This production is so Punk Rock! Boasting a reach that far exceeds its grasp (at least technologically speaking) and wearing a giant, pulsing heart on its sleeve, The Fantastic Adventures of Amen Ra doesn’t care how raw and deceptively simple it comes across. It has something to say and plans on saying it loud and proud. And damn if it isn’t a little infectious, all this positivity they are throwing around.
Everything here is two-dimensional and over-obvious, but as stated in the high-toned introduction, RAAMUS (Responsible African-American Men United in Spirit) is out to charge and inspire young African American men to the light of education and self-esteem, and away from the false promises of ghetto thinking and self-hatred. So they don’t really care about coming across nuanced, to say the least.
On one side we have the three heroes: Peace (alias Dr. G), Power (alias Big Brother X), and Prosperity (alias Brother Bomani). In times of need they combine their awesome selves to become Amen Ra, the Liberator and Redeemer. It’s sort of like a Kwanza Voltron, if you’ll forgive the crude comparison. On the other side of things, the Evil Side, we have the Insidious Scourge of Racism (who looks a little bit like Marvel Comics’ Supreme Intelligence of the Kree) and his three minions Hatritar, the Oppressor (with his Chain-saw of ignorance and bleached-albino skin), Sambo Ignoramus, the Backstabber (think: a violent Uncle Tom), Apartheid the Unjust & their brainwashing fourth The Funky TV Junky.
Set in New Jack City High School (hey, they’re throwing in all the references that mean something here) the story starts off with Hatritar and Sambo attempting to tempt young black men away from school and hard work and towards TV and easy dreams of sports’ fame. But before Hatritar can brainwash one kid by using his “Chain-saw of Ignorance” to cut off the kid’s head, the young man is rescued by Prosperity (who reminds me a lot of Tech-9 of Milestone Comics' Blood Syndicate, but hey...) who contacts the other heroes to mobilize against this threat to young black men in America.
Ok, make all the jokes you want about the simple art and basic video tricks that pass for the animation here. Espouse all you want about the 2-D Thesaurus-heavy exposition in which comic-book/action movie cliches are paired with as many references to Dr.-King, Malcolm X and other Black Pride maxims, set to a fairly engaging soundtrack and an energetic, if overly serious voice over. We have “Grenades of Knowledge” and “Fight Gloves of Redemption” so, clearly, this comic isn’t about the meaningless violence. It’s about the need to put an Educated Smack Down on the forces of Evil. Hard to argue with that.
So yeah, it’s a crudely-drawn, crudely-written, crudely-executed fan-boy affair here, but you know what? So what, that’s what. The W.I.L.D. Cats cartoon back in the 1990s wasn’t much better, so far as art and script went, and that didn’t have anywhere near the boatload of good intentions that Amen Ra rolls with.
The whole RAAMUS Universe, and its many school-level outreach projects for black youth, are all the brainchild of Dr. Kenneth Ghee (of whom you can learn so much more here: http://web.me.com/kennethghee/Dr_Ken_Ghee/Dr._Ken_Ghee.html). Needless to say, despite its rough-hewn exterior and overly-fond-of-exclamation-points voice-over artist, The Fantastic Adventures of Amen Ra should be offered to every African-American kid in grade-school on up, and to everyone else, for that matter. It may be full of crudely drawn characters, over-blown exposition and a whole artist’s palette of cheap video effects, but damn if this thing doesn’t have a heart big as all outdoors. Yes, it could sharpen its particulars, but otherwise, it has everything important covered.
Ryk McIntyre is a Multi-Hyphen sort of person. Poet, critic, performer, workshop facilitator and co-host at both GotPoetry! Live (Providence) and Cantab Lounge (Cambridge,MA). He's been living in RI for the past 6 years, with his wife and daughter. Ryk has performed his work at Boston's ICA, NYC's New School, Portsmouth, NH's Music Hall and Lollapalooza, to name just a few. He has toured the US, performing in countless Poetry open mics and festivals. He turned down Allen Ginsburg once.