Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Atari Force Month: Special Part 2 Review

As the last in a long line of seven-page Hukka stories, the second part of the Atari Force Special probably doesn't merit its own whole post. But screw it, I promised to fill a whole month with this stuff, so I'm wasting a whole day on this story anyway. It'll probably be brief, because there's not an awful lot of material to discuss. But it is the strongest Hukka story, in my opinion, even though it's still not that good. Which raises the question: why the holy hell do they keep making Hukka the focus of these short stories? Who are these for, what purpose do they serve, and what is the appeal of writing them? So I guess it raises like four questions. Let's dive in.

Hukka, hungry and lost and alone in the wilderness, stumbles upon a band of strange, gangly red creatures in the middle of some sort of celebration. They are thrilled to see Hukka, whom they refer to as "mordling." Their speech patterns are similar to Hukka's, broken and simple and often misspelled. They offer Hukka food ("S'fur you, mordling!" and "Eeet! Eeet!") and, once he's had his fill and falls asleep, they declare him ready and carry him away. He wakes on top of a rock that his new friends seem to be using as a platform, as they dance around him giddily. They have fashioned some kind of headpiece for Hukka, and that plus their apparent ceremonial worship makes him suspect that he's been chosen to rule these bizarre red dudes. However, before he can find out for sure, he is replaced: "Wait! Kum c---nu mordling!" The red guys abandon Hukka in favor of the newcomer, a fuzzy blue critter who's kind of shaped like a tooth. Upset at what he thinks is a sudden loss of power, Hukka follows the crowd to see what this new mordling gets. And what he gets is viciously murdered.

Because it turns out the reddies already have a ruler, a large tree that they call "Sheikit." The mordlings, then, are not new leaders but sacrifices, bound and nailed to Sheikit as the brutal finale of this strange ritual. Hukka watches the new mordling suffer this fate, and it understandably terrifies him, so he flees. The red creatures would have been more than happy to kill him, too, but they are not bothered by his escape for very long before yet another "nu mordling" arrives and the cycle begins anew. Hukka, meanwhile, is just as lost and alone as he was at the beginning of the story, only now he's happy for the solitude because it also means safety.

I call this the best Hukka story because, unlike literally all of the other ones, it feels like there is an actual point or moral to this tale. It's not as clear as I'd like it to be, but the weight is there nonetheless. To my mind, the point of this story is not to trust strangers, that people who offer us anything will often if not always want something in return. Cynical, perhaps, but a valid lesson anyway. I can also see the reading that this is about the dangers of religion, since the red guys' behavior could all be interpreted as religious ceremony. If that is what Paul Kupperberg was trying to say with this script, though, he didn't do an obvious or in-depth enough job. Exactly why these beings believe that Sheikit wants or needs mordlings to be killed on its body is never addressed, so whether or not it's truly for religious reasons is unclear at best. Still, there is an obvious ceremonial aspect to what they do, and a definite element of worship when it comes to Sheikit. "Sheikit rools!"

And then there's the idea that, no matter how bad things get, we should always be grateful just to be alive. Again, Kupperberg doesn't hit the mark on this message if it was his goal, but it's still present if you look for it. Hukka is hungry and sad at the start, and so he happily accepts the food given to him without questioning it. At the end, Hukka still doesn't know where he is, and his hunger has returned, but he's no longer upset about it. Instead, he's pleased, his final line being, "Hukka happy!" because he survived what could have been a horrible, fatal experience.

There may well be further viable interpretations of "Food for Thought," but even the three I point out above prove that this is a considerably beefier story than any of the previous Hukka-centric pieces. Typically, his narratives have no real danger and no real consequences. That's not strictly true, but it tends to be the case, and even in the moments where his stories have had a bit more flavor and/or significance, they've never been as full and layered as this. It's not a remarkable or particularly complex story, but it at least makes the case that Hukka has ever deserved to be a protagonist.

Tristan Shane's pencils lend a hand or two, particularly his designs for the creepy red dudes. They look nearly human, but with stretched limbs and enormous mouths that take up more than half of their unnaturally smooth heads. They're almost cute, but also right on the border of immediately terrifying. It makes sense Hukka wouldn't feel threatened by them, but it's no great surprise when they turn out to be the villains, or at any rate the threat of this story, either. It's important for the narrative's success that the red creatures be able to walk that line, and it is Shane's contributions, far more than the stitled language Kupperberg gives them, that allows them to do so.

And Tom Ziuko coloring them in flat, angry reds is a major factor, too. When they're partying, smiling and dancing and feeding Hukka, their coloring adds a brightness to the scene. But in the moment of the reveal of their murderous intentions, it makes them even more menacing. The soft blue used for the mordling that Hukka sees them kill also deepens that effect, and makes its death hit even harder.

I'm not Hukka's biggest fan, because I think he is misused. He has the potential to be a secret observer of hidden things because of his size and curiosity. He could play the role of a kid in any number of hypothetical stories, used to explore age dynamics or childhood psychology because, in essence, that is the intelligence level and personality he possesses. But instead, pretty much every Hukka story, this one included, is about him stumbling into a dangerous situation and then escaping because of outside influences or lucky mistakes. That's not a particularly compelling pattern, and it gets less interesting every time it is repeated. Here, at least, Kupperberg adds some intensity in the form of the blue creature's torturous death, and that alone is enough to raise this Hukka tale above those that came before. Yet it still fits into the typical Hukka story mold, so at the end of the day, it's not that impressive or important a part of the Atari Force whole.

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