Thursday , February 22 2024
A reissued collection of comic stories blends monsters and legal dramedy to humorous and satiric effect.

Graphic Fiction Review: The Soddyssey and Other Tales of Supernatural Law by Batton Lash

Now that Boston Legal has officially closed its offices, where can the lover of ludicrous legal dramedy go for their fix of outrageous cases and sophistic arguments? Allow me to recommend Batton Lash's Supernatural Law. A long-running indy humor comic and current webcomic, Lash's series centers on an unlikely pair of lawyers, Alanna Wolff and Jeff Byrd, as these "Counselors of the Macabre" go about the day-to-day of defending literal monsters in court. Even long legetty beasties, it seems, need competent legal representation in these litigious times.

Collecting eight early issues of Lash's comic, The Soddysessy and Other Tales of Supernatural Law (Exhibit A Press), takes on the cause of vampires, swamp creatures, a rotting corpse who wants to sue the IRS – and other otherwordly denizens. In "Bad Blood," for instance, the counselors travel down to New Orleans to side with the vampire in a property dispute between Dracula and the popular horror writer Ayn Wrice. (The latter is written as a blend of the Interview with A Vampire and Atlas Shrugged authors, though Lash doesn't take this promising idea as far as he could.) In "The Littlest Loup Garou," cartoonist Lash imagines infamous big-eyed painter Walter Keene as a portrait-painting werewolf whose artistic powers only come to the fore when there's a full moon. As with his real-life counterpart, the lycanthropic artist gets challenged to a paint-off against his wife – to amusing results.

Our title leads don't always take the monsters' side, of course. In "Guardian Angels and Personal Injuries," they argue for a guardian angel sued for being insufficiently protective of his clumsy charge. Said angel resembles the late great Jack Benny, so Lash pulls in a variety of refs to the comedian. (Yup, there's a Horn Blows at Midnight joke.) And in one of the volume's more satirically daring outings, the legal eagles argue for a Pennsylvania housewife who is bearing Satan's unborn. Having learned that her husband has sold his soul to the Devil so the childless couple can have progeny, she strives to have her pregnancy terminated – only to have her soulless husband refuse to give his consent. In the ensuing court proceedings, Wolff & Byrd wind up calling Satan himself to the stands, in an attempt to trip the Prince of Lies over the terms of his contract.

Takes a lot of comic chutzpah to wring jokes from the hyper-emotional abortion debate, but Lash succeeds. The story's narration is the key – with freckle-faced client Rosemary Austin delivering her weepy exposition to the reader in the comically overwrought style of Silver Age romance comics. (At one point, lawyer Byrd has to shush her for delivering narration while his partner gives her opening argument.) In the story's most trenchant plot turn, the town's rabid Christian conservatives side with a local Satanist church against Ro's decision. The former do so out of anti-abortion agenda, the latter because they want to see the Spawn of Satan brought into the world. Though purportedly at odds with each other, the two extremist groups prove to be more alike in practice than either would openly admit.

A variation on this satiric plot point also crops up in "Sodd, We Hardly Knew Ye," where our lawyering twosome define a Swamp Thing-like creature from both a band of self-proclaimed "eco terra-ists" and a paramilitary survivalist group. Utterly convinced of their rightness, both groups think nothing of tromping on poor Sodd in the name of individual freedom. In both cases, it's the ideologues who turn out to be less humane than any of Supernatural Law's monsters.

Not all of Wolff & Byrd's cases are as loaded with political portent, however. Some are just plain goofy in the manner of a lightweight Twilight Zone episode. In "The Man Who Had His Own Personal Laugh Track," for instance, a flop stand-up comic is victim of a gypsy curse that provides an invisible laugh track to his every utterance. His counselors get the curse removed, only to have the loudmouth jokester bring an even worse curse down on his head.

As lawyers, Wolff & Byrd come across as more convincing than the affectation-laden attorneys of Crane, Poole & Schmidt, though Lash's attempts at humanizing his workaholic leads with romantic entanglements are arguably the weakest part of the series. More enjoyable are the occasional snippets devoted to the firm's spunky secretary Mavis, who Lash renders with the wide-eyed, full-faced cuteness of an Archie Comics girl/woman. Mavis has deservedly received her own series of one-issue spin-offs, which hopefully will themselves get collected in a trade pb. collection one day. She provides a much needed emotional counterpoint to her usually unflappable bosses.

Lash's artwork in this b-&-w collection is sure and evocative: conjuring up fifties horror comics on one page, then going for romance comics on the next. In the stand-up story, he even opens with a full-page panel replicating the brush lines and layout of Mad comics creator Harvey Kurtzman. In the concluding Sodd story, Lash and his wife/editor Jackie Estrada go one better by enlisting the services of five comics artists who themselves have drawn swampy characters (among them, original Swamp Thing artist Bernie Wrightson) for a series of proposed movie posters showcasing the exploited Sodd. "We didn't have this much trouble with our Gary Busey docudrama," one of the would-be producers of the Sodd film states after rejecting all five posters. "His attorneys weren't Wolff and Byrd!" one of his cohorts replies.

Long may they litigate.

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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