From the pre-Socratics to Jacques Derrida, just about every philosopher you’ve heard of, as well as plenty that you probably haven’t, become comic book action heroes in Action Philosophers: The Tenth Anniversary Uber Edition. Is it good?
Action Philosophers (Dark Horse Comics)
“Philosophy is not a theory, but an activity” says Ludwig Wittenstein in a quote printed before the dedications. In a sense, it’s a great mission statement for writer Fred Van Lente and artist Ryan Dunlavey. The study of philosophy can often appear dryly academic and overly theoretical, but in the hands of Van Lente, it feels fresh, fun, and action packed. Moreover, there’s a refreshing sense that this is necessary, useful information, not some wishy washy, ethereal mumbo jumbo. Philosophy, after all, is meant to be put into practice, not merely discussed and thought about.
Action Philosophers caters pretty well to my specific tastes. Since I write for this site, it should be pretty obvious that I’m into things like comic books, super heroes, action movies, and dorky stuff like that. But philosophy is another one of my dorky interests. I graduated college with a Religion and Philosophy concentration, and I even served as president of Rowan University’s Philosophy Club for about a year. I love the practice of philosophy, a word that in itself derives from the roots “love” and “knowledge.” Yet I often find the actual study of philosophy to be rather intimidating. The amount of philosophic texts I’ve read is embarrassing in comparison to the amount that I talk and think about philosophy.
But one of the great things about Action Philosophers is that while it condenses the ideas of famous philosophers into fun-sized, easily digestible chunks, it rarely feels like the information has been dumbed-down for the sake of us fools who can’t get through Atlas Shrugged. Still, there are times when I wish Van Lente and Dunlavey would have focused on certain topics and philosophers longer. As amusing as Action Philosophers so often is, they are still attempting to unpack incredibly complex information and ideas in a remarkably small amount of time and space. I don’t think anyone would expect a completely thorough analysis of Sartre’s life and ideas, for example, from a title like this, but certain sections, such as the one on Lao Tzu, feel a bit rushed.
I never really got into the superhero-focused work that Fred Van Lente became known for later in his career, but he shines on Action Philosophers. The liberal use of exclamation marks may seem to mimic the tone and style of Golden and Silver Age comics, but I think it’s more likely that they’re there because Van Lente genuinely loves this information and is just that excited to present it to you. He seems like the kind of guy that I would love to have a drink with, and I don’t mean that in a backhanded George Bushy kind of way.
I’m sure that Ryan Dunlavey would be just as cool to talk and hang out with, because he looks like he’s having so much damn fun with his art. It’s a little bit surprising that his black and white art didn’t get colored for this new edition, but it’s not like that was necessary. Even without color, this art feels colorful. There’s a palpable energy to it that you would never expect from a book that discusses topics such as Existentialism and Objectivism. There’s also a great sense of synergy between the writing and the art, as each page packs in just about as much information as it can.
Is It Good?
It’s clear that Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey had a blast while making this book, just as I did while reading it.