(Originally published in Issue #1 of Cobalt Magazine at Warwick University, released in May 2014. Read that version here, on pages 76-77.)
One day I found Homestar Runner. It was some point in 2008 when the ridiculously named Strong Bad’s Cool Game for Attractive People rolled up on the WiiWare store, featuring people with no arms but twice as much leg to compensate, a depressed rhino with a droopy condom for a face and a Mexican wrestler with boxing gloves for hands. Given how completely dumb and stupid it was I totally loved it, and then proceeded to find the website and watch every single episode in the space of about a month. However it was during one of the Halloween episodes, in which characters dress up as pop culture references as they tend to do in cartoon web series, that I discovered today’s topic, allowing this ridiculous chain of mildly irrelevant filler to end.
Pom-Pom, a sort of giant spherical pimp that speaks like a drowning bubble bath, was dressed in more yellow than usual with a splintery heart logo and a bad case of heterochromia. For some reason I liked the marginally changed colour scheme enough to try and find where it came from. Lo and behold, I discovered Scud: The Disposable Assassin, a tongue in cheek 90s comic book written and illustrated by Rob Schrab that’s even more completely fucking nuts than Homestar Runner, only with blood and sex and swearing and all that other stuff that 13 year olds think is the best thing ever.
This is where I should probably try and sum up the plot, and also the point where you’ll either love Scud instantly or completely hate it. You might be one of those irritating people who don’t form opinions until they’ve fully experienced the thing in question, in which case stop reading this, go away and do more popular things like partying or dogging.
Have they gone? Good. Now then.
The general plot is that of a vending machine robot assassin who realises that he’ll self-destruct upon killing his target, so instead of killing the mouse trap handed, plug headed monstrosity with an octopus strapped to its stomach that only talks in film quotes from mouths on its knees (I warned you) he amputates the thing four times and goes off on merry adventures with a sack of zips with infinite storage space, a sexy lady with a robot fetish and an undead Satanist Ben Franklin. Oh yeah, and the monster is female and called Jeff, because there wasn’t enough bat-shit in the room already.
Of course that description barely does the actual events any justice, as the freelance assassin setup allows for completely non-sequitur plotlines that attempt to remain as sane as Hyacinth Bucket visiting Bransholme council estate. One sees them visit a beach undergoing a live recreation of an 80s slasher film, while during another they travel to a planet of deaf people that only communicate via lip reading, leaving the mouthless Scud at a mild disadvantage.
Anything that was put into Scud was put in simply because it would be cool to see. Would it be cool to see a high security prison assassination gone wrong? Yes, put it in. Would it be cool to see a Shakespearean werewolf in space? Of course, in it goes. Would it be cool to somehow weasel heaven and hell in to a story about sentient robots, Voodoo and dinosaurs? By God definitely. None of it has to make sense, this particular universe doesn’t give three gerbils bollocks about making sense, as long as it’s entertaining and even more crackers than Wallace and Gromit’s cupboard it’ll be in there somewhere.
As a whole it’s much more of a series than a serial, and the completely unhinged nature of it makes each story wildly unpredictable. Maybe unpredictable in a nonsensical, left field way, written by a man who apparently had one too many Jelly Babies while watching endless reruns of Gundam Wing, but he still manages to fit all of this insanity into a story that works and feels cohesive. The tone is somewhere between John Woo, Deadpool and Noel Fielding, and so an almighty knowing wink is aimed at the reader every time anything happens at all, not least of all in the action sequences.
This brings me neatly to the art. Scud was printed entirely in black and white, which might seem like a negative but gives it a very distinct flavour. It’s obvious that the artist was not trained by a massive studio or took a lengthy art course; the whole comic was initially an attempt to win over a potential girlfriend, and his ability to simply draw cool things happening shows through. The quality of each page gradually increases as the series goes on, even sometimes over the course of a single issue, and the actual design of the main character alters dramatically further down the line. Smooth clinical shapes are replaced by fluid lines, giving the thing an incredible sense of pace and motion.
Of course, not being an experienced professional in the field has its drawbacks, and there are occasionally whole pages that don’t look quite right, as if each third of the page was drawn when under the influence of a different illegal drug with a bored monkey telling him the panel layout in semaphore, but it still has a charm of its own. The plot has such a devil-may-care attitude that the occasionally wonky drawing just seems to fit, just like the shite grammatical ability in this review.
Given the complete chaos that seems to happen on each page it’s remarkable that most of the characters don’t get lost in the background, which is mainly down to the visual designs. As mentioned earlier, the main threat Jeff is a fever dream of a creation, a being that makes less than zero sense and could be played for laughs, but is instead genuinely terrifying. Whole sections are dedicated to her monster movie rampages, playing out like she’s Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers and not something stitched together by the bastard child of Drs Frankenstein and Seuss.
Scud himself is a very simple character, essentially a thin yellow mannequin with a cylinder for a head, which makes him both memorable and visually flexible given his tendency to slip into Matrix gunfights and Stallone one-liners. Even minor supporting characters are visually recognisable, like the giraffe with a Roomba for a head, or a huge muscled freak with smiley faces for nipples and an industrial crusher where his mouth should be. Now that I think about it, a lot of the characters are just things with other unrelated things replacing part of their head, like what Wayne Rooney did with his hair.
Aside from that the whole story isn’t particularly long; only 24 issues with the last 4 being rather short semi-issues, completed over a decade after the previous 20. That’s a lot of crazy to pack in to such a short time frame, and Schrab somehow goes overboard on the number of bizarre characters, elaborate plots and entertaining backgrounds, which is impressive given he was the only person working on it. The short, sharp burst of mental is refreshing to read, and is one of my favourite ever comic books. It helped shape how I draw, how I write and how I speak, and that’s definitely not because I am easily influenced by things resembling a Tarantino drug trip. Highly recommended.