Politically, Fashionably, and Aerodynamically Incorrect

by Berkeley Breathed

Cover image

Publisher: Little, Brown
Copyright: 1992
ISBN: 0-316-10701-8
Format: Strip collection
Pages: 122

Buy at Powell's Books

I never became enthralled with Bloom County at the time that most of my friends did, not having access to a convenient newspaper, but Berkeley Breathed was interviewed by Salon.com a couple of times and caught my attention. And now that Opus is showing up in Salon on Sunday's, I'm starting to get hooked. This strip collection was available cheap at the local library book sale, so I decided to give it a try.

This is not a Bloom County collection (if it were, I suspect it would be less likely to show up at a library book sale). Rather, it's the first Outland collection, and Outland is sadly not Bloom County. It strikes me as less pointed, more random, and not quite as sharp.

I think Breathed's humor is at its best when it's political. He tends towards sadly ironic or absurd rather than aggressive, and sometimes I wish he'd drive the point home a little more strongly. But that soft amusement is inclusive, making the reader feel like Breathed is laughing with them rather than at them. When Opus fails to buy a firecracker because they're illegal ("He said the government wants to protect us from burning our fingies." "Well! Isn't that special." "I think it's very thoughtful of them."), the cockroach tells him to get something legal that pops, and Opus returns with a gun ("he said this pops"), Breathed is covering similar territory to Michael Moore, but the tone is drastically different. The strip is full of a sort of "hell with it" exasperation at the stupidity of the world, with characters coping by sighing and being even weirder rather than getting angry.

Political humor, unfortunately from my perspective, is a fairly small portion of this collection, and I find Outland much less appealing on other topics. Quite a few strips deal with old canards (the mysteriousness of women, overbearing mothers, the relationship between the sexes, or middle-age body self-esteem) and, frankly, don't add much to well-trodden ground. All the strips on women, male bonding, and similar topics mostly provoked eye-rolling and a quick turn of the page. Humor, of course, is notoriously difficult to review and a matter of personal taste; it may be that you'll find Opus bonding with Bill the Cat over a few beers considerably funnier than I did.

The early promise of the strip is a fantasyland for Ronald-Ann, a little girl who's taken through a manhole into Outland in the first strip (which also has one of the better political punch lines). I think I would have liked it better if Breathed had stuck with that theme and played more with Outland as a reflection of Ronald-Ann's subconscious or fantasy life. The premise of an alternate world disappears early, though, and the strips end up with little common background, just convenient settings for the gag of the moment.

This collection is sadly not consistently funny. There are moments of brilliance and a fair number of chuckles, but there are also rather too many pointless and tired cliches. Usually Breathed does manage something worth at least a smile every couple of pages, but the ratio of hits to misses is far lower for me than Penny Arcade or the gold standard of Far Side. From the bits that I've read elsewhere, I think that's partly a flaw of Outland, and going either back towards Bloom County or forward to Opus provides better material.

Rating: 6 out of 10

Reviewed: 2007-10-15

Last modified and spun 2014-12-21