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inner city romance 4
average writing
exceptional art
historical bonus 1
total score 6
Inner City Romance #4
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Only Printing / 1977 / 36 pages / Last Gasp Eco-Funnies
After the psychosexual exploration of the third issue, Inner City Romance #4 returns to the harsh realities of city life and government oppression. In this issue, the book-length story is titled "Ramps," and it opens in the bowels of a high-rise tenement that houses our protagonists; an ensemble of indigent tenants of every persuasion, from young to old and straight to crooked, a virtual asylum of discarded humanity.

After introducing us to a handful of these lamentable souls, Colwell shows a smug city official hosting a tour of the building for three nobodies of unknown purpose. As the official touts the addition of a city-financed series of wheelchair ramps to the building, the tour is interrupted by Jib, a black tenant who demands to know what will be done about the rats, the broken pipes and the crime that infest the property. The official hurries the tour along without responding to Jib, who retreats into his apartment with bitter resignation.

A page later, Jib's younger brother jumps on his skateboard to ride the wheelchair ramps down to the street, but he runs over a scurrying rat at high speed and catapults over a guard rail, plunging four stories to his death, which Colwell depicts in the course of five surreal pages. Jib and his momma rush down to the sidewalk to discover the horrible visage of the teen's bloody corpse. Jib is instantly inflamed with anger, but his girlfriend tries to calm him down and together they survey the pathway that led to the tragedy.

When they discover the crushed rat and the overturned skateboard on the wheelchair ramp, Jib blames the ramps for his brother's death. Despite his girlfriend's best efforts to chill him out, Jib tosses a Molotov cocktail (an incendiary device housed in a glass bottle) onto the ramp, creating a fireball that destroys the ramp and damages part of the building. In the aftermath, the city official returns to the tenement to announce that half of the building has been condemned for safety reasons and eviction notices will be posted for affected residents.

Despite being the cause of this latest misery, Jib takes a stand against the city official and rallies all the residents to stick together and not move out of the building. He leads a tenant-driven repair project to rebuild the ramps and the damaged building and save the property for everyone. The story ends with Jib's girlfriend commending him for his courageous leadership.

Man, what a crock. While some of the characters in Inner City Romance #4 are likeable, the plotting has enough egregious weaknesses to make you root against the supposed protagonists. The most infuriating weakness is exposed in the character of Jib, who blames perfectly harmless (and highly beneficial) wheelchair ramps for his brother's death, sets fire to his own building for no good reason, then claims the ramps did not provide any convenience to tenants (including those who live in wheelchairs), and instead of advocating the safe exodus of residents out of a condemned building, he leads a makeshift group that plans to fix the damage he's done to wheelchair ramps 40 feet off the ground with amateur carpenters using old lumber found around the ghetto. This is our hero?

And as long as I'm being cruel, I didn't have much sympathy when Jib's little bro skateboarded to his death, either. I can dig that riding a skateboard down a concrete ramp is a lot of fun, but I can't fathom how you'd ride so fast and out of control that hitting a rat would cause you to catapult over a four-foot guard rail. At worst, you should tumble to the ground and bust a wrist and a shoulder.

Okay, maybe I'm being too harsh considering how I've sympathized with convicted felons in the previous three books of this series, but something about this story struck me as being too kindhearted to cavalier fools who destroy their own lives and then get all arrogant about how their shit don't smell. Dude, when ya gonna accept some accountability for ya stupidity?

Anyway, I think Guy Colwell should have written a different story to begin with. As he revealed on the inside front cover of this issue and on the final page of the story, "Ramps" was inspired by a true story about a city-backed, police-enforced landowner eviction of destitute elderly tenants living in the International Hotel in Chinatown, San Francisco. If that eviction was caused by a moron burning down his own residence, my level of sympathy would also be lowered, but I'm guessing it wasn't.

Regardless of the weaknesses of Inner City Romance #4, it's good that an ugly example of city government corruption is memorialized by a comic book that will survive (however meekly) for decades, reminding its readers of the dangers of excessive government force on behalf of wealthy property owners and power brokers. But next time, can we craft a story with more characters that don't have their head up their ass?
Last Gasp printed approximately 10,000 copies of this comic book. It has not been reprinted.
Guy Colwell - 1-36