The One, written and illustrated by Rick Veitch (1985-86; this edition 2003): Veitch’s satiric look at superheroes in a quasi-realistic (though blackly comic) setting predated such better-known, similar offerings like Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns by several months in the mid-1980’s. It’s an unjustly neglected entry in this sub-sub-genre of comic books, alternately funny and heart-felt.
“Itchy” Itch, a leprous parody of Richie Rich all grown up, starts World War Three as a means to make a lot of money and hopefully seize control of pretty much all the world’s financial markets. But things aft gang agley. He doesn’t expect a nuclear exchange between the USSR and USA, and he really doesn’t expect nuclear explosions to be neutralized — and perhaps transformed — by…something.
Traumatized by their inability to properly wage war, the USSR and the USA unleash their super-secret superheroes on the world. But why did a portion of the world’s population fall asleep at the moment the bombs were supposed to go off? Who is the mysterious figure known as The One? And who or what is The Other?
The One fires away at such targets as mutually assured destruction and realpolitik, American consumerism and Soviet hypocrisy, greed and the will to power. It does so with a fair amount of humour, not all of it black, and an ending that manages to combine catastrophe and eucatastrophe into a pleasing, thought-provoking mix. Like the battles in Alan Moore’s Miracleman/Marvelman, the conflict between the American and Soviet superbeings causes mass death and destruction: when gods cry ‘War’, humans suffer.
But humanity’s hope lies in its own superiority to these clashing behemoths, its own ability to change or die.
Exhilarating and off-beat, The One suffers only from typos and annoying substitutions for swear words that remain from when it was originally published by Epic Comics, an adult division of Marvel that nonetheless discouraged strong language (but not violence or nudity — What the H?). If I never read another character saying ‘Mothershuking!’, it will be too soon. Nonetheless, that’s a quibble. Highly recommended.