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Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review: How to Succeed in Evil (Podcast)

Author's Note: I believe that we're finally getting back on track! This is my first review post since Seven Days in Utopia, which was two days short of a month ago! Fortunately, this review will cover a better work than that woefully illconceived piece of cinema. Anyhow, I was going to review this some time ago, but it fell behind, as have many of the works I will be reviewing soon. But anyhow, do carry on.

I've never been a huge fan of podcasts. Sure, I love radio dramas such as Adventures in Odyssey, and I enjoy listening to music and talk radio, but I can't ever seem to get into podcasts. My attention just doesn't seem able to be held while staring into a computer screen while simply listening to something. Even when it's music, I usually have to be doing something else simultaneously. When I'm in a car and don't have anywhere else to go (unless I have a book on me), I'm okay. But on the computer, I tend to click around, going off and reading something else entirely while listening to the podcast at the same time. By the time my attention shifts pack to the podcast, I have no idea what the people are talking about because I was distracted by something else entirely, and I sometimes have to pull back the time bar to the last place I remember it being. And then, more often than not, the process repeats itself, until I give up on this harebrained podcast thing and go watch Burn Notice or something on Netflix. Of course, that happens nearly every stinking time I do any stinking thing on the flipping computer. For example, while writing this very post, I have or had one or two articles from comicsalliance.com open, which I am reading as I write! For me, I guess you could say the whole easily distracted thing is an occupational hazard. But enough ranting, because I found a podcast which holds my attention, that I enjoyed, and was actually pretty darn good. The only problem is that it is currently on a very, very long hiatus of some sort (we're talking since 2009. You do the math) while the creator works on a series of books based on the thing.

Meet How to Succeed in Evil, a podiobooks.com production by Patrick E. McLean. I suppose it's a bit of a misnomer to call it a podcast, as it's actually a dramatic reading of a prose story, albeit one specifically written for that purpose. It follows the (mis)adventures of Edwin Windsor, an "Evil Efficiency Consultant" who advises supervillains on how to run their operations. He has to contend with jaded lawmen, incompetent superheroes, and even more incompetent villains, not to mention his foulmouthed, dwarf lawyer Topper. Eventually, Edwin turns to full-blown villainy himself after being continually fed up with the ineptitude of the actual villains. From there, we continue on to his adventures as a villain protagonist, before we are whisked away via prequel to his days as a consultant once again.

I'll be honest, this thing is fantastic. Not only is it incredibly clever and smarmy, but it respects its audience by appealing to their sense of humor and their ability to grasp the cleverness of the series. The main draw is the humorous, deconstructive, parody nature of the series. It successfully breaks down many tropes associated with the quite frankly silly and ridiculous nature of superhero stories, all while having a mighty good laugh about it. For instance, when Edwin sits down with a Dr. Loeb to talk about his "business plan," the good evil doctor replies, "World domination!" Though Edwin states that this is "more of a goal than a plan," Loeb insists on shouting "Domination!" repeatedly, leading the exasperated Edwin to put it down as "Mergers and acquisitions." I'm telling you, this is one of the best superhero-related works I've ever read watched listened done anything to, up there with Gotham Central and The Joker Blogs (I won't quite identify any of these three works as being part of the superhero genre, as they are not directly about superheroes, though superheroes are an (admittedly small) part of their plot).

This series, despite being quite funny and lighthearted, also has the capacity to tell serious stories. Some more mature themes involve death, disaster, what motivates some to do evil, greed, the law, and insurance scams. In the climactic final episode of the pre-prequel arc, the entire status quo is turned on its end with only a small indication of what's going to happen next. I'm telling you, I was nailed to my seat to the very last minute of that episode. There was no telling what was going to happen next.

Now, you may ask, is there anything bad about this series? I don't know, maybe if they'd explored Edwin's profession a bit more before sending him over the moral event horizon? The fact that How to Succeed in Evil even exists more than makes up for any small gripes I might have with it. Except for just one of them...

I recommend this series to audiences... say, 17 and up. Let me tell you, it's got some really severe, unbleeped swearing that does not belong in the ears of younger audiences. As lighthearted as the series is, it's not afraid to pollute the characters' speech with foul language (looking at you, Topper). Overall, though, this is a good series for mature audiences, fans of the superhero-esque genre, and general fans of the dramady. You'll laugh, you'll cry (from laughing so hard), you'll want to go read the eBook series. I sure do on that last one. All of the podcast episodes are available for free download on iTunes, and the eBooks are available for purchase on Amazon.

RATING: 9/10

Image courtesy of itunes.apple.com