“I can’t let them take the ‘Mall’s Balls’! People are still mad about us moving them slightly off-centre!”
Every area has a landmark integral to its identity. For New York, it’s the Statue of Liberty. For London, it’s Big Ben. For Adelaide, it’s the Mall’s Balls… and aliens are trying to steal it!
When the King of the planet Alines’ god-beast dies, he must send out operatives to obtain a geometric match for a new god-beast-egg duo sphere. Finding such a match in South Australia’s very own Rundle Mall, these operatives must deal with the police, local government officials, and a “deadly boomerang-wielding vigilante of Adelaide Justice”, who all strive to defend the Mall’s Balls.
Silly Sci-Fi and Smart Structure
Darkwell Bled’s 2020 comic, The Aliens Want Our Balls! (TAWOB!), presents a short but sweet sci-fi adventure with a quintessentially Australian aesthetic. Originally intended as the script for a black-and-white film, TAWOB! was strongly inspired by B-grade sci-fi films from the 1940s through 1960s.
In correspondence with the author, Darkwell Bled stated that upon watching “the Golden Gate Bridge… destroyed by monsters for the thousandth time, [they] started to wonder what iconic buildings aliens or monsters would attack if they appeared in Adelaide”. The answer was of course the Mall’s Balls.
The bulk of this work is driven by its plot and parodying nature. As such Darkwell Bled creates deliberately ambiguous characters and locations, with names like Officer, Mayor, King, Renegade, Scientist, and Large Bank.
If TAWOB! was longer, then one would certainly expect much deeper and fleshed out characters. However, the characters are not the focus of the story but rather mechanisms by which the creator is able to enhance the work’s strengths. Here a form of ‘literary triage’ has been implemented to allow plot and humour to take precedent, a wise move considering the brevity of the comic.
Let Them Entertain You!
What is particularly impressive is that, despite their general nature and lesser importance, the personalities of the characters Darkwell Bled presents are very keenly felt.
The Mayor and Crash Renegade in particular are able to establish quite different character traits in their limited dialogue and panel-time. For instance, where the Mayor is presented as loud and incredibly emotive, Renegade comes across as a no-nonsense, one-man army who shows little emotion beyond a quiet assuredness in his own abilities.
The plot of TAWOB! is incredibly simple and is based around several coincidences with a short narrative twist. This is effective and entertaining, although certain elements such as the introduction of characters occur with very little preamble and could have benefited from more attention.
Nevertheless, the story’s pacing and delivery of humour remains consistent throughout. Moreover, the humour does not get in its own way. It allows jokes to speak for themselves without fanfare or self-applause, delivered in a matter of fact, dry manner that is idiosyncratic of Australian comedy.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie?
The prevalence though of Australianism in the humour does have the potential to make TAWOB! unapproachable for non-Australians or even non-South Australians. Many of the jokes rely on at least a passing knowledge of South Australian politics, culture, and events, particularly familiarity with the Mall’s Balls.
However, the premise of the comic is a direct result of taking a familiar concept—aliens invading a capital city—and placing it in a rarely showcased environment—Adelaide. Thus, while the Australian nature of the humour may not be preferable or even understandable to everyone, the intended audience is foremost South Australians.
Darkwell Bled’s previous work has included Screams from the Crypt, a collection of 20 short tales of horror, sci-fi, and suspense. In both that work and TAWOB!, the creator employs a scratchy monochromatic style which is reminiscent of ‘raw fear of the mind’ or raw first impressions.
The linework is rarely soft, but Darkwell Bled has obviously taken great care with their product and thus the art is confident and assured in its ‘sketching’ style. Sometimes, however, the art style does confuse action.
Each panel is quite static, implying movement like a stop-motion film. Thus, information can become distorted if a particular panel is busy due to an overabundance of linework, such as when Crash Renegade holsters his boomerang on page 18. Ultimately, this is a minor problem and is far outweighed by the strengths of the humour and story.
The Aliens Want Our Balls! can be purchased from Gamma Rays Comics in Adelaide, South Australia.
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