I have a new review up on basementjockeys. Be sure to stop by, or just follow the link:
UPDATE: Basement Jockey’s is no longer in existence. Below is the reproduction of my original review of Garth Ennis’ The Pro.
Garth Ennis’ “The Pro” is one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. Not just the funniest comic, or the funniest superhero spoof, but one of the funniest things; “The Pro” is right up there with Catch-22, “The Literary Crimes of James Fennimore Cooper,” and freaking Tartuffe.
For those of you who’ve never heard of this, here’s a brief synopsis: “Pro” refers to the main character, a young prostitute and single mother, who holds a day job at Denny’s. Her life is shit, until one day, an alien with cosmic powers and questionable hobbies known as “The Viewer” gives her super-powers, in order to prove that any human is capable of becoming a hero. Soon after Pro’s discovery of her new powers, she is greeted by The League of Honor; whose members include The Saint (Superman), The Knight (Batman) and his sidekick the squire (Robin), Speedo (the Flash), The Lady (Wonder Woman, or any other busty, solo female character on a super-team), and—best of all—The Lime (a token-black Green Lantern). After assuring her that she’ll receive a considerable amount of money for her trouble, our protagonist agrees to join the League. From there, she engages in a number of hysterical taboos; such as raising her streetwalking profit by giving super speed blow jobs, publicly humiliating the Saint, and—to quote the Knight—“urinat[ing] over a vanquished foe on the floor of the United Nations! In full view of the assembled ambassadors!” Still, the Pro does manage to become a true hero by the end of this short graphic novel; in an unexpected way, considering the joviality before this climax.
There’s been talk of a “The Pro” movie; Jimmy Palmiotti (who inked the comic and did most of its marketing) said he wanted Sarah Silverman to play the lead. Whispers could be heard about Natalie Portman possibly producing it; if nothing else, there’s an animated short . . . to be found on YouTube. Nothing has borne “The Pro” any real fruit in terms of film, though it would be a fairly easy movie to make. Yet Ennis’ ongoing series The Boys (a sort of post-cursor to “The Pro”) is currently in pre-production. There are several reasons why a studio might choose to make The Boys into a movie over “The Pro”: The Boys is an ongoing series, which could mean more movies and more money; The Boys is a popular series, which means more people would want to see the movie; The Boys, by proxy of being a series, has a more developed plot and more developed characters than “The Pro,” which has some intentionally two-dimensional characters; The Boys might be considered less . . . actually, no, both comics are really offensive. But a definite reason could also be that The Boys handles the subject matter and critique of superheroes and their genre in a more serious light than does “The Pro.” While The Boys certainly has funny parts, this series delves into some serious, human issues that “The Pro,” as a comedy, only grazes on. (Though, again, The Boys has far more space to work with.) It comes down to this, then: “The Pro” is a comedy and The Boys is not. And the general consensus seems to be that non-comedy is better than comedy.
This is going to sound stupidly oxymoronic, but people don’t take comedy seriously. This isn’t to say that by laughing or finding comedy amusing (as you should), people aren’t taking it seriously. I mean to say that people don’t take comedy as an art form seriously; they think comedy has no greater purpose other than to amuse. Think about it: how many comedic movies have ever been up for Oscars? How many comedic books were you asked to read in high school? We have this belief that comedy, by way of being comedy, can’t be or isn’t as good as something “serious” like drama. Like art with a humorous tone can’t be as smart, or meaningful, or discerning, as something with a serious tone. As if The Things They Carry somehow better portrays and expresses the horror and insanity of war than Catch-22, simply because the former is less silly and less amusing. As if “The Literary Crimes of James Fennimore Cooper” will give less insight on how to write well than an essay on grammar because Twain’s review isn’t dry. Or as if The Crucible somehow shows the dangers of fanaticism and piety better than Tartuffe because The Crucible has innocent people being hanged and tortured while Tartuffe has people speaking in rhyme and trying to get laid. Comedy literally was just a story with a happy ending—not insignificant, just happy. According to Dryden, humor and wit are tools to “delightfully instruct” people on what they or their society is doing wrong, in a way that won’t hurt feelings too much, so the critique can be better received. So why do we act like comedy can’t teach us anything, like the rest of art can?
Let’s return to “The Pro,” which was left holding the bag one very long paragraph ago. It might sound silly to suggest that this comic—which is about a prostitute teaming up with a bunch of goody-two-shoe superheroes—could have something more to offer than humor. But I think it does. Like all comedy (or all good comedy), “The Pro” can point to dangers in society without offending its audience too much, because it’s funny. With “The Pro” Ennis points to the dangers of hero worship, idealism, and the escapism offered by entertainment (in particular that of superhero comics) by showing us how ridiculous these ideas actually are when they’re exposed.
That could be enough, but Ennis goes a step further. At one point our Pro begins to butt heads with the rest of the superheroes. Taken out of the humorous context, her arguments are not just good but fairly serious:
“You goofs, whatever it is you think you’re doing, you are no use to this world at all. You are a lousy example to people, you are not the kind of heroes they need, and you have nothing to do with the reality they have to live in.
Ennis gives us a harsh but valid argument here. Should we be taking solace in fake superheroes? Why do we look up to these fictional heroes, whose impossibility stems not from their powers but the ability of a human being to live up to their moral code? Ennis uses his title character as the mouthpiece to ask these questions and make these points—which might get overlooked simply because “The Pro” is a comedy.
Ennis develops these arguments and further explores the dangers of super-heroism in The Boys, which is thus far an amazing series worth your time to read. But I kind of feel like Ennis just as effectively made his argument in less than sixty pages of “The Pro,” and now he’s just expanding it.
Whether you’re reading it for a laugh (which are plentiful to find) or you’re looking for a sarcastic critique on superhero comics, “The Pro” is worth a read, and definitely deserves more attention and credibility than it has so far received.