Disclaimer: This column is an opinion formed by an author who does not have an omniscient knowledge of comics. It also contains a fair number of spoilers for the titular comic.
Presumably by this point, most people know who Stephen Colbert is, and those who do not are advised to go look up some of his work online. As a brief summation though, Stephen Colbert is best known for his satirical news show, The Colbert Report, wherein he has previously featured the animated adventures of Tek Jansen. Jansen is a fictional hero who battles alongside the futuristic Alpha Squad Seven as a patriotic space freedom fighter who bears a strong resemblance to Colbert. Apparently, this series was popular enough to expand upon and since the premise of the character seemed perfect as the basis for a comic. Thus was born the Oni Press’s short series of Stephen Colbert’s Tek Jansen comic books. This review focuses on the Case Files, a collection of secondary stories released individually alongside the main issues.
The Case Files consist of five short stories that give the reader glimpses into more of the heroic exploits of Tek Jansen. The adventures are very short, no more than four pages each, but they are fairly entertaining and can usually manage to coax a few laughs out of the reader.
The Case Files have Jansen tackle all sorts of controversial situations that require delicate and deft maneuvering and subtle undercover work. More often than not, this involves a lot of punching, shooting, and an overabundance of patriotic enthusiasm. In the first story, “Horn Like Me,” Jansen goes undercover on a planet of haves (those with horns) and have-nots (those without horns) with orders to quietly help start a political party to bring about reform and give the hornless new opportunities to make themselves equal to their horned counterparts. Once Jansen infiltrates the horned society and is given a chance to meet their minister of race policy, he leaps into action with all the subtlety of an oncoming train and immediately throws a mind-control device onto the minister’s forehead in an effort to change his mind about the unfortunate souls born without horns. Amazingly, the plan works perfectly, uniting the two groups into a unified people, which then makes the planet a political and military threat, so Jansen blows it up as he leaves.
The second story, “Danger Express to Doom” shows Tek Jansen getting in a fight on a train with a villain from his past. The villain manages to knock Jansen out, but laughs as he reaches up and pulls off his and Jansen’s mask, revealing that both of them had been deep undercover, disguised as the other when they ran into each other by sheer coincidence.
The third tale, “Depth and the Maidens” pits Jansen against a race of underwater all-female mermaids, none of whom wear clothing, in order to obtain an energy crystal known as faponite. The mermaids refuse to let Jansen take any of the faponite and begin to use their feminine wiles and appeals to try and distract him. Jansen, however, thinking quickly, realizes that he can fight their feminine sexiness with his own masculine manliness and rips off his clothing, thus foiling the mermaids’ attempts to hinder his quest. After a brief struggle, he manages to grab some faponite and leaves as his superiors prepare to destroy the planet.
“Born to be Hyperwild” takes Jansen undercover once more, this time as a tough-guy space biker type in an attempt to infiltrate a major smuggling operation. Jansen manages to find the leader of the hyperbike gang causing all the trouble and is told that he must pass three tests in order to stay. Jansen knocks back some ferocious alcohol and wins an arm-wrestling contest with an alien twice his size with ease and accidentally runs into the other Alpha Squad operative while in the midst of the third test. When the gang leader walks in on the two talking, their cover is blown, but they manage to knock him out and obtain evidence of his crimes, leaving them free to ride off into the sunset on a hyperbike, free from both the shackles of society and clothing.
In the final tale, “A Matter of Intelligence,” Jansen finds himself doing some unauthorized spying on a fellow agent, only to discover that the agent is spying on him. Furious, Jansen shoots the surveillance equipment and rushes off to confront the spy. He follows a chain of spies and discovers that they, like himself, are all acting under the orders of their commander. They all head to the commander’s office to get some answers. She explains that this was a test of Alpha Squad’s surveillance capabilities and that she expects her agents to “watch and expect to be watched.” She then goes on to extol the virtues of being able to spy on private citizens and how much doing so helps galactic security. It appears that Jansen takes her words to heart, as the comic ends with him covertly planting a camera on his commander as he leaves, giving him the ability to spy on her at will.
The Case Files are pretty good. At four pages each, they’re short enough to keep any reader’s attention, yet they make good use of the small amount of space they have to tell interesting, though not complex, stories. Some of the adventures are good old-fashioned mindless fun with nothing more than a simple beat-’em-up plotline driving events. Others, despite their brevity, actually manage to get across some fairly poignant satire on topics ranging from the morality and consequences of interfering with foreign politics to the ethics of government-sanctioned surveillance. There are some clever lines in these stories that poke some subtle fun at affairs and issues seen in modern day politics as well as some not-so-subtle lines that are always good for a laugh at how blatantly they point out the discrepancies in some patriotic policies. The rest of the dialogue is fairly entertaining as well. Jansen is still as hard-headed and patriotic as ever, which leads to some great interaction and dialogue with the other characters he meets (though those interactions do tend to end in fist fights and/or an exploding planet).
The characters in these stories, particularly the background and side characters, are creative. There is a large variety of alien races featured in the files and in the context of this comic book universe, they all look believable, if not always particularly realistic. Though the brevity of Jansen’s interactions with these characters is understandable and fits the pacing and the tone of the stories, it would have been nice to get some more background on the minor characters in these adventures. It would have been interesting to hear some of the social history of the people of the planet of the horns and the hornless or read about the exploits of some of the members of the mutant hyperbike gang.
However, despite the natural thirst for information it creates, introducing the characters with nothing more than their perceived stereotypes actually works a lot better for the comics. It allows the stories to keep the fast pace their short length requires and it keeps things safely black and white for Jansen, thus ensuring that he never has to deal with any real moral quandaries and he can continue to protect the citizens of the galaxy by beating up as many of them as possible without any pesky crises of conscience.
The characters are well-designed too and often cool to look at. The artwork is good and is a little more cartoony and exaggerated than in the previous comics, which helps get ideas and actions across more clearly in these shorter stories. Body proportions are sometimes a little off, but not distractingly so and it often fits in fairly well with the cartoonish style of the rest of the book. The environments are nothing spectacular, but the characters are bright and colorful and drawn in such a way that every action can’t help but catch the reader’s eye.
This series is eye-catching. The colorful characters, artwork, and Stephen Colbert’s face serve as excellent ways to draw the interest of any who run across these comics. Readers will surely get some laughs out of the novelty of the series, but the comics have enough of a story to draw audiences in and keep them turning pages. The satire ranges from occasionally subtle to blatantly impossible to miss, but still manages to be funny and often fairly poignant throughout the series. The stories in both the Case Files and actual comic issues are self-contained and never seem to be trolling for sequel interest, but at the same time, they create a universe full of possibilities that could provide plenty of other stories, if given the chance.
Overall, the Tek Jansen comics are every bit as entertaining as one would expect a Stephen Colbert comic to be and while the comics are fine and dandy on their own, this reviewer will certainly not complain if more issues of the same quality are ever printed. Whether readers are fans of Colbert, comedy, comics, science fiction, or even if they hate comics or sci-fi, there are few audiences who would not find something they can enjoy within these stories. Start reading for the novelty and keep reading because these are quality comics that bring some good characters and great fun to the table.