I started watching Hero Envy a year ago. I’d call it a guilty pleasure, but aren’t they all when related to geek culture? It is, however, one of those guilty pleasures I try to pass on to other people. Take a look at some episodes via the link above and come back to read more.
The comparisons to Kevin Smith’s film work are inevitable, but I think original cast members Mike Hopta, Keith Gleason, John Cimino and Kurt Loether have more personality than most of Smith’s dialogue-laden drones. The cast and writers definitely know how to quirk up what could have been stock nerd stereotypes: Hopta as Wally the suffering straight man/comics geek, Cimino as the musclebound cartoon junkie man-child JD, Loether as Orson the Star Trek fan striving for logic where often the stories avoid it, and Gleason as Dekker, the horror fan with a sweetly disturbing man crush for J.D. Gleason also doubles as VJ personality Tommy Swass.
Originally written by Hopta and Gleason for twenty-so episodes under the production company Glint of Hope, the series started to move in a different and exciting direction (helped no doubt by longer, improved work and additional cast like contributing writer and actor Efrain Martinez). Then things got derailed due to creative differences. Hopta and Loether departed, leaving Cimino, Gleason and Martinez reforming as Reckless Sidekick Productions, picking up where the plot left off with “The Swass Adventures.”
It’s a little sad to watch the “Swass” films given the chemistry that went on before and is going to be difficult to recreate. I talked with Gleason at the recent Boston Comicon, where he answered some behind the scene questions and agreed with me that it was hard for the characters to soldier on with no straight men to bounce off on. While a reconciliation/reunion does not seem to be in the cards, the remaining group is considering recruiting new actors. Until then, the group continues to produce the monthly “Swass-Cast” (a video podcast on pop culture) and writing the Hero Envy comic.
Hero Envy the comic is a curious object. For fans of the original series, it could be the only chance for anything resembling an original cast reunion (Hopta and Loether aren’t in the book but the characters they played are). For fans of indie culture and the small press, the book is a look at writer Gleason (getting plot and scripting help from Cimino and Martinez but otherwise being the main creative force) as he struggles to improve his craft, even going as far as changing the interior artist midway through this three issue limited series.
Fellow Cast member Tom Rebello (who plays J.D.’s imaginary friend El Diablo) designed the cartoony look of the characters long ago. He is great with caricature but as the artist in issue #1, the characters seem far less animated, which is problematic when you’re dealing with such animated figures like J.D. (what, you haven’t clicked to see an episode yet?)
Enter seasoned artist Jorge Pacheco, who takes Rebello’s look for the characters and mixes a style reminiscent of Sergio Aragonés. At times the two styles seem like a rough mix, but it blends better towards the end. Pacheco’s Kirby homage on the last page makes you look forward to the third issue. Meanwhile, contributing Rob Osborne soldiers on telling the history of El Diablo, also written by Gleason and done in a style that evokes the old mini-origin stories of Marvel in the 60’s and 70’s.
I’m less into the book’s plot as the main characters help U-Toob The Pointer (now with his own Facebook page) to thwart the evil extraterrestrial force known El Moco-Conpan (if there’s a pun here, it escapes me), who has merged with Tommy Swass. I’m much more into the interaction between established characters, the cameos of past guest stars, and Gleason as he starts to open up to taking advantages of bringing Hero Envy into the comics medium, adding gore, action and other sequences impossible for a small film budget. Will Dekker meet Tommy Swass? It’s probably the only time it will happen.v What keeps me coming back to Reckless Sidekick is their visible evolution. Gleason and company continue to keep move forward with their concepts. The book is far from a perfect read as the transition from film to comics is being made, but If given enough encouragement to soldier on (y’know, like actually buying the comics), the book could keep coming back after this series ends, and DIY fanboys like myself can continue to see it leap from strength to strength.