AHOY there fellow comic lovers!
This week, on my AHOY Deep-Dive column, I am determined to keep the tone of this piece much more amicable than my previous piece (or pieces . . .). Reading news every day is still exhausting, so here’s a comic I can recommend to give everyone a healthy dose of happiness: Planet of the Nerds from the one and only AHOY Comics.
Take a look at the Planet of the Nerds cover for a good long while, and it’s extremely telling of the wonderful plot awaiting inside this volume. Does it remind you of the famous scene in the original Planet of the Apes movie? It should. The parallel between these “planets” is not lost on me (unless I’m overanalyzing every pop culture Easter Egg packed into this comic).
Paul Constant (who also co-wrote some issues of The Wrong Earth that I discussed in my previous article) takes the lead writing on Planet of the Nerds, collaborating with the marvelously talented artist Alan Robinson. I’m continually praising and gushing over Alan’s work on Twitter. He’s currently illustrating AHOY’s Penultiman as well, so I’ve been inundating myself in Alan Robinson art goodness. Felipe Sobreiro provides the dynamically beautiful, era-jumping colors while Rob Steen — the AHOY letterer master — lends his lettering expertise to yet another AHOY comic. And let’s not forget artist Randy Elliott, who draws the extra short-stories at the end of the individual issues.
Do you remember the 80s? I sure don’t. I was born in 1998, so who am I to even feel nostalgic for an era I never lived in? But Planet of the Nerds uses precise 80s era details in the art and dialogue, somehow warping you into its inherent sentimentalism. Even if you’re someone like me who grew up primarily watching old 50s-80s era television and movies (I know more about Happy Days than Spongebob), you’ll feel connected to this comic. If you were alive in the 80s, congratulations, you’ll get every reference I’m sure I keep missing on my re-reads.
Planet of the Nerds begins in the distant past of 1988. Protagonists Chris and Drew watch –without interceding — as fellow antihero protagonist, Chad, physically torments Alvin. Alvin’s the epitome of the classic nerd trope, from his mullet-style hair, to his oversized glasses (which are trendy now!) to his collection of beloved comics scattered across the floor. These opening images instantly introduce you to the era, the protagonists, and the conflict between all the characters.
Constant wastes no time with accelerating the story in this comic. Sobreiro’s damp color palette washes the panels with a vintage-inspired-look appropriate for the time period. And of course, Robinson uses his trademark art style of detailing expressions, hair, and clothing to portray the tone here.
You’re thrown into these characters’ lives, with small backstory additions attached to the end of each issue to provide exposition for each individual’s motivations. AHOY Comics always gives you more than just a charmingly hilarious tale. All the issues in Planet of the Nerds take the time to connect you with the characters. Constant uses these addendums to percolate greater insight so readers might better understand the nuances and subtleties hidden in the larger picture.
Another major character that reappears in a later issue is Jenny, and the team never sexualizes the main female character in Planet of the Nerds. I always seem to have an affinity for the female characters in AHOY Comics. Maybe it’s because all AHOY creators treat the women they depict with class and tact, instead of objectifying them. Even if the women characters are side characters or additions to the story, they’re written to enhance the narrative without pushing any desteable agendas. Thank you, AHOY Comics!
Jenny provides the female 80s look in the comic, replete with lavishly hair-sprayed/puffed hair, ankle warmers, and a stylish pink dress cinched at the waist.She’s Steve’s girlfriend in the beginning of the issue, but plays a significant role . . . in the future. Despite Steve’s inability to kiss Jenny without getting distracted (foreshadowing!), Jenny appreciates Steve and contributes intelligent dialogue to their conversations. It’s disappointing that we only get a few pages of 80s Jenny, but maybe we’ll see her in a future issue someday?
It’s hard not to reveal major plot points, since there’s a plethora of discourse about so many elements in this comic I could begin. But I want to tantalize you, in hopes that you’ll pick up Planet of the Nerds for yourself!
While Steve and Jenny are walking out of the movie theater from their date, Steve notices Chad and Drew following Alvin in the dark. He joins up with his football player friends, where they discover Alvin building an unknown object in a secret lab.
One of the most beautifully illustrated pages is when Chad, Drew, and Chris accidentally destroy Alvin’s machine, cryogenically freezing the boys. Robinson’s art never fails in capturing situational intensity, and I love the entire sequence of panels leading up to this predicament. Depicting facial expressions is a key factor in immersing a reader in the comic narrative. Robinson uses over exaggeration and properly displays anatomically correct facial movement/expressions. It’s a highlight of this comic, especially in rendering the horrendously cruel Chad.
After busting Alvin’s machine and freezing themselves, our 80s jock protagonists wake up in a present day comic-convention in 2019 Pasadena. Do you remember conventions? Now, those, I remember. It’s bittersweet that conventions have become a distant memory, what with COVID cases and deaths spiking every day, since stores . . . still . . . remain open(?). Robinson presents an arsenal of character-work in the background of Pasa-Con-Da. There’s people of all ages dressed up like Star Trek characters and Marvel characters alike, so you’ll never run out of exciting costumes to spot in these panels. Additionally, Robinson not-so-subtly included the AHOY Comics logo in this splash page, because he’s amazing.
Chad is absolutely irate when he realizes he’s surrounded by (gasp!) nerds as they celebrate the “nerd” fandom that has dominated current culture. In retrospect, this would be a startling culture shock for an 80s frat boy-type, but Chad’s the worst of the worst. His hubris and flair for the dramatic doesn’t make Chad a likable protagonist. Some complaints about Planet of the Nerds centralize around the hyperbolic reprehensibility of Chad as a character. But that’s the point of satire here, folks. Chad’s stereotypical behavior doesn’t mesh with the modern era. Social and political progress have rightfully taken place, nerds are no longer perceived as dorky outcasts, and people with Chad’s attitude are slowly falling down the totem pole of acceptable behavior. Therefore, Chad’s clashes with the convention dwellers facilitate arguments — and pure entertainment value for readers.
I have come to understand that there’s a huge fetishization of the 80s, where people tend to fondly recall this era while skimming over the abhorrent behaviors, sexism, and politics that dually occurred. In my opinion, Constant and Robinson use this comic to spotlight that ignorant mindset while paying homage to the positive aspects of the 80s. AHOY Comics always include politics, social commentary, and satire. These key components have become crucial to AHOY Comics storytelling, and in the case of Planet of the Nerds, these constituents are blatantly effective.
Robinson draws cinematically in Planet of the Nerds, evoking an aesthetic to match the fast-paced storytelling of the comic. His sentimentalist appeal in his artwork heightens the emotional reactions elicited from Drew’s story arc. Drew, a Black teenager from the 80s, is entirely too familiar with racism. While he’s elated to see that Miles Morales — a black superhero — is the most popular Spider-Man in this future 2019 world, Drew still has to combat injustice like Chad’s white supremacy and willful ignorance.
Steve also has a wonderful and carefully handled arc, but there’s too many finer plot details to discuss that would ruin his surprising character development. Still, Steve is quintessential to the story and acts as the level-headed, moral guide of the group. The boys ultimately want to connect with their now elderly parents. Unfortunately, Steve’s marred relationship with any parental figure means that Steve’s need for paternal wisdom in this strange future remains unfulfilled. Thankfully, Steve’s journey of self-identity exposes itself in a very unprecedented fashion that will have you looking back at the precious issues for clues. The interconnectedness of Steve’s character arc throughout the series makes up for some unresolved storylines that will hopefully be revisited in further issues of this comic!
Overall, Drew proves the most dynamic and empathetic character in the book. Planet of the Nerds is an innovative parody of archetypes and tropes, but Drew’s struggle in society as a Black individual is a topic that demands constant discussion. Whether it’s run-ins with the police or defeating negative stereotypes, Drew’s dialogue and expressionism conveys Drew’s desire for greatness — and survival in a world that wants to negate his identity as a person.
AHOY Comics creators never shy away from diegetic dialogue or representation through differing cultural lenses. Their comics aim to create awareness, blending social satire with humor and unforgettable one-liners. Planet of the Nerds is a must-read AHOY Comic from me. A content warning for future readers: There’s a lot of swearing and some major sexual innuendos in this comic. This isn’t Back to the Future (except, that whole movie is also sexually charged . . . ). I leave you with two of my favorite panels from this six-issue first volume. Dragonflyman and Stinger make a casual cameo in one of Drew’s backstories while Constant pokes amusing fun at historically Black superheroes that all have “Black” in their hero names. Please read this comic, even if you’re young like me. It will provide you with vital laughter.
Until next time, I’ll be on Twitter looking up more comics to read . . . on my iPhone . . . since it’s 2021 now, and payphones are virtually non-existent.