In the Kingdom of New Champia, a high fantasy realm complete with dragons, trolls, and furry loincloths, Allen is a lonely, unappreciated guy with bad luck. He’s also haunted by the ghost of his father, the mighty Hellcock, slayer of beasts and conqueror of the ladies. In spite of his father’s mockery, Allen would rather write comics than go warring or wenching. Like the lead in a Woody Allen movie, he drifts through his loser life, bemoaning how unfair the world is to him. He meets a beautiful woman named Madeleine reading a book in a bar and is immediately smitten. She rejects him outright and turns out to be an outspoken opponent of both Hellcock’s legacy and the culture that supports it. But Allen is undeterred.
Hellcock’s ultimate nemesis, Krong, has a loser son too—the egotistical, be-mulleted Kaarl, who desperately wants to be respected and feared. When Kaarl leads an attack on Allen’s hometown, Allen, Hellcock’s ghost, and Madeleine have to get Hellcock’s old band of heroes back together to save the day. Their journey takes them through trippy mystery forests and pits them against ridiculous foes until they eventually face Kaarl, Krong—who’s mellowed in his old age—and the dragon Stryfor, who famously ate Hellcock in the first place. The crew of buffoons (and Madeline) eventually make their incompetence work in their favor and save the day through slapstick, even though Allen can’t manage to lift Hellcock’s sword or fit in his armored loincloth.
This book was exactly what it set out to be: a comic send up of 1980s hypermasculine fantasy. Porto’s art is well suited to the story, evoking familiar images but using simplicity and exaggeration to do visually what Koplowitz and Tracy do with the plot—walk the line between homage and satire, reveling in nostalgia while also embracing the absurdity of it, poking fun at the genre at every opportunity. The humor is solid, which I expected (Tracy is a writer for the Onion and Last Week Tonight), though its focus on a nebbishy white guy as an implied every-man is a little stale in today’s increasingly diverse comics scene.
I quickly realized while reading this book that I am not its target audience. There were several things that gave me this vibe, but the best example is Madeleine, the only female character in the story. Introduced as a disinterested woman far out of Allen’s league, Madeleine is a woman of color who has strong feminist views and knows her own worth. She’s awesome. Unfortunately, she’s also a familiar love interest archetype in male-dominated genres—snarkily badass, loudly opinionated, and pointedly not-like-other-girls, but inexplicably willing to put up with our hero’s loser shenanigans and of course, fall in love with him, because that’s what she’s there for. Her lack of character development was roughly the same as that of the male sidekicks, but she was clearly not intended to be someone the audience would ever see themselves in and therein lay my problem. That feeling kept me from fully engaging in the story, even though I often found it quite funny.
As the title, tongue-in-cheek as it may be, suggests, Allen, Son of Hellcock is a book for adults. Not only is the general sense of humor on the mature side, the nostalgia factor and visual references are really aimed at people who grew up with the kind of fantasy to which it’s paying homage. More specifically, this book is aimed at readers who will see themselves in Allen: straight, white, cis male nerds over thirty. Whether or not you should add Allen, Son of Hellcock to your collection, then, is entirely a matter of demographics. How many folks who fit that description do you have using your collection?
If the answer is more than a few, it’s a strong choice. It’s at an upper-middle price point, since it comes from a relatively small publisher, but it is widely available. As far as classic retro-fantasy send-ups and old-school male nerd humor go, it’s well-balanced and without too much of the gender and racial issues that plague the genre (although the black wizard is a stoner, which is not a great look, and there are a few too many jokes about “lady-boys”). On the other hand, this is the kind of story that fantasy comic fans who aren’t exactly like Allen don’t have to settle for any more. If you’re looking for fun dungeon-crawler fantasy, try something like Scales and Scoundrels, a diverse teen-and-up title that is still a fun read for adults. For something with a more mature sense of humor, consider Rat Queens (after making yourself aware of the situation with Roc Upchurch). Allen, Son of Hellcock is a good addition to a robust fantasy and humor collection, but if your resources or space are tight, give that spot to a comic that brings something new to the table.
Allen, Son of Hellcock
by Will Tracy, Gabe Koplowitz
Art by Miguel Porto
Z2 Comics, 2018