Blank Slate Books
Cover tells you so much here – as well as being a bloody great design.
Not only does perennial loser Spleenal get superpowers, with a Matrix-tastic, Kirby-esque epic delivering the best superhero action but we get all the the selfish, guilt-ridden idiocy we’ve come to expect from Spleenal so far. What the hell did he do that for indeed.
Nigle Auchterlounie’s first Blank Slate release was the viciously venomous Spleenal, where Auchterlounie’s out of control alter-ego careered from chaotic moment to more chaotic moment, the sex-obsessed idiot with a heart who always returned to his wife and kids.
Weak As I Am is, on the surface, a far simpler, more straightforward thing; Spleenal with superpowers. Yet when you actually read the thing, the result is so much more, a multi-layered and clever page turner, full of the usual Spleenal style gaggery and stupidity, but with a humanity, a look at the complexities of life, and a surprisingly accurate takedown of the whole superhero genre to boot.
The supers in here are many things, but most of them aren’t superheroes. The very first scene establishes this, with a typical left vs right TV debate where shouting opposing points at each other is all we’re deemed to deserve from our political masters tells us that “they’re a drain on society!” “Most of these people don’t even pay taxes!” “That’s not true… they’re normal people with normal jobs.” To and fro, to and fro. Pointless bickering taking the place of meaningful debate. It’s a damn good job then that Auchterlounie’s Weak As I Am is far more capable than those two muppets at addressing many issues around the old chestnuts of power and responsibility whilst giving us a fine tale and a bloody good laugh.
So, to start at the beginning… whilst the world seems full of superheroes, and TV talk shows are full of pundits wondering how dangerous they are and whether they pay taxes or not, poor normal Spleenal has a doctor’s appointment to look at his dicky heart, mitral valve prolapse as it turns out, but Spleenal being Spleenal, being the idiot he is, being a man who can’t work out why he says the things he says, manages to convince the doc all is fine….
But a moron I can recognise.
Dear Mrs B has always told me to tell the truth to the docs. Two years on, and several meds later, I can acknowledge that Mrs B is always, always, always right.
Thing is, if this were me it would be dull, whereas Auchterlounie’s Spleenal manages to deliver the failings of modern man with a gag a minute where Spleenal benefits so much from being a bloody funny moron, and that’s the key, no matter what dickish thing Spleenal manages to do, there’s usually just something, sometimes the very tiniest something, that means we can find a way to sympathise and even empathise, and usually have a good laugh at his expense.
Just like this….
Oh yes, beautifully done. Timing. Great timing.
Luckily for Spleenal, things are about to take a turn for the better, well, sort of.
Stumbling on a super vs super fight between Tyler and Angelina, with Tyler coming over all megalomaniacal, obsessed with power, having one of those I’m the most powerful and going to wipe out all the others moments, Spleenal accidentally manages to nick Angelina’s superpowers whilst giving her the kiss of life. #
Envigotrated, full of energy, he’s finally living the dream.
He handles it with all the class you might expect…..
Except the dream may well end with Spleenal being viciously murdered as a strange quest to be the stongest there is takes over all the supers in the world. Suddenly Spleenal begins to see that the grass isn’t always greener over the other side, sometimes it’ covered with blood and body-parts.
The latter half of the book takes the superhero power battle, with something possessing supers, causing them to go a bit more mental than usual, and start trying to do away with all the other supers, the possession switching with the next victorious powered up individual. Somehow Spleenal finds himself in the middle of all this, and reacts, well, pretty much as you’d expect.
Thing is, in the end, he may just surprise you just that little bit. That’s the thing with Auchterlounie, he surprises again and again, whether it’s rounding out a very fast paced story with a surprise ending, or packing in so many fascinating little discussions and details; Spleenals’ distaste over super-types just using first names, the clever deconstruction of powers, the new look at speed powers, time shifts, loads of interesting moments. And perhaps most importantly for the whole book, everything is grounded in the vital reality of Spleenal’s character and his relationships, his pettiness, selfishness and lechery is still reassuringly to the fore, but he also gets to show a more honourable side, a hero despite himself. Who would have thought?
It’s many different things all at once is Weak As I Am; partly a straight superhero battle-fest, partly a look at what we’d all do if given super powers (answer: shit ourselves when faced with the danger and responsibility). Yet even whilst sitting between those two divergent stools, Weak As I Am manages to be thrilling, readable and most importantly damn funny all the way through. Nigel Auchterlounie may not feature in many best of year lists, but he damn well deserves to.