Review by Roy Boyd
The Best of Wonder Wart-Hog is a large collection of strips by Gilbert Shelton, better known as the creator of the Fabulous Furry Freak Brothers. This hefty tome (around 470 pages) claims it’s the best of this porcine superhero, though one wonders if it’s actually all the strips. If not, it’s hard to see what’s been left out, and why, as this collection contains some material that’s pretty primitive.
Strips from the early 1960s kick off the book, and it’d be fair to say that they’re as rough as a wart-hog’s bristly backside. Wonder Wart-Hog, an eight-foot tall pig in garish spandex, is the alter ego of Philbert Desanex, a lowly reporter. Beyond obviously satirising Clark Kent/Superman, not a great deal of thought was applied to the first stories, and the poor artwork is matched only by the poor editing. Both our villain’s moustache and Wonder Wart-Hog’s cape appear and disappear with about the same frequency as the hyphen in our hero’s name. However, there is a rough and ready charm.
When Tony Bell is involved, the artwork improves, and the stories undergo a similar transformation. Moving beyond a simple piss-take of mainstream superheroes, Shelton starts to say clever and insightful things about subjects like politics and racism. Stories range from intelligent and very amusing political satire to, well, just a bit rubbish and rushed. When it’s good it’s very good, though a fair chunk of this book could be seen as pointless filler.
The best story in the collection is ‘Philbert Desanex’ 100,000th Dream’. Leaving aside the oddly absent ‘s’ after the apostrophe, this bonkers story is an absolute joy. One of the longest tales, at around forty pages, it takes a premise that doesn’t promise much (there are few things in the world as boring as someone else’s dreams) and yet manages to deliver a tale that is delightfully illogical and yet logical at the same time, with a brilliant conclusion.
‘Wonder Wart-Hog and the Nurds of November’, originally issued as an individual slim paperback, is another cracker containing some brilliantly mental political satire, though Adolf Hitler’s guest appearance upset some people. They’d have been better getting upset at the many accurate points the story has to make about the mess that is American politics. And this is back in the days before Trump.
There are echoes of Robert Crumb throughout the book, though Shelton is nowhere near as accomplished an artist. Crumb (or a wicked parody of him) even has a cameo in a story that will likely offend some readers as it features nudity and swearing, which is fine, and a rape committed by our protagonist, which really isn’t. It’s inclusion is surprising given the current climate, and it’s not even terribly well drawn. For those reasons, it’s the worst of the entire book.
With the exception of the above story, most of this collection is good-natured fun, loaded with biting political commentary and some attractive artwork. The main character is a lot more likeable than you’d expect a violent, stupid and massively unattractive wart-hog to be. It’s his stupidity, and this collection’s brilliant observations about things that matter, that make this a worthwhile read, especially for fans of underground comics of a certain vintage.