Ernie Ray Clementine, New York biker and the protagonist of The Scumbag #1 (Image), is supposedly “the worst person in the world.” He’s got a fifth-grade education, steals from a donation cup to pay for drugs, and makes lecherous comments toward women. Desperate for a fix, he literally shits himself in the middle of the street while kids and their parents look on in horror. “This guy sucks,” the book repeatedly says—to its ultimate detriment.
All of this is meant to make his eventual (and accidental) transformation into a globe-trotting spy a terrifying prospect. One could argue that it’s riffing on the spy trope of hyping up an ultra-competent hero, only replacing that character with a dumb biker that everyone seems to actively despise. If that’s the case, then job well done, but it all feels like it’s trying too hard to make him live up to his titular nickname.
The problem is, Ernie himself isn’t much of a character. It’s hard to feel any way about him whatsoever when he gets powers, because he feels so… empty. He simply bumbles through every situation, with writer Rick Remender gathering a collection of redneck clichés in place of an actual person. The book thinks it’s more audacious than it is, but you’ve probably seen all these gags before. Whether it’s Ernie stealing from a donation jar to score more drugs or demanding beer, drugs, and a sex doll in exchange for thwarting a terrorist attack with his new powers, he just comes across as lifeless, not displaying much in the way of agency or personality.
What redeems the book, to some degree, is its art. Artist Lewis Larosa casts the books with a grimy feel that fits with what the story wants to be but doesn’t entirely back it up. It makes for a fun clash toward the end: Shortly before getting his powers and looking to continue his high, Ernie watches two spies fight, only he sees the brawl as Medusa sucker-punching a leprechaun. It’s the funniest moment in the issue, and if the book revisited humor like that instead of relying on tired jokes, it would be more enjoyable.
The Scumbag wants to be Archer (or maybe Chuck, given its “accidental spy” setup), but it fails to bring a lead half as fun or compelling along for the ride. Sterling Archer is interesting even without the career in espionage, but it’s hard to say anything definitive about Ernie, because the book hopes your beliefs about rednecks will do the heavy lifting. It’s not a great sign that The Scumbag ends with a profile page at the end, laying out Ernie’s hangups and inner desires, as almost begging readers to stick around with the assurance he’ll be more interesting later on. That day may come, but its debut issue doesn’t inspire confidence in whatever the creative team wants this book to be.