This book isn’t what you thought it was.
Nuklear Age is a book by the creator of the legendary webcomic, 8-Bit Theater. That’s an interesting place to start, and does a lot to set up the mood of the book–just as 8-Bit Theater was a parody of the fantasy genre, Nuklear Age is a parody of the comic book genre. The issue a lot of readers seem to have is that it is a hefty parody, weighing in at around 700 pages.
Many people who pick up this book find that its length bored them before they were ever able to finish it. I feel as though I should start this review out in its earliest parts by saying these readers have done themselves a grave disservice. The top review on Goodreads for Nuklear Age pans the 2-dimensional characters, the simple plots, and that is not unexpected for a reader who wrote a review without ever finishing the book.
This book, as a parody and as a comedy, is incredibly funny. There are a huge number of tropes played upon here, and they add up to something any avid fan of comics could immediately identify with, immediately relate to, and immediately laugh at. There is a certain type of comedy at play in this book that, admittedly, many readers will not identify with–but before you go about telling me that this book isn’t funny at all, and that I am probably a fascist robot, I will admit that comedy is subjective and many friends to whom I’ve recommended this book have disagreed with me on its merits. A lot of the comedy relies on expanding frequently used comic book tropes to absurd lengths–almost a sort of low hanging fruit; if you come to parody expecting the deepest insights, maybe you are in the wrong pl…
No, you aren’t in the wrong place. The final story arc of the book turns the entire world Clevinger created on its head, and any reader who complains of the two dimensional nature of the book has very likely never finished it. I have to admit, many readers will find that they simply do not have the patience for 700 pages of comedy, that the book dries up, and I completely understand. I will never sink so low as to give you the spoilers that would hook you right back into Nuklear Age more firmly than any anchor, but I will tell you that if you ever set this book down, not intending to pick it up again, skip to chapter (called “Issue” in the reprint) 40 (The Reign of Superion). You will not be disappointed, and it leaves only 1/4 of the book to read–a quarter that very few people are able to discount.
The thing about Clevinger is that while he is not the biggest player in comics, he does have his own published comic character (Atomic-Robo) which is currently being uploaded in digital form, for free. To expand upon his comics-writing chops, he did some work writing for Marvel. The point of this is to say that he doesn’t just write comedy, and he does put that skill on display in Nuklear Age–and when placed in such close proximity to his comedy writing, it creates an incredible juxtaposition.
There are times this book will frustrate you, there is no doubt about that. As in many other comic books, the secret identity of Nuklear Man should be on clear display–and to add to Nuklear Man’s troubles, he is just unbelievably (literally) incompetent. There are times when suspension of disbelief is stretched so tightly that it snaps, and those are the moments that will kill a work of art more quickly than a five-point-palm exploding heart attack. It is in your second reading (if you ever do) that everything makes sense, in the light of what happens from Chapter 40 and on. I don’t recommend a reread in close proximity to your first read, though–I read the book when it was first published in 2004, and my second read was ten years later, in 2014. Thanks to the magic that is human memory, the jokes were seemingly brand new to me, but I recalled enough of the plot to really enjoy the experience.
The plot pacing can really only be described as “schizophrenic”, lunging forward at times, slower than a turtle using a walker others. This was an early work of a man who became quite a good writer, and as a result it has all the hallmarks of inexperience about it. I can’t even bring myself to punish him for that, he poured his heart and soul into this book, and you can really feel that.
As with so many other self-published ventures, an editor could make this book many times more readable. I have a first edition paperback sitting around somewhere, and the number of typos is almost staggering (Have you ever read Terry Goodkind’s unedited writing?). I know that is the kind of thing that will kill the mood for certain readers, and I figured I would warn you before you spent a whole FOUR DOLLARS (gasp) on the Kindle Edition. Don’t say I never did anything nice for you.
To summarize, the book is funny, scathing of overused comics tropes, a little tasteless, a lot of fun, and for those who make it to the Age of Superion story arc, incredibly engaging and satisfying. Some of the humor has all of the maturity of fart jokes, but I am never one to turn up my nose on principle; if it makes me laugh, I will tell people I enjoyed it.
And this book made me laugh.
I recommend it to anyone who likes comic books, but does not put them on some religious pedestal, afraid of criticism. If you’ve spent a lot of time flipping those hallowed pages, though, the humor will never be lost on you.