The Tale Form Schmorm, What’s Happening?
The Ludocrats are what’s happening.
Who are The Ludocrats?
They’re Baron Otto Von Subertan and Professor Hades Zero-K, Aristocrats of the Absurd. Two deeply wild people in a deeply wild world. Otto has had children with an eldritch horror (“It didn’t have a name. But it did have a phone number!”). Hades is made of sound (“Of course, I’ve encoded my form into the hyper-addictive advertising jingle.”). And those are some of tamer aspects of their characters. Their life’s mission is to make sure that the world is never boring.
OK, so that’s their general mission. What’s their immediate goal?
Agents of Otto’s brother the Eldritch Hyper-Pope have abducted Grattinia Gavelstein, the High Steam-Judge of New Prussia, and Heir to the Grand Throne of Wax. As Otto is extremely attracted to Grattinia, he cannot let this stand. And since Otto is Hades’ best friend, she can’t let it stand either. Outside the abduction, the Hyper-Pope seems to be scheming something. But just what that is is a mystery.
Otto, Hades, and their allies’ quest will take them from the guts of a giant caterpillar to an unexpected plane of existence to other places best left unspoiled. It’s a randy, ridiculous, utterly unforgettable ride.
And How Does that Ride Come Together?
Rather stupendously, with the caveat that The Ludocrats is a comic with a very specific wavelength. For those in sync with this zonked-out farce, glory awaits. For those who don’t go in for raunchy, violent, big-hearted metafiction, other comics would be a better choice. That said, The Ludocrats‘ wavelength is very much my wavelength. It’s nonsense, and the creative team (artist Jeff Stokely, colorist Tamra Bonvillain, letterer Clayton Cowles and writers Jim Rossignol and Kieron Gillen) are serious about their nonsense.
Consider the image above. Stokely’s doing a bang-up job of paying homage to Casanova artists Gabriel Bá and Fábio Moon’s styles, but he’s contextualizing that homage within his own work. Rossignol and Gillen are doing the same with their riff on Casanova writer Matt Fraction‘s penchant for asides. Casanova Quinn’s gotten up to plenty of bizarre misadventures within his own book, but disguising himself as a be-thonged purple dinosaur to infiltrate a wedding/execution is weird even by his lofty standards. Yet, as far afield as The Ludocrats is from Casanova tonally, the cameo works. It’s a wild world, and a dimension-hopping thief from another comic book popping up is far from the most ridiculous thing to happen.
Stokely’s pencils, Bonvillain’s colors, and Cowles’ letters give life to a world that is always absurd and often baffling. Critically though, they keep it understandable. Hades, Otto, and company encounter all manner of strangeness on their journey. Some of it’s astonishing. Some of it’s grotesque. Sometimes the only thing to do is sound the Congress Alarms and batten down the hatches.
Thanks to Stokely, Bonvillain, and Cowles, it’s always clear what’s going on in The Ludocrats, and it’s always clear how it’s going on. It’s a roller coaster ride into the surreal and the goofily, transgressively transcendent. As the Ludocrats’ quest to discover the Hyper-Pope’s secret grows ever direr, The Ludocrats‘ art team pushes form in some really interesting ways — ways best experienced in person. Whether Otto’s cleaving in twain a man whose sole purpose in life is to deliver exposition, the Ludocrats are breaking into a giant caterpillar that doubles as a prison, or some basic parts of the modern comic book are getting unexpectedly discombobulated, The Ludocrats‘ art team do consistently excellent, frequently hilarious work.
On the writing side of things, The Ludocrats is the single goofiest comic I’ve read from Kieron Gillen. His work has never been dour or self-praising, but The Ludocrats sees Gillen and collaborator Jim Rossignol commit to silliness. The judgment-delivering wombat above pops up during one of the story’s bleakest moments for the sake of a pun. The jingle Hades encodes herself into as part of her plot to rescue Grattinia Gavelstein really is nefariously catchy. And then there’s the Congress Alarm, which I won’t show here because it isn’t even remotely safe for work, but which is hilarious.
Like Stokely, Bonvillain, and Cowles, Rossignol and Gillen don’t do half-measures in The Ludocrats. Ludicrous is the watchword and the goal, and they smash that goal to splinters several times over. Woven through the wackiness and sex jokes, though, is a vein of deep thoughtfulness. As I wrote above, The Ludocrats‘ creative team is serious about nonsense.
Across his body of work, Gillen’s been fascinated by the roles people play. Whether they’re thrust upon the players or stepped into willingly, he’s repeatedly dug into the ways that roles shape people and people shape roles. Fittingly enough for a comic that gleefully dials everything up to 11, The Ludocrats pokes at what happens when someone commits to an idea to the point of self-annihilation.
As a result of this commitment, the last act of The Ludocrats is deliberately the opposite of everything that’s come before. It’s a stylistic break so total that it fulfills the book’s aim of constant absurdity even as it runs in the opposite direction. At least until it’s time to tell a last, gloriously form-based joke.
The Ludocrats is hilarious. It’s definitely not going to be a book everyone will love, given its raunchiness and its bombast. But for folks on its wavelength, there’s a ton to love here. To Stokely, Bonvillain, Cowles, Rossignol and Gillen I say this: make yourselves cupcakes with chainsaws folks, you’ve made wonderful comics here.
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