2009, Dark Horse
Story: Jim Hardison
Art: Bart Sears, Randy Elliott
Colours: Dan Jackson
One thing that always baffles me is why, outside of buffoons like The Simpson’s Comic Book Guy, there are so few bona fide geeks in science fiction or fantasy. Sure, peculiar intellectuals can bring their idiosyncrasies to a team of nonspecific, perfect-toothed clones, such as CSI’s Gil Grissom or Dr Gregory House. Some lucky losers even make it to the top tier of awkwardness that is technical expert or info dispersing nerd – the Lone Gunmen, Marshall Flinkman from Alias and the treasured Q being just a few. And then, of course, there are Hollywood geeks, such as Chuck, or Sandra Bullock’s unlikely computer nerd in The Net… but these guys are always far too attractive or socially proficient to prove authentic outcasts.
The Helm’s portly protagonist Matt Blurdy has all of the physical failings and social ineptitude that geekdom brings but none of its ineffectual charms. In his thirties, working a dead end job and still living in his mother’s basement – here in Blighty houses rarely have basements, so I’ve never suffered that predicament – Blurdy’s life is turned upside down when destiny finds its place atop cranium in the form of an ancient talking helmet he discovers at a rather unlikely garage sale.
The enchanted accessory mistakes him for “the Chosen One,” or Valhalladrim, only to realise after several seconds upon his head that it’s gravely mistaken. Despite the helmet’s rebuffs, the desperately skint Blurdy slips it into his jacket and takes it home. Thus begins a riotous comic act, with our cowardly slob put through a series of increasingly gruelling trials by a mentor who would quite happily see him dead, if only so he can find himself another Valhalladrim – while the mystical Helm grants Blurdy numerous powers, the one ability it doesn’t have is to sprout legs and locate a superior host. Likewise, Blurdy isn’t particularly likeable, and doesn’t inhibit an inner desire to do good, but he doesn’t exactly abuse his newfound power. Essentially, he’s a harmless layabout who probably doesn’t deserve the predicament he’s in.
Of course, the one requirement of a preposterous plot such as this is that it must be funny, and I’m glad to say that The Helm made me laugh more than any book has in a long while. The titular Helm’s steady insults, (“Vile baseborn varlet!”) presumably a take on Stan Lee’s The Mighty Thor, are utterly hilarious throughout. Jim Hardison, a screenwriter and director new to comics, wisely keeps the plot’s scope compact, feeding us the possibility throughout that the passage of the unlikely Valhalladrim may be fabricated entirely in Blurdy’s head. Conveniently, no one else witnesses his valiant deeds or hears the helmet speak.
More so than the various monster and sorcerers Blurdy faces in the name of heroics, perhaps the biggest threat to his destiny is his geek-chic girlfriend Jill. Perhaps the biggest niggle I have with the book is with how Jill is depicted; whereas the slovenly Matt comes complete with an immense paunch and drooping man-tits, she’s an attractive and unrealistically buxom comic book cliché. I’m aware that most male loafers probably dream of a Barbie doll partner, but it would have been nice if Jill was just a little more on Blurdy’s level.
Though the book’s promotional material publicises art by Bart Sears, he was in fact only responsible for the cover and breakdowns, with Randy Elliott finishing the art. Elliott’s illustrations aren’t nearly as sharp as Sear’s, but this is still a nice looking book, even if Blurdy, his domineering mother and Jill do look horrifyingly sinister at times. But the magical headwear’s face plate is the star of this tale, a moustachioed metallic curmudgeon who takes the greatest pleasure in trumpeting Blurdy’s every failing, and gleams prominently via Dan Jackson’s colours.
With its pathetic but progressively amiable “hero” and Hardison’s knack for playing along with fantasy conventions rather than rigorously following them, The Helm is a charming book that will stick in your mind if only to raise a slight chuckle weeks after. Crucially, it manages to stand out from the deluge of superhero and fantasy comics currently on the market simply by being pretty damn funny.
NOTE: In response to my comments on Blurdy’s love interest Jill, writer Jim Hardison emailed me to say:
“The original description of the Jill character included the line ‘she isn’t exactly attractive, but you might mistake her for attractive in a dimly lit bar.’ Somewhere between that original idea and the finished drawings, she morphed into a more stereotypical comic babe and a less dimensional character.”
Which I guess speaks more about the comic industry than I ever could…