Labor Power: "The Adventures of Unemployed Man"

An instructional manual on resisting oligarchic oppression, and a brief for the value of staying in shape to look your best in spandex.

By Jervey TervalonSeptember 23, 2011

    The Adventures of Unemployed Man by Erich Origen and Gan Golan. 80 pages.

    LET ME TELL YOU, nothing focuses one's attention on the plight of the unemployed like humiliating, disorienting, emasculating unemployment, even if, now, the sting of it is mitigated by its sheer commonness. Who doesn't know of horrible stories of rejection, tales of wholesale destruction of careers? For the last few years I've watched the slow-motion slaughter of the careers of my journalist friends, many of whom lost their jobs because of the super villainous machinations of one of the most despised men in journalism, The Zell, CEO of our dear, bankrupt hometown paper, the Los Angeles Times. Who among us, newspaper readers all, has not wanted to punch Zell in the kisser? And even so, he's only a sidekick to the most evil of the bunch: Rupert Murdoch. Murdoch, the Darkseid of CEO's, overseeing a ghoulish army of merciless minions impersonating journalists. As our time descends into economic chaos and general mayhem, the world often seems like an outsized comic book. And those who speak with the loudest and most hysterical voices seem as determined as any supervillain to set the entire country aflame.

    The Adventures of Unemployed Man, by Erich Origen and Gan Golan, looks at the current economic tragedy with a comic book sensibility and a populist world view, bringing to mind the inventive genius of Jack Kirby and Stan Lee, with a 1960s underground-comic vibe, wit, and good nature. It tells the story of the economic decline of the United States through the travails of the vainglorious Ultimatum, a Batman-like character, who is at first a defender of the status quo, branding unto the foreheads of the unfortunate a reminder in the shape of a U that they are solely responsible for their economic misfortune, but a moment's painful awakening reveals his naivete and how rigged and unfair the economic system is, and everything is torn from him, including his standing in his father's former company, his palatial estate, and his fortune. He becomes the Unemployed Man! Beaten and bested at every turn, he finds refuge among the denizens of Cape Town, penniless superheroes who have formed a squatter's camp. Eventually, Unemployed Man finds himself in the middle of rebellion against the unmitigated greed of Just Us, a villainous super group of CEOs, hedge fund operators, and Wall Street brokers. 

    What's most enjoyable about the work of Origen and Golan is their sheer satirical inventiveness. It's as if Alan Moore had alighted upon their shoulders as they reinvented iconic characters to illustrate their economic arguments; and somehow they transmute these comic-book archetypes into engaging characters. One of my many favorites is White Rage, a reinvention of the Hulk, one that personifies all the economic and social pressures of the white middle class. His alter ego David Tanner says:

    Every year I work more and more for less and less. Even when my ex-wife and I both worked full time we couldn't get by. I'm tired I'm worried I'm pissed. If that wasn't enough, I was bombarded by an accidental overdose of Fox News Rays. Now whenever I feel threatened, fearful, or angry, a startling metamorphosis occurs, I become White Rage!

    The creature he becomes is easily led astray.

    MUST SMASH ENEMY, GAY, ALIEN, SOCIALIST, GOVERNMENT. I even broke things I needed; Social Security, Universal health care, ban regulation, unemployment insurance, union wages, Just to be sure they wouldn't be shared with those that I was told to hate.

    Then from the opposite end of the spectrum is the Hero-In-Chief, a regal, near nude, Obama-inspired, Hawaiian superhero, but he fails to stop the carnage of the Toxic Debt Blob, a monster that can only be destroyed by throwing money at it. Finally, the tide is turned as the superheroes organize and restore the social safety net and defeat the last big boss, the Invisible Hand, through COLLECTIVE ACTION! 

    The Adventures of Unemployed Man is an entertaining read, an instructional manual on resisting oligarchic oppression, and a brief for the value of staying in shape to look your best in spandex. I imagine that MoveOn.Org will make The Adventures of Unemployed Man their book of the month club selection, and that Objectivist Man (and his side-kick, Libertarian Boy) and Tea Party Super Patriots will hit the stands any day now. But I don't think I'll be reading those.

    LARB Contributor

    Jervey Tervalon was born in New Orleans and raised in Los Angeles, and got his MFA in Creative Writing from UC Irvine. He is the author of six books including Understanding This, for which he won the Quality Paper Book Club’s New Voices Award. Currently he is the Executive Director of “Literature for Life,” an educational advocacy organization, and Creative Director of The Pasadena LitFest. His latest novel is Monster’s Chef.


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