Armagideon Time

Though Marvel (through its Epic Comics imprint) was quick to exploit the creative potential provided by the emerging dominance of the direct market distribution model, DC was a little slower on the draw when it came to exploring the possibilities for slickly produced and sophisticated funnybook fare not beholden to the strictures of CCA censors.

The company’s initial trickle of product (i.e. Camelot 3000, Ronin, Thriller and a few graphic novel releases) turned into a full on torrent during the latter half of the 1980s after the dynamic duo of Dark Knight Returns and Watchmen met with unprecedented critical and commercial success. Fortified with the foolish overconfidence that follows a double lighting strike, DC sought to extend its winning steak by greenlighting a host of half-assed vanity projects.

The vast majority of these efforts sunk without so much as generating a ripple of audience interest, thanks to the brutal calculus of imitation-based economics where scores of lesser contenders must compete for space in the dark chill of an inspirational shadow. Not only was there simply too much product for the marketplace to absorb, but most of the material was mediocre drek. An audience won over by top-tier creators doing groundbreaking work cannot be sustained by some fantasy/sci-fi boilerplate gussied up with a lurid “mature readers” makeover.

The various products of the boom have long since vanished down the memory hole, delegated to the hazy limbo of quarter bins, vaguely remembered house ads, or footnotes on an up-an-coming (or declining) talent’s biblography. Does anyone else recall Outlaws? Tailgunner Jo? Slash Maraud?

When one of these efforts does resurface in fandom’s collective memory, it’s typically for reasons which have little to do with the actual quality of the book…

…as is the case of Sonic Disruptors.

When the 1987 “maxiseries” pops up as a subject of geeky conversation, odds are it’s either in reference to the laughably hokey house ads plastered across other DC titles during that era or — more likely — the fact that DC took the then-unprecedented step of pulling the plug after the seventh issue of its planned twelve-issue run.

“The miniseries that got cancelled halfway through” is a tough rep to live down, and Sonic Disruptors has become a legend in the annals of terrible funnybooks. Like most legends, however, the knowledge of the comic’s awfulness is more received than empirical.

Don’t get me wrong — it is exceptionally bad — but it’s the type of bad that has to be experienced to be fully appreciated.

“The United States Army versus the United States of ROCK” declares the ready-made-for-mockery tagline, though it only reflects a smallest sliver of the insanity which unfolds through Sonic Disruptors‘ abbreviated run.

The tale is a futuristic period-piece set in a 2030 extrapolated by mid-1980s anxieties about the Moral Majority, PMRC, and Reagan Era militarism. The United States has become a fundamentalist Christian dictatorship ruled by a collection of one-dimensional stock caricatures! Rock’n’roll has been outlawed and a satellite-based pirate radio station (and hydroponic weed farm) run by the uber-hip Shiek Rattle Enroll (yes, I know) and his zany crew of counterculture misfits fight the good fight by namedropping acceptable cool artists and song names!

As groanworthy as that concept summary sounds, it did have the the barest fixings for some facile high concept parody. If Sonic Disruptors held to that throughline (and maybe trimmed it down to a more managable four to six issues), it could have went down as a forgettable bit of fluff — kind of like a Mad Magazine spoof of Gimme a Break, a satiric moment frozen in amber.

Instead readers (in the hypothetical sense, I mean) were treated to a bizarre fever dream which expanded the narrative to include asides about Red China and outlaw rock festivals and magic guitars and a celebrity impersonator robot and tax exile genre-based micronations for musicians even as central characters and plot points were actively ignored or simply bumped aside.

The relationship between writer and reader is based on trust, the trust that the former isn’t wasting the latter’s time. It’s bad enough when a reader gets the sense that the writer is running up the fare by looping around the block (yeah, I’m looking at you, Kirkman), but it’s even worse when you realize that the driver hasn’t a damn clue where they’re supposed to be going.

A reasonable amount of wheelspinning can be acceptable in an ongoing series where readers’ expectations boil down to something like “seeing Batman do Batmanny things.” However, if you’ve hit the halfway mark in a twelve issue mini and have yet to define the principal characters and the predicaments which have befallen them, then it’s pretty clear things have gone off terminally off the rails. (Mike Baron, an otherwise solid writer, has stated that he was pretty much winging it with Sonic Disruptors and the decision to kill the series was a mutual one.)

“It’s better to burn out than to fade away.” Not if it means recording a jingoistic anthem in the wake of 9/11 and certainly not if it means becoming synonymous with an unmitigated funnybook disaster…which is why Sonic Disruptors has gone to top of this week’s Nobody’s Favorite charts.

Related posts:

  1. Nobody’s Favorites: Realm of confusion
  2. Nobody’s Favorites: Slaughterhouse jive
  3. Nobody’s Favorites: Something to a void

18 Responses to “Nobody’s Favorites: Left off the dial”

  1. Jim Kosmicki

    probably says more about me than i want to admit, but I did not hate this series. It was no surprise to find out that not only was Mike Baron winging it, but he was also apparently high while writing it. But that gave it a sort of Axe Cop “what the hell will happen next” feeling. I like that it never finished, as there was no throughpoint or theme to begin with…

    One of my favorite of the “new ideas” series that you discuss at the beginning of the piece was Electric Warrior – that needs to be reprinted, since it is standalone and comes to a conclusion.

  2. Adam Tyner

    Gotta admit, Jim, I’m right there with you. I only made it through the first two issues, and…I can’t even guess how I wound up with those, but they’re just fascinatingly ridiculous. I’ve always meant (and always forgotten) to dig through quarter bins at comic shows to see if I could find the rest of the book’s run, but maybe that “…the hell?” absurdity wears thin after the point where I’d gotten.

    I wonder how those two lonely issues would read now if I were to give them another look. (It feels like it hasn’t been *that* long since I re-read them, but I bet it’s been at least 12 years…yikes.)

    I’d love to see a writeup of the Epic book Video Jack which, for some reason, I always think of as the similarly insane video-centric sister book to Sonic Disruptors. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen *anyone* write anything about that series, but it’s one I remember really loving once upon a time.

  3. bitterandrew

    Did someone say Video Jack?

    http://www.comicpunx.com/?p=230

    (I keep meaning to write more about it, but never found the time.)

  4. Frank

    I second that Video Jack nomination. I only ever read one “the hell” issue. Then again, you could probably devote a few months just to off-brand unfinished Giffen projects (March Hare, Dominion, etc.)

    I liked looking at Slash Maraud. The story? There was a story?

    I’ve somehow managed nearly a quarter century without reading any Sonic Disruptors, and that’s how I like it.

  5. Chris Gumprich

    Andrew, I was sure you had already done this one… I must have mixed it up with something else, but damn, nothing else compares.

    “Does anyone else recall Outlaws?”

    Yes. Nothing deep, pretty predictable, but I enjoyed it.

  6. Sir A1!

    I love Nexus and Mike Baron but it seems outside of that (and the first twenty or so issues of Badger up to and including the HexBreaker graphic novel and his Nexus guest apperances) his others runs have either dated badly (The Punisher) or flat out sucked (Sonic Disruptors, the Zoomtown back-ups in Nexus, and those Epic comics mini-series, The Grackle and too many others to mention).

  7. bitterandrew

    Baron also did a fine job helming Atari Force through the anticlimatic stretch leading up to the series’ satisfying conclusion, but you make a valid point.

  8. Rockie Bee

    Wow. ‘Sonic Disruptors.’ Named for a throwaway gadget from a Batman/Man-Bat Power Records book and record. That just looks….terrible!

  9. Tom Hartley

    Looks like we’ve found a back-up band for Dazzler.

  10. Old Bull Lee

    From your description of this series, it sounds like Trent Reznor just ripped it off and changed the time period for his Year Zero album.

    When I was young I remember seeing those Slash Maraud ads and thought it looked like the coolest thing ever. I managed to find a couple of issues in a quarter bin. Of all the comics I’ve read, I think they were the ones I had to struggle the most with just to get through.

  11. John Roberson

    >>From your description of this series, it sounds like Trent Reznor just ripped it off and changed the time period for his Year Zero album.

    Or Baron ripped it off from Styx’ KILROY WAS HERE, if you prefer, and I can imagine nothing more damning.

  12. Steven E. McDonald

    Actually, I think the roots of it go back to a Hawkwind/Michael Moorcock/Michael Butterworth project — The Time Of The Hawklords, which is equally as psychotic as Sonic Disruptors.

  13. Brimstone

    Everything I try to write has this plot

  14. Brimstone

    also, Sonic Reducer is a great song

  15. bitterandrew

    FUN FACT:

    When I was laid up with a raging fever a few years back, the lines “I’ll be a pharaoh soon/rule from some golden tomb” looped in my skull as I shivered and shook in my bed.

    Ever hear Decry’s cover of the song?

  16. John Roberson

    @Steven E. McDonald On that note, did Moorcock ever do anything that doesn’t sound like a hideous Spinal Tap progressive album?

  17. LCB

    I have kind of liked some of Baron’s other work, including “The Grackle” – though it was produced during that brief period when people were trying to cash in on the popularity of Sin City with their own lurid crime/noir comics, which produced some real “winners” worth dissection the most blatant of which was the Valiant title “Armed and Dangerous”.

  18. Tony Goins

    I have always wondered about this comic. It’s eerie, I’ve seen a thousand house ads for it, but I’ve never actually come across an actual issue.

    I’ve read most of Slash Maraud, and thought it was a hoot. Any chance you’ll be covering Metalzoic any time soon?

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