Showbiz Follies 1 : Barnum Force

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Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: Few flim-flammers have flim-flammed as bigly as Mr. Phineas Taylor Barnum: conman and hoaxer, self-abusing self-promoter, party-hopping politico, exploiter (and defender) of freaks, elephant fetishist, magnificent thumb-wrestler… and an all-American success story. But what if I told you that aside from his parade of talents, Barnum had been personally tapped by President Grover Cleveland to join the Secret Service and, aided by his many-talented coterie, foil the dastardly Serbian Nikola Tesla’s unpatriotic scheme to bring clean, safe energy to our nation?!? Such is the shocking plot of “Barnum!: In Secret Service to the U.S.A.” a rousing pictorial expose by Mssrs. Howard Chaykin, David Tischman, and Niko Henrichon (the doodler for Brian K. Vaughan’s “Pride of Baghdad”).

Tracey Tracey: I just have to say NO! As a member of PETASS, (and here I have to specify that PETASS, the “People-for-the-Ethical-Treatment-of-Animals Sympathizer Society,” is in no way affiliated, endorsed, or even acknowledged by PETA, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) I cannot hand out cherries to comic books who romanticize the late Barnum & Bailey Circus. P. T. Barnum was execrable, a manipulative racist thief whose late-in-life conversion to goody-goodyness doesn’t come close to making-up for the horrifying things he did to people like Joice Heth, (the elderly, barely-aware African-American woman Barnum pushed around as he pretended she had been George Washington’s “mammy.”) Or to Tom Thumb! Barnum basically enslaved a FIVE YEAR OLD boy, and passed him off as a whiskey-swigging, cigar-smoking dwarf! That’s child abuse! Or the ways he humiliated the conjoined twins, Chang and Eng!

Father Hank Hank: Oh, come on, kiddo, lighten up! Those Siamese Twins–

Tracey Tracey: DAD! Conjoined, conjoined! You’re not supposed to call them Siamese!

Father Hank Hank: They were LITERALLY from Siam! Anyway, Chang and Eng were into marketing themselves before P. T. Barnum came along. Not only that, but they were pretty much the happiest, richest medical curiosities of their time! And boy, did those two get laid. Dozens of kids!

Beatricia Beatricia: 21!

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Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: They were magnificently money-minded, those two Orientals! Acclimated to the American way quite quickly! I recall hundreds of well-behaved slaves in their lovely plantation! Well, until the War of Northern Aggression put an end to that.

Tracey Tracey: … Sometimes I wonder how Grandpa Felicius can sleep at night, and then I realize the answer is: “He huffs tons of ether before Trent wheels him off to bed.”

Trent Trent: This “Barnum!” comic is good and all, but a little rushed. It needed more character envelopment. Right, Cousin Franz?

Cousin Franz Cousin Franz: That’s observant. “Barnum!: In Secret Service to the U.S.A.” owes too much of a debt to Alan Moore’s “The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen”- but it forgot to borrow the visual wit and moral complexity of that great classic. There are many, many complex historical characters here, turned into one-note caricatures: resourceful showman Barnum; second-stringer Bailey; double-plotting Chang and Eng; mustache-twirling Nikola Tesla; vixenish Ada Lovelace – and that’s barely the beginning of a list that includes wolf boys and bearded ladies, Span the acrobat, Primeva the lion tamer, Hypnosia the mesmerist, Dyna-Mite the diminutive strongman, etc etc. It’s a surfeit of names, but a deficit of characters.

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Beatricia Beatricia: Absolutely ludicrous book. Grover Cleveland became president in 1884. By then, Barnum was 73, and much too old for the sweaty action-adventures of this anachronistic circus chronicle.

Grandpa Felicius Grandpa Felicius: I beg to differ. Why, if there are any bodily fluids I can release on a consistent basis, it is precisely sweat!

Blurbarella Blurbarella: “Magnificent– Twins– Laid– Dozens of– Extraordinary Gentlemen.– Sweaty– Bodily Fluids.”

2 out of 6 Cherries

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