Long before everyone’s childhood was ruined by the Internet, a few things were still sacrosanct. Chief among these was Peanuts, Charles Schulz’s ode to childhood fears, failure, and disappointment. Schulz never sugar-coated childhood; never romanticized it. He remembered it for what it really was: Nasty, brutish, and short. Like Linus’ pumpkin patch, it was sincere.
Cartoonist Jason Yungbluth remembers childhood, too. In his introduction to Weapon Brown—a massive compendium that collects the stories A Peanut Scorned and Blockhead’s War, written and drawn between 2002 and 2012—Yungbluth recalls growing up in Ronald Reagan’s America under the perceived threat of nuclear annihilation. Yungbluth posits that the daily reminder of nuclear war’s inevitability led popular culture to imagine all the possible ways the world could end and what might happen after. He name-checks pop-culture milestones like The Day After, The Road Warrior, and A Boy and His Dog.
Yungbluth also recalls Peanuts, especially the holiday specials, which were fatalistic in their own right. Weapon Brown is the unholy offspring of these two influences. It brings us an adult Charlie Brown, muscled and sporting a cyborg arm, who spends his lonely life killing his way through the wasteland following the Last War, with only his loyal pooch for company.
The first chapter of the story, A Peanut Scorned, ran as a feature in Yungbluth’s off-color indie humor comic Deep Fried. While well-executed, it is a fairly typical Mad-style parody compared to what follows. Yungbluth (whose work frequently appears in the pages of Mad, incidentally) convincingly marries the familiar Schulz characters—Schroeder, Linus, Lucy, Peppermint Patty—to the concept of a grim-visaged, muscle-bound killing machine hunting for the people who have kidnapped his Red-Haired lover. It hits all the beats of the dystopian revenge fantasy, while working in winking references to classic Schulz gags: Lucy is a cruel dominatrix who conditioned Weapon Brown by pulling a football away every time he tried to kick it. Linus leads a doomsday cult that seeks to summon a Cthulu-like vegetable god from a pumpkin patch. Not only does it work, A Peanut Scorned established Yungbluth as an up-and-coming talent and made his work a cult favorite, especially online where it inspired numerous imitators.
Begun nearly a decade later, Blockhead’s War—the storyline that takes up the beagle’s share of this volume—fulfills the promise of Yungbluth’s earlier work. Not only has his art matured, Yungbluth has evolved into a top-notch storyteller. Where A Peanut Scorned made the most of its limited premise, Blockhead’s War is a work of demented genius. In the process of telling a solid story, Yungbluth manages to work in references to just about every newspaper strip ever created. Among the villains are versions of Doonesbury’s Uncle Duke, the King of Id, Dick Tracy’s Pruneface, Mary Worth, and Dilbert’s Pointy-Haired Boss. Among the heroes are avatars of Little Orphan Annie, Prince Valiant, Huey and Riley from The Boondocks, as well as Blondie, Dagwood, and Popeye the Sailor. The background is bursting with familiar and unfamiliar faces (fortunately, Yungbluth thoughtfully includes an appendix in which he identifies most of the bit parts and clarifies some of the more obscure references).
For a comics fan, the book is a trainspotter’s delight. You’ll reread it dozens of times to identify every character. Some of the gags are so subtle that you might miss them the first time around. Not mere parody, Blockhead’s War rises to the level of satire, wryly commenting on the form as Yungbluth deconstructs it. For the Big Boss Battle, Weapon Brown confronts a younger, more brutal version of himself: the next generation of Killing Machine, as it were. His code-name is CAL-V1N and he is accompanied by his own animal familiar. See if you can figure out who the feline sidekick is before you read the book and the cat’s out of the bag.
Published under Yungbluth’s own Death Ray imprint, Weapon Brown is given a suitably lavish treatment in either the hardcover or paperback editions, thanks to a highly successful Kickstarter campaign that exceeded Yungbluth’s original goal by a wide margin. The book comes complete with three holiday-themed backup stories (“A Weapon Brown Christmas,” “It’s the Great Pumpkin, Weapon Brown,” and “It’s the Easter Mongrel, Weapon Brown,” the last of which was written especially for this omnibus edition), as well as pin-ups from guest artists, sketchbook art, and at least two more things. You can obtain copies from Jason Yungbluth’s website whatisdeepfried.com for the present time, although it will undoubtedly turn up at Internet retailers before too long.
Jason Yungbluth and the Internet may have killed our childhoods, but Weapon Brown makes adulthood worthwhile.