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“Can you dig Black Archie?” No. No I cannot. (Black History Month Begins) – Fast Willie Jackson #5

February 1, 2012

The Black Archie. That’s it. That’s all you have to say or write. You don’t need to waste any more words than that to sum up Fast Willie Jackson, a largely forgotten gem(?) from the 1970s. Published by Fitzgerald Periodicals, and written in spurts by company owner Bertram Fitzgerald (who likely wrote the whole series, including this uncredited issue), it was an urban transplantation (into “Mo City”) of the Riverdale set, an intellectual property strip-mining with a multi-ethnic, primarily black cast. The series artist was Gus Lemoine, who had, no surprise here, a number of Archie credits to his name. (I’ve read speculation that Lemoine is an alias for Henry Scarpelli. I’m not sure of the worthiness of that conjecture, as I’m no Archie archeologist. IF ANYONE OUT THERE HAS SEEN BOTH IN THE SAME PLACE…)

The book reads like Archie. It looks like Archie. ARCHIE ARCHIE ARCHIE CITY ARCHIE BLACK ARCHIE.  But it’s not even up to that level. Granted, I don’t like Archie, period — unless, of course, he’s being menaced/protected by the Punisher. But this is derivative Archie. It’s even worse.

Here are the dramatis personae of the Fast Willie-verse, from a back cover subscription solicitation:

The “next 6 issues” promise is sad (or maybe not) in light of the book’s cancellation two issues later. The best laid plans of mice and men… (Officer Flagg — related to Reuben Flagg?)

When I bought this, I had no history with the title. I didn’t know what to expect. I was hoped for some jive-talking, full-fledged, giant-afro-in-your-face blaxploitation. So blaxploitative that you might expect to see Pam Grier or Isaac Hayes come strutting around any and every corner, know what I mean? At least that, though amusingly offensive to overly sensitive 21st century eyes, would be interesting. Sadly, this brief interlude with Jabar, a local professional protester (whose dudgeon dexterity would fit right in with today’s Occupy folks), is the only hint of in-you-faceyness:

But what lurks within these pages is just the pure distilled dreck that was the guiding principle of the title. RIP OFF ARCHIE. That’s what you get. That’s all you get. It makes you yearn for the richly layered characterization of Mushmouth.

It’s so bland. There’s nothing to even get upset about. And that’s the most upsetting thing.

In most other cases, even when you hate an unfunny punchline you can at least appreciate the effort that went into setting it up. You can see what the author was going for, and there’s an architectural appreciation for the structure. There isn’t any of that here. Everything in the short vignettes is so obvious. So unbelievably obvious. And unfunny. It all reads like the “jokes” on the backs of the old Spidey Super Stories books.

At one point Willie and his Uncle Isaac find themselves in the bayou, where they meet the black Dr. Frankenstein and Igor, and the only thing that interlude makes you realize is how much more fun Blackenstein is compared to this:

Roosevelt Franklinstein. Can Roosevelt Franklin or, dare we hope, Franklin Delano Bluth be far behind?

If I can give credit to Fast Willie for one thing, it’s that the multi-cultural cast, with Latino restauranteurs and Jewish delicatessens, hits modern eyes a bit easier than the Whitey McWhite-White world of Mr. Andrews. That’s a prerequisite in today’s P.C. world, so Fast Willie was, if only in that regard, ahead of its time. Oh, and I liked the letters pages — though I GET THE IMPRESSION THAT THESE MIGHT NOT BE REAL GENUINE AUTHENTIC LETTERS:

Anyway, Fast Willie Jackson is lame. End of story. What a way to kick off Black History Month here on the blog!

In a final interesting note, not all that long ago Fast Willie Jackson made a kind of/maybe/not really return in the pages of Erik Larsen’s Savage Dragon, all grown up and down on his luck. But it wasn’t really Fast Willie, as Erik Larsen made VERY CLEAR in the comments section of this post. Check that out if you care to learn more. IF YOU CAN DIG IT.

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