Friday, July 11, 2014

Review # 120: "Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink!'" and "Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons"

"Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink!'" was the first Calvin and Hobbes collection I ever owned. I got it through a Scholastic book order (remember those?) at the age of 10 and read the hell out of it. It shows in the condition of some of the pages, which look very much like they were handled by a kid. As I go through these collections in order as an adult, I can't help but think I made a great pick. This is the best of the bunch so far and will be hard to top.

This book is held together by three of the best serial stories Bill Watterson ever put together. The first one is relatively simple, as Calvin - bored with his homework - imagines that the effect of gravity has been reversed. After managing to get back to the floor from the ceiling, Calvin's mother sets him straight and that appears to be the end of it. But as she leaves, Calvin drifts back into his imagination, gradually getting larger and larger until he towers over buildings, falls off Earth and expands beyond the boundaries of the known universe. This was a risky concept for Watterson, as split day-by-day it could be seen as very confusing. It does get a little silly, but has a great punchline that reminds you that this is still a humour strip.

The second story is one that has resonated with the non-athletic for decades now. Calvin discovers that he's the only boy who hasn't signed up for recess baseball and is pressured into taking part. The backyard practice sequence with his dad is outstanding. It's nothing compared to the emotional gravitas come gametime. Calvin makes a mistake and is viciously chastised by his teammates. When he leaves, the unfeeling gym teacher calls him a quitter. It's devastating and brings up feelings of anger. Then Watterson makes you laugh anyway with the invention of Calvinball. I really should organize a game of that.

Finally, there's the story that gives the book its title: the duplicator. Calvin imagines inventing a machine that can copy himself, so he can force the clone to do chores. Of course, the clone is just another Calvin who ALSO doesn't want to do chores. Things get worse when the clone creates additional Calvins and they run amok. The intricacy of Calvin's imagination in order to pull this off is a wonder. If you approach this realizing that nothing that's happening is real, you can't help but marvel at Calvin's plan of action to drive his parents, teacher and classmates crazy.

Since making complete clones of himself didn't work the first time, Calvin takes things a step further in "Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons" when he adds a morality switch. Calvin's "good side" is clean as a whistle, a development that has his bewildered mom reading parent psychology books. Again, Calvin's plans backfire as his clone follows through on his hidden crush on Susie Derkins. All in a child's mind, folks.

The duplicator sequel is the definite highlight of "Snow Goons," which carries the momentum of "Boink!" very well, but feels like it's running off the last book's fumes. The title story is a dandy, as Calvin imagines bringing his deformed snowmen to life. It's as funny a story as Watterson ever wrote. Calvin's plan to bring down the snowmen - and what happens to Calvin's dad as a result - is well-scripted and well-drawn and gets big laughs out of me strip-by-strip.

Watterson still had a lot of muscles left to flex with his creation. But will his later work top these two books? I'm not so sure.

Rating(s): 10/10 ("Scientific Progress Goes 'Boink!'"), 9.5/10 ("Attack of the Deranged Mutant Killer Monster Snow Goons")

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