Long-time readers of WORLD OF HURT know that I’m a tremendous fan of Jim Rugg and Brian Maruca’s explosive homage to Blaxploitation, Afrodisiac, and I’m always on the lookout for new Afrodisiac material. Well, with all apologies to Jim Brown, on December 23rd, “The Baddest Cat That Ever Walked The Earth” is coming to a comic shop near you in a graphic novel featuring the collected adventures of Afrodisiac. If you don’t know who Afrodisiac is, then I suggest you start here to find out.
Ever since I learned that Adhouse Books was publishing an Afrodisiac collection, I’d been itching to get my hands on a copy. Jim Rugg was kind enough to let me review an advance PDF copy of the book, and I wasn’t disappointed with what I found. Afrodisiac just gets badder and badder with each adventure! He not only defies gods, but the Devil and God himself…and wins.
The book collects Afrodisiac’s previously published appearances, such as the 6-page story “Shock-A-Con,” which was first seen in Adhouse’s Project: Superior, in one handy volume. It also includes, for the first time in color, the story “Punch Card Preach,” which was previously printed as a limited edition, black & white ashcan that Jim Rugg quickly sold out of during the 2007 convention season. The colors in “Punch Card Preach” are bright, bold, flat colors that pop off the page. Besides these stories, Rugg and Maruca also provides a wealth of new Afrodisiac material.
In short, I love the new material as much as the previously published stories. In “It’s Not The Size of The God In The Fight,” Afrodisiac has to bring a typically boisterous and cocky Hercules down to size. “Sting, Stang, Stud” pits Afrodisiac against federal law enforcement officials who want to bring down Wilkesborough’s Number One Pimp. They are reluctantly joined by local cops who know how foolhardy it is to underestimate Afrodisiac’s cunning, and particularly his appeal with the ladies. Watch out for a sight gag featuring Afrodisiac pimp some Dan DeCarlo-esque girls from Riverdale in “Night Of The Monster Cock-roach.” The joke is made funnier by the fact that the very next panel is a prosaic shot of Death-mackin’, Devil-fightin’, lady-charmin’ Afrodisiac going over his accounting ledgers wearing a pair of granny glasses. In “Night Of The Monster Cock-roach” rushes to save one of his hookers, 72, from the clutches of a giant insect rampaging through the streets of Afrodisiac’s hometown of Wilkesborough. Rugg does a magnificent job of capturing the feeling of a monster movie with “Cock-roach,” particularly in sequence where Afrodisiac slowly and steadily pushes his car against the human tide fleeing from the creature. Also, I might add that not only is Afrodisiac nice with his hands, but his “car-fu” technique is unstoppable. I have to admit that the manner in which Afrodisiac extricates himself and 72 from their plight is a bit of a groaner, and the only off-note in the series, but Rugg and Maruca save the story from an overly cute, saccharine ending by having the ever-pragmatic pimp immediately put 72 back on the street to pay for her rescue.
As fun as “Night of The Monster Cock-roach” is, Rugg and Maruca save their most impressive storytelling for the short tale, “Death Comes For Afrodisiac.” The title alone is brilliant, because the entire story (and I mean the ENTIRE story) is conveyed in those four simple words. And what a story it is! Rugg and Maruca cleverly play with elements of time, page design and layout to shatter the fourth wall, and deliver a satisfying story with a whopper of a conclusion, that reminded me of the stunning conclusion to Grant Morrison’s Seven Soldiers Of Victory mini-series where the “spear” thrown at the Dawn Of History lands at just the right time and place millennia later to defeat a feared enemy. Speaking of Morrison, the coda to “Death Comes For Afrodisiac” features one of those those marvelous Kirby-esque/Grant Morrisonian throwaway ideas that suggests a world of possibilities and an infinite number of stories which just beg to be written. The non-story extras in this compilation have a similar quality. Rugg’s mock covers and illustrations pull in the reader by suggesting a lot of world-building that occurs along the margins. They spark the reader’s interest, while still letting their imagination do much of the heavy lifting to fill in the gaps. For instance, I’ve now got it in my head that I NEED to see a) the full story of Afrodisiac vs. the Jim Kelly-esque Dragonfly story, and b) a real live Afrodisiac Saturday morning cartoon.
Finally, be on the lookout for the return of a familiar epithet used by Marvel Comics’ resident Hero For Hire. Coming from Afrodisiac’s lips, the much-maligned phrase somehow becomes cool. If you’re a fan of Blaxploitation, you definitely can’t go wrong with the collected Afrodisiac. Anyone who finds this book under their tree this year will definitely be in for a “Sweet Christmas!”
(NOTE: Jim Rugg recently released another non-Blaxploitation graphic novel, One Model Nation, which was reviewed by my Blog@Newsarama colleague, J. Caleb Mozzocco for this week’s edition of Las Vegas Weekly. Caleb also runs a great daily comic-related blog of his own, and it’s a daily online destination for me.)