posted by @HeyItsKamo
Good Lord, where the hell do I even start?
I picked up a copy of The Fish Police: Hairballs at a local comic book convention over the summer and finally got around to reading it a few days ago. I think most comic collectors will agree- taking only six months to read a comic that you purchased is pretty timely considering the vast amount of books at our disposal.
For me, the big appeal of Hairballs (besides the super cheap price-I paid $1.50 for this sucker) was the concept: I had just finished reading Juan Díaz Canales’ Blacksad and the whole seemingly-normal-crime-story-comic-where-the-characters-are-animals idea was really just too tempting for me to pass up. Blacksad was a beautifully drawn, immaculately written crime-noir graphic novel with engaging characters, surprising plot twists, humor, suspense…it had it all. The Fish Police on the other hand…
It’s probably an unfair comparison for me to line those two books up together (Fish Police may even be looked at as a predecessor of Blacksad? Maybe?), and I realized that after the fifth page or so of Hairballs; it wasn’t what I expected, and I’m fine with that. But what Hairballs actually was, a confusing, often times unsorted, fucked up mess of a story, well, that just wasn’t cool. Not even for the $1.50 I paid for it. Where Blacksad seemed to do everything right, Hairballs did the opposite, and damn if I wasn’t going to say something about it.
This trade, which contains the first four issues of Steve Moncuse’s Fish Police series, is technically a crime-noir story that follows Inspector Gill, an inspector that works for the GODDAMN FISH POLICE. The story takes place in some bizarre world where everyone is a fish (or some kind of sea creature) and live in an underwater world…because they are fish and fish live in water. Gill is confronted by a mysterious woman, Angelfish, who is trying to save her famous scientist uncle, Dr. Calamari (it gets worse), from an organization known as S.Q.U.I.D.
I’d like to pause right here and say that we are never told what this acronym stands for.
Angelfish tells the Inspector that her uncle is working on a top secret drug/formula for S.Q.U.I.D. that will transport whoever uses the drug to another world where beings walk on legs and do not live underwater. This, obviously a nob at our normal human world, interests the Inspector greatly as it is hinted that he is originally from there and only recently became a fish. This hinting that Gill was once human takes place many times throughout the series, but again, the reader is never told why or how this came to be. Maybe in a later issue we’re told?
So the Inspector decides to help Angelfish, with the agreement that if he can meet with Dr. Calamari and persuade him to leave S.Q.U.I.D., Gill will receive the formula that will turn him human again. We then meet a bevy of characters, from the cliché hard-nosed chief of (fish)police, the chief’s goldfish secretary, Golide, that seems to have a thing for Gill, to an octopus informant named Oscar (Oscar the octopus, kill me now). Gill meets with Dr. Calamari, who explains that he is willing to help Gill if he can deliver him his long lost niece, none other than Goldie (also, Angelfish is Goldie’s half-sister, so the three are related). Gill arranges for Goldie to meet up with Dr. Calamari, but it turns out it’s a trap and Goldie is kidnapped.
We’re then introduced to Dr. Hook, the “master” of the S.Q.U.I.D. crime organization and fellow fish who looks IDENTICAL to Gill. Honestly, this part threw me for a loop- I thought Hook was Gill for the first four pages of his appearance before I realized it was another character entirely. Hook’s minion’s, Line and Sinker (…Hook, Line, and Sinker…), keep track of his new prisoner and it’s HERE where the story loses me completely. So…Gill was betrayed by Calamari and goes missing. The police chief and press think he’s dead, but he’s just been on a week-long bender. Meanwhile, we see that Calamari was in cahoots with Hook and that Angelfish is having…fish sex (?) with the S.Q.U.I.D. commander. Goldie is locked up in a cell deep within the S.Q.U.I.D. headquarters and then somehow Gill blacks out and wakes up in front of the headquarters, which remind me of Castle Greyskull and nothing else.
THEN, Gill is tricked into joinin- no, you know what, fuck that. He’s not even tricked, he gladly joins up with the evil S.Q.U.I.D. organization and is groomed to be the second in command to Hook. WHY? Why would he do that? Why would Hook even ALLOW THAT TO HAPPEN? The whole book, the reader is led to believe that Gill is this noble do-gooder that swears by the badge and fights for the innocent, and now he joins the bad guys without hesitation? THEN when Hook has him in his clutches (Hook knows of Gill’s presence at Castle SQUIDskull the entire time) he lets him go.
I’m done. Fuck that book.
All of that aside…there were some parts of this book that were good. The art is drawn well and the panels contain interesting detail- the only way I can describe it is “clean” and open. The frames aren’t jumbled, what you see is what you get. Moncuse also got himself a great Color Man in Tom Vincent (Silver Sufer, The Thanos Quest), so this trade was, visually, somewhat of a treat. The humor was corny, but I appreciated what Moncuse tried to do with the subject matter (there are a LOT of corny fish/ocean jokes).
I’d like to get my hands on the rest of this series, although Hairballs is a trade encompassing the first four issues, so it would be later issues that I’d be looking for. This fact is a bit unsettling to me because the entire time I was reading this trade, I kept thinking that there were earlier issues that explain some back-story or what the fuck was going on at all. The character introduction and plot are so poor that I literally thought I jumped into a series halfway through when actually I was starting at the very beginning.
If reading this trade taught me anything (besides the importance of an interesting plot or some kind of story structure), it’s that the approach of animals playing the roles of humans can be tricky in any type of media- The Fish Police reminded me a lot of the failed Adam Sandler and Jeremy Piven show “Dog Police“. The show, which I believe lasted only one episode before it was scrapped, was a live-action (there’s your first mistake) police comedy about alien dogs that are also police officers. What the heck? Could you imagine if Fish Police was a television show……
Fun Fact! The Fish Police was also a 1992 animated television series, brought to us by Hanna-Barbera and made for CBS. Six episodes were created, but only three episodes ever aired in the US…GEE I WONDER WHY. After finding this out I had to do some research on the cartoon, and what I found was both shocking and horrifying. The show starred John Ritter (Yes, that John Ritter) as protagonist Inspector Gil (they dropped an “L” I guess), Megan Mullally, Buddy Hackett, JoBeth Williams, Tim Curry, and Ed Asner.
Ed Asner was a voice on Fish Police. ED ASNER!
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