal to (presumably elderly) tabloid audiences.
 
It’s the latter of those appeals that takes center stage in the WWN comics. Longtime columnist Ed Anger is the star. He was always my least favorite part of the paper, because I could never tell if he was part of the joke or part of the filler. He had the politics of Rush Limbaugh, without the gravitas or likeability of Stephen Colbert, and I was inclined to think his column drew more nods of agreement from (presumably elderly) readers than laughs from wiseacres like me who bought the paper as a joke.
 
In the comic, Anger is forced to deal with his paper’s demise and the nation’s perceived shift to the political left. He hates the illegal immigrant Bat Boy and fights with the Alien who occasionally graced WWN covers to predict political success for Democrats. Anger has a falling out with his simian shrink and takes little solace in the fact that the future-predicting liberal space alien is worried about what’s to come.
 
Beneath the inside jokes and references to the old tabloid, the comic has a deeper story. It explores the gap between someone who predicts the future through twisted emotions and misplaced hate and someone who makes cold, logical arguments. It’s Kirk and Spock, Aristotle and Alexander, Ed and the Spaceman. But while the depth is unexpected, it’s not surprising. If the Enquirer can put itself up for a Pulitzer, then the WWN comic can explore the metaphysical crisis of today’s political climate.
 
For a first issue, WWN the comic is promising. The art is fairly crisp and the crew knows what they’re doing. (The vintage Ed Anger comic strips are a serious highlight.) If there’s a flaw, it’s that the book gets bogged down with tribute and revere for the old newspaper. It’s treated like a great cornerstone in the post-irony 90s and 2000s comedy world…but it was a supermarket tabloid at heart.
 
In the three years since publication ceased, the WWN tabloid has taken on a hefty history. True, it was subversive, especially considering that it was sold next to tabloids that had long since abandoned supernatural cover features…but it’s now eulogized as a brilliant cultural commentary, which it never really was. That’s the ultimate difference between the Weekly World News and The Onion: The WWN was too real. We smirking readers never knew which stories were supposed to be serious and which were tongue-in-cheek, so we had to assume it was all one or the other. We thought it was fake and we laughed because we knew someone out there took it seriously. We just didn’t know someone took the concept so seriously, too. | Gabe Bullard

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