No no, I'm the last one to cover this...

*So the ascension of such and such a popular writer to the position of caretaker of the company revamp pool has gotten every lip a flutter. But what might come of it? And how does the situation strive to fill a certain gap in the current Big Two superhero scene? That is the question asked and faithfully answered by this week’s column, which also gives me a rare opportunity to indulge in language like ‘Ratzi.’ I savored that. Please enjoy.

Flaming Carrot Comics #3 (#35 in a series) (oh, that makes sense)

Having built up quite a head of steam since its re-launch of a few months ago, Bob Burden’s indelible creation has just released a third recent edition, which is pretty great considering that there’s only been thirty-five of them in the past twenty or so years. Carrot’s got a new energy, though not everything here is actually new. For example, the cover art was finished in 2002; this makes the subsequent done-in-one story, 'Crouching Carrot Hidden Hotwing,' sound at least slightly less out of whack in terms of title. But then again, this perpetually ‘80s b&w boom child seems to need to remain a few crucial steps behind the zeitgeist, as if you’re getting the latest reprints of new comics from another dimension.

Burden (subject of a recent feature interview in The Comics Journal #268, which is advertised in the back of the book) is more transparent than usual this issue. A post-story essay lays his creative process out bare, as the Carrot’s latest adventure goes from a random piece of cover art to a nine-page prelude for a tale with no planned ending (or even a story direction), leaving the creator fifteen pages with which to wiggle his way out of the narrative straightjacket. Deleted scenes and omitted character motivations are duly explored. “Creativity is the fun part, the easy part. The engineering of the story is the real bear.” So it goes.

The story as it appears in comics form is one of the better recent Carrot yarns, which have been improving by the issue, an encouraging sign for such a long-dormant book. Carrot rescues a baby werewolf from an evil robot, and runs into a woman from his past: Dynamite Girl, scantly-clad teen(ish) heroine and Carrot’s female counterpart in terms of prodigious appeal to the opposite sex. She’s pursuing a truly dangerous foe: an eight foot long talking hot wing, garbed in the dangerous costume of… a hat. But as long as he’s got that hat, everyone is too polite to bother him. He’s also very sensitive and loves to flip people into the air with a mighty “WHOOOP!” Can Carrot stop this fiend(?), deal with Dynamite Girl’s parade of pathetic ex-lovers, and get to the comics store in time for his big signing with the Neil Gaiman of Earth 2?!

It’s a good issue, one that plays to Burden’s strengths. He’s getting more of a handle on how far his rough-and-ready visual style can take him, giving us infant lycanthropes that look like they’re being stiffly portrayed by midgets in ratty costumes, and anthropomorphic bar snacks that really don’t need to be anything more than a big curved tube (with a hat on top, of course). Even the fact that Dynamite Girl looks like pretty much every other Burden woman when she takes her aviator cap off seems to work in the story’s favor. While that essay in the back might be a conflicted paean to the interplay of improvisation and reaction in comics writing, the story itself is a testament of remaining aware of one’s limits, and knowing enough to stick inside them and turn them to your advantage.

And, in true Carrot style, next issue will see a radical format change, with the book temporarily shifting to full-color, as Carrot stars in his first fumetti. This, we are assured, will prove once and for all that Carrot is real, since photos obviously cannot be altered. The back cover samples look wonderfully cheesy, and it’ll be something to see if Burden’s signature style translates well to the world of Photoshop and live-acting. But then, knowing what you can do does not necessarily mean doing the same thing forever.