- Script – Mike Raicht
- Art – Juanan Ramirez & Rod Rodolfo
- Colors – Andrew Dalhouse
- Letters – Marshall Dillon
- Publisher – Chaos! Dynamite Entertainment
Alongside publishers like Malibu and Valiant, Chaos! Comics rode the comics boom of the early to mid nineties to modest success. Best known for their lurid, cheesecake-filled horror books, Chaos! Comics filled the same kind of niche that Zenescope does now – ass-kicking female characters in costumes of extremely questionable taste. Chaos! went bankrupt in 2002, but has recently been revived by Dynamite Entertainment, who acquired the company’s intellectual property and library in 2010. Since then, Dynamite have slowly but surely brought back Chaos!’s most popular characters: Lady Death, Purgatori, Chastity and Evil Ernie.
Which brings us to Smiley The Psychotic Button. As Evil Ernie’s erstwhile companion, Smiley usually resides on the lapel of the undead maniac’s jacket, offering profane advice and occasionally jumping off to bite some poor victim’s nose off. In the original Chaos! Continuity, Smiley was the reincarnation of Ernie’s pet rat, who suffered an untimely death at the hands of Ernie’s abusive father.
But things are not as they were in Dynamite’s rebooted continuity, as best illustrated by this 40-page one-shot special. Written by Mike Raicht, an old hand who’s left his mark on everything from Army of Darkness to Finding Nemo, Smiley the Psychotic Button’s first story is an all-new origin for Ernie’s only companion. Richard Smiley, an evangelical fast food owner, desperately tells God that he would do anything for his failing business to succeed. Soon enough, his prayers are answered. Richard’s wife is soon diagnosed with cancer, and her health quickly deteriorates.
Faced with this monkey’s paw of a wish, Richard Smiley has an understandable crisis of faith. Sensing his waning beliefs, Lucifer offers him a deal. Richard’s wife can be saved and his restaurant can become an unrivalled success, as long as he regularly offers up the souls of his customers to the Lord of Lies. As is usually the case when horror meets fast-food, this involves butchering random folks and serving them up in burgers to unsuspecting patrons. Offering tasty food and with a natty little yellow button as his symbol, Richard Smiley soon grows in demonic power. After a quick and nasty power struggle, Lucifer soon dispatches of Richard and traps his soul into one of his own yellow buttons.
Pencilled by Juanan Ramirez, “Whatever happened to Richard Smiley?” is the classically sardonic tale of a fulfilled wish at an incalculable cost. Ramirez’s depictions of Smiley himself and Lucifer are suitably horrifying, whilst Andrew Dalhouse’s vivid colors lend a leering tone to the chaos that unfolds. Dalhouse’s sunny tones of white and yellow perfectly reflect the terrors that lie just out of sight on the brightest of days. No, this isn’t the grime-covered and po-faced horror of the modern-day. At its heart, “Whatever happened to Richard Smiley?” is the kind of lurid and cheesy morality tale that EC Comics would have been proud of.
In the second story, one of Ernie’s survivors arms herself with a holy “Pizazzinator”, a gemstone gun intended for customizing clothes. Taking the fight back to Ernie, Debbie Divine soon proves herself a formidable foe. Basically just a five-page action sequence to presumably set up a future arc for Evil Ernie, “The Holy Pizazzinator” is a punchy little strip with some great art from Rod Rodolfo, written again by Mike Raicht. Still, thanks to a quirk on the fourth page, it‘s not all positive. As Smiley takes the fight back to Debbie, he begins to repeat his narration from the first story. It doesn’t work at all, so I can only assume that it’s an editorial blunder rather than an intentional call-back.
All in all, Smiley the Psychotic Button is a fun and wacky reinvention of a truly unique character. Smiley’s new origin gives him an added depth that he didn’t really have before. With the exception of that head-scratching penultimate page, Smiley the Psychotic Button is an enjoyably twisted horror book, chock-full of the wicked sense of humor that Chaos! is notorious for.
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