We love the 1980s. I can barely turn around without bumping into a show meant to evoke a sense of nostalgia for the ’80s because, well, what’s not to love? I mean, other than Phil Collins. It was a time when you could turn on the radio and hear Rush and Van Halen in constant rotation, The Simpsons were at the top of their game (if you could manage to tune Fox in) and Ghostbusters, Star Wars and Indiana Jones were all still good. It’s also when Bob Burden unleashed his indie comic sensation The Flaming Carrot on an unsuspecting nation.
The Flaming Carrot is an exceptionally odd concept for a superhero on the surface, but if you look at it, he’s basically a Bizzaro Batman — where Batman is a genius, The Flaming Carrot has brain damage. Where Batman is a millionaire, The Flaming Carrot is a a vagrant. Batman has a utility belt full of gadgets and tools whereas The Flaming Carrot has a utility belt full of sauerkraut.
As indie comics go, The Flaming Carrot was very popular in its day. It was one of those books you would always hear about in Wizard Magazine, something cool you may have never seen if you were a teenager who mostly read X-Men. So this is a book that comic fans who never read it at the time may be inclined to check out now.
Unfortunately, like a Members Only jacket or Sam Kinison’s stand-up, this book was probably better in the 1980s. Not that it’s offensive or anything, just dated. For example, the first issue is essentially a 22 page setup for a punchline about taxes being bad. This may have been a really funny joke at the height of Reaganonmics, but that political era is dead and buried. Another issue deals with a communist takeover of the Carrot’s town, another plot point that doesn’t really resonate today.
The Flaming Carrot also suffers from what I call “The Woody Allen Conundrum,” by which I mean even though it may have been fresh and inventive at the time it first came out, most of the things that were new then have been done many, many times since, and in many cases done better. So you end up with a book that feels derivative even though it was quite innovative at the time.
The highlight of the book comes at the end, in the three-part crossover with the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. By this point in the run, the humor is a little less topical and so holds up better over time, making these easily the strongest chapters for a modern reading. But their inclusion brings me to the problem of the way this Omnibus volume is put together.
I would expect a Flaming Carrot omnibus collection to collect the entirety of the Flaming Carrot comic in order. This collection does not do that. This collection includes Flaming Carrot issues 1-2, 4-11 and 25-27, the later three being the TMNT crossover. This leaves out not only issue #3, but also early stories from Visions magazine, the original Flaming Carrot Comics one-shot and back-up stories published in Dave Sims’ Cerebus. Those are all things a fan of a series like this would want in an omnibus collection. Even if they end up in a future volume, it’s disappointing not to have all the material presented chronologically.
I’m not sure I’d go as far as to call The Flaming Carrot “important” to comic book history, but it is a beloved indie classic. So it pains me to say I can’t recommend this omnibus volume. I feel like new readers probably won’t connect to the dated material while existing fans will be disappointed with the lack of the earliest Flaming Carrot stories and out-of-order presentation. This was probably done to use the Ninja Turtles crossover to promote the book, but it just ends up creating a subpar collection.