CORRECTION: An earlier version of this post’s headline mistakenly said “atom” instead of “at them.” IN THE NEWS regrets the error.
The most critically underrated component of the enormous Simpsons media empire is the Radioactive Man spin-off comic book series occasionally put out by creator Matt Groening’s Bongo Comics, which after 18 years is finally being collected in a deluxe hardcover anthology.
First, a little backstory. The premise of Radioactive Man is simple but ingenious: each issue was purported to be a random issue from the fictional comic book series’ nearly 50-year history, satirizing different comic book eras (Golden Age, Silver Age, etc.) and all the superhero conventions and gimmicks that come with it. There was initially a six-issue run in 1994, starting with #1 (mostly consistent with what we saw of it in the Simpsons episode “Three Men and a Comic Book”) and ending with a Spawn-tastic #1000, followed by an “80 page colossal” the following year. A second run debuted in 2000, this time written by the remarkable Batton Lash, with a noticeable improvement in the artwork. Each issue also featured faux ads from the Simpsons universe and letters from readers playing along with the joke (however, the letters in the second series were all fictional; i.e. #222 features a letter from a young Marge Bouvier). Everyone at Bongo is a giant comics nerd (the first issue of Simpsons Comics is a Fantastic Four reference, for example) and Radioactive Man really let them go hog-wild, sort of like how The Critic allowed Simpsons writers Al Jean and Mike Reiss do all the movie parodies they wanted.
It was an incredibly clever series – maybe too clever for its own good. While most of the Simpsons comics are middling at best, Radioactive Man managed to sidestep the challenges inherent in trying to recreate a TV show in comics form simply by being made for the medium; it does for comics what The Simpsons did for television. While it was more successful than other Bongo series like Itchy & Scratchy Comics (4 issues), Krusty Comics (3 issues), and Lisa Comics (1 issue), one assumes it wasn’t the massive hit Bongo was hoping for. Currently, Radioactive Man stories have been sidelined into the twice-yearly Simpsons Super Spectacular, which mostly focuses on Homer’s guise as “Pie Man” from a horrible 2004 episode and Bart’s alter ego “Bartman” (which used to be its own series).
The first-ever Radioactive Man collection, Radioactive Man: Radioactive Repository Volume 1, is due out in July and currently available for pre-order on Amazon. Based on the page count (288), Captain Squid over at the No Homers Club crunched the numbers and made the estimation that it will most likely include the first six issue run, the 80 page colossal, and #160, which was split up into four parts in Simpsons Comics. Presumably, the second series – and an adaptation of the ill-fated Radioactive Man movie that’s worth checking out – will be collected in a second volume.
Hopefully this new collection will introduce new readers to Radioactive Man and help it garner the respect it deserves. While normally I would advise against purchasing Simpsons merchandise, because it probably helps fund the creation of new episodes among other things, I am making an exception for Radioactive Man. BUY THIS BOOK.