What I thought of The Divided States of Hysteria #1

Howard Chaykin’s latest comic is a tad controversial. For those of us who’ve been fans of Chaykin’s work for the last few decades this won’t come as a shock as after all, American Flagg! shocked people in the early 80’s with the amount of sex and violence in it. His revamp of The Shadow for DC Comics (full of sex and violence) that caused Harlan Ellison to attack it as a

a really offensive, ugly, mean-spirited, violently pornographic piece of work

Then there was Black Kiss. A comic full of sex and violence which caused Grant Morrison to call it a

adolescent homophobic mummy’s boy jerk-off fantasy drivel

Then there’s the stuff like Blackhawk or Time2 that was only mildly controversial, but you publish a Chaykin comic you know you’re going to get a mix of politics, sex, violence, and characters who are unlikeable as well as use racist, homophobic and all the transgressive things you imagine people can say. So if you know your comics you know what roughly to expect when picking up a comic by someone who’s spent nearly 40 creating shock as well as some exceptional comics.

Which brings me to The Divided States of Hysteria.From the cover it’s clear Chaykin isn’t fucking around and the synopsis on Comixology makes things clear too.

An America sundered. An America enraged. An America terrified. An America shattered by greed and racism, violence and fear, nihilism and tragedy…and that’s when everything really goes to hell.

There’s been a strand of deep, cynical satire (and remember, Chaykin is left of centre in an America where people like Hilary Clinton are considered ‘left wing’) that’s threaded Chaykin’s work from American Flagg! onwards which when it works is astonishing. When it doesn’t it feels like a scream. It is normally at least interesting, and this is an interesting scream at 21st century American politics, culture and society.

The comic starts with a telling of a terrorist incident that wipes out the President and his cabinet.

This is angry stuff. Chaykin is fucked off at what he sees as ‘self-obsession’, but I’ll wait to get to that in detail later. For all the anger and rage, this is a lovely looking comic and is certainly Chaykin’s best work artistically in years with his eye for design looking as good as ever.

Those though are panels from a black sniper in Chicago who is targeting white people. As said, Chaykin isn’t fucking around here as he makes the reader deliberately uncomfortable as although this part has gotten attacked on the internet, I wonder what would have been the reaction if he’d made the character white? This is the thing here; Chaykin is attacking identity politics head on in a way I’ve not seen in a comic published by one of the mainstream American comic publishers before but then we get to the stuff that’s setting Bleeding Cool alight and providing that site with lots of clicks.

This is the ‘transphobic act’ that’s set Twitter alight as a trans woman is violently attacked. However I think what also is riling people up is the commentary which is from the point of view of the trans woman.

Chaykin is sticking his fist into a hornet’s nest here but he raises a point. Trans women are treated appallingly by the ‘liberal media’ with a look at what people like Julie Burchill or Germaine Greer have said in the past, but Chaykin doesn’t treat the person here as ineffectual meat to be slaughtered but someone who fights back in the only way a Chaykin protagonist can do.

Unless you’ve by now be triggered into a safe space it is perfectly clear that The Divided States of Hysteria is a very, very dark satire which takes no prisoners but yet, for all the controversy its clear where Chaykin’s heart lies. He’s an individualist  whose politics seem to be consistently left of centre, but doesn’t fall into what would be called ‘left wing’ or ‘liberal’ in 21st century terminology. Chaykin explains himself in the letters pages and for some, it has only served to make things worse.

This is going to make hard reading for some on the American (and indeed, British) left as it contains some painful home truths. While some of us on the left were fighting for small things the likes of Trump, or Farage and his Brexiters went out, won elections and referendums and promptly fucked things up for not just our respective countries but the planet.  Now these small things needed to be fought for but many did lose the bigger picture trapped instead in small echo chambers where a man like Chaykin would be seen as a right wing lunatic, even if he’s clearly nothing of the sort.

Are there problematic things in The Divided States of Hysteria? Yes, there’s what looks like Islamophobia near the end of the first issue and the comic does seem to cross lines a lot between satire and personal attack, but it is as Chaykin said about American Flagg!, a liberal mugged by reality (it was actually former New York mayor Ed Koch that said that but still…). And this feels like Chaykin serving all the worst he sees in reality at his audience in a way many won’t be accustomed to as normally creators pull back, or create at least one entry-level character for the reader to identify with. There’s none of that here. Every character is either a murderer, bigot, racist, and on, but there’s nobody to like however Chaykin presents us with characters who liberals (with a small ‘l’ rather than Tim Farron’s lot) will normally side with. By presenting characters who are shits but due to identity politics will be seen by some on the left as automatically sympathetic, Chaykin is essentially forcing people to confront some very, very dark things within themselves.

Essentially he is trying to mug you with a big stick made of reality. It doesn’t work all the time and of course it is only the first part. It is also offensive and interesting in a way few comics from mainstream publishers ever are in a era where pandering to fans has muted creators vision. It is a comic not for the faint hearted but it is a return to form for one of the most interesting voices in American comics.

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What I thought of Twin Peaks episodes 1-4

Twin Peaks has returned to an utter lack of advance knowledge of what happens in it, and this frankly is the best way to approach this new series so massive great honking SPOILER WARNINGS from now on. Also, if you haven’t seen the TV series you’ll be totally lost here. If you’ve not seen Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me then go see that as this draws upon a lot of that film, including even the deleted scenes. Basically go consume everything Twin Peaks before seeing this. Also it may be an idea to watch Lynch’s films too, even Dune as there’s visual references to all of Lynch’s previous works going on here. So, if you’ve done that crack on…

First up anyone who comes to this expecting quirky humour and weird, but still funny, characters will suffer a serious shock as the first two hours especially owe less to what people mainly think Twin Peaks is (quirky, funny, charming, sometimes scary, weird) to David Lynch unleashing his full creative forces. There are moments in the first two episodes especially that are some of the best images Lynch has even put on screen but there’s a lot of times when you the viewer will be made uncomfortable, and this is a good thing.

Far too many programmes end up pandering to keep viewers happy. There’s nothing of what one would expect of a Twin Peaks revival til near the end of the second episode, and the fourth episode features the sort of scenes (Andy and Lucy provide much of the fun quirkiness here) you may expect. Mainly though you’ll be bombarded with confusing, disturbing and sometimes grotesque images that actually helps tell what is a complex story.

The jist of that story is that Good Agent Cooper has been trapped in the Black Lodge for 25 years until Laura Palmer appears again to him as promised.

In the world outwith the Black Lodge, our world, the Bad Agent Cooper is doing bad things as this is Cooper’s doppelgänger inhabited by the evil Bob at the end of the TV series.

Evil Cooper involves Kyle MacLachlan wearing a dodgy wig while doing seriously vicious things to people, and here’s another thing (and I hate using the term ‘political correctness’) this is not a programme that restricts itself to current moralities. This is a programme where Evil Cooper is amoral and brutal, where middle aged men leer after younger women and where oddness abounds. It’s designed at times to challenge you and it will because we’re used to a level of sanitisation in our television but that’s not going in here and this is a good thing. We’re not seeing a toned down or restrained Twin Peaks here, we’re seeing something that will delight, astound, shock and scare you as much as the visuals and sound (I recommend watching this on earphones as the sound mix/design is amazing) is stunning.

The opening episodes deal with Good Cooper’s escape from the surreal world of the Black Lodge, Bad Cooper’s murderous plans, the slow introduction back into the community of Twin Peaks, and the FBI being involved which means a welcome return for some old faces. The plot hinges on Lynch’s fascination with duality and multiple personalities as well as the idea that evil can be a real force which in this case in Bad Cooper. I won’t bother explaining the rest of the plot beyond that as frankly, we’re only seeing part of it right now and the main jist is just what I’ve said. I won’t go into the nightmare monsters, or episode three’s brilliantly incomprehensible scenes, or the fact a plot point hinges on the words ”blue rose” which only makes sense if you’ve watched Fire Walk With Me, or the fun little cameos that pop up or even the fact there’s more Cooper doppelgängers than just Good and Bad Cooper.

What is brilliant is the pace in which Lynch and Mark Frost slowly unwind the threads of the plot and the pacing (unlike many programmes today) is at times, glacial but this isn’t something to forward through. This is about building up the creeping sense of unease in these scenes.

Twin Peaks is a welcome return. It gives Lynch a chance to create one huge story and hopefully resolve it in a way that suits him and Frost but it may not suit us which is fine by me. In an age where TV programmes are made to ensure fans are not frightened off, the new Twin Peaks isn’t scared to go onto ground that will scare people off but this is art mixed with horror mixed with so many genres that it can only be described as Lynchian and that’s a glorious thing…

What I thought of The Wicked and the Divine: 455 AD #1

This one-off issue is another break from the regular storyline that takes us from the 21st century back to 455AD when the Vandal army destroyed Rome, except all isn’t as we think and we see Julius Caesar go off to fight the Vandal army by himself.

Julius is in fact Lucifer and is essentially the last God standing.

Annake chides Lucifer for what he’s done, but he’s having none of it.

He also seems to have totally sussed Annake out for the manipulative God-killer she is.

However after declaring himself emperor and wishing Rome to be a better place, things don’t turn out as planned.

As Lucifer turns out to be quite, quite mad.

Things end up turning out as we know them too but this is a story to show just how far Annake will go to end the brief lives of the Gods and what happens when a God tries to live longer than their allotted lifespan. It’s a bleak, gory and depressing vision and one that is expertly written by Gillen and splendidly drawn by Andre Araujo. This is a nice compliment to the ongoing series but without the main series the story is weaker so don’t treat this as something you can dive into on it’s own.

What I thought of The Flash #22

It all ends and begins here! The DC Rebirth/Watchmen clustefuck hits a new level as the four-part ”The Button” storyline comes to a close with a cover featuring Jay Garrick, the Golden Age Flash promising the return of everything the New 52 cleaned out, but before we get there there’s a bit of matey banter between The Flash and Reverse-Flash, not to mention some prime product placement.

During all this Barry Allen mentions Hypertime, the Grant Morrison/Mark Waid idea that DC dabbled with in the 90’s to try to explain all the inconsistencies of their superhero universe.

Eventually the Reverse-Flash encounters the mysterious figure behind all of this (It’s Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen which we know anyhow), gets horribly killed and the Flash and Batman end up adrift in time and space heading towards an unknown voice.

That’ll be the Golden Age Flash.

However Barry and Bruce have no idea who Jay is because of that evil Dr. Manhattan chap and his big blue willy.

After Jay vanishes back into the ether, Barry and Bruce wrap things up while leaving things dangling, and talking about dangling, here comes Dr. Manhattan.

Which leads to the issue plugging November’s Doomsday Clock in which Superman and Dr. Manhattan will punch each other and ensure, once and for all, that nobody working at DC from Dan Didio to Geoff Johns actually read and understood Watchmen. As a roll of the creative dice this is a massive blank, but in terms of sales (and I speak now as someone diving back into the world of comics retail) this will sell books. They won’t be very good books but such is the power of Watchmen that it’ll propel DC along for a few years and then the novelty will have worn off.

See, Watchmen will continue to sell. It’s a classic book. Every time I read it I find something new in it. You will never, ever say that with Doomsday Clock. But hey, it’ll sell and in 2020 when this has all died down DC will try to work out what to do next and realise they’ve nothing left in their tank and creatively, they’ve worn out the bottom of the barrel but certain people will have kept their jobs which ultimately is what all this has been about…

What I thought of Zombies Assemble #1

The zombie genre is, well, like a zombie. It lumbers on and somehow keeps going even when the genre has well and truly been done to death. However, never underestimate the power of milking a dead horse and when mixed with Marvel’s Avengers cash-cow and the popularity of manga we have a hybrid here as these are The Avengers of the films, not the comics. So yes, a ”mixed bag” as you may say…

Part of the problem is that all the characters have that tedious wide eyed look that large chunks of Manga artists use, not to mention that they all look about 12. Anyhow, the story starts with Tony Stark’s birthday party which involves Steve Rogers dressing as a zombie to scare Tony, before (Ho Ho) a real zombie crashes Tony’s party and is dispatched by the Black Widow fairly quickly.

A virus breaks out turning people into zombies thanks to Tony’s R & D department, and (all the while everyone involved is talking like 14 year old kids)  who all seem to have been turned into zombies.

The vaguely teen Avengers then decide to stop a potential outbreak.

Somehow Thor becomes infected, and we’ve got a sort of zombie Thor.

The Black Widow is also infected so we’ve got two Avengers slowly decomposing. Yes, seriously, this is like a Garth Ennis script but without the spite and humour.

This, frankly, is shite. There’s a rich stream of manga or even unlicensed comic versions of films which can be fun, but this is just garbage. The art is bland. The writing is awful. The horror isn’t horrific. There’s pages where characters act like children. It’s bollocks, and that’s the best I can say about this exercise in self-abuse.

What I thought of Batman #22

The saga of DC incorporating Watchmen into the mainstream DC Universe continues with Batman #22 which follows the last issue of The Flash.

The Flash and Batman are stuck in the Flashpoint universe, which shouldn’t exist but it does mean Bruce Wayne can have a conversation with his father, Thomas Wayne who happens to be the Batman of the Flashpoint universe. Confused? Of course you are. I don’t even think DC know exactly what’s going on.

Essentially this issue is about Bruce and his father talking while all of Thomas’s enemies mass to end his life. Of course they have The Flash with them who could fight all of them at once but he’s busy rebuilding the Cosmic Treadmill.

As the army of Amazons descend upon the Batcave, there’s a fight (of course) and eventually The Flash repairs the Cosmic Treadmill but not before Thomas and Bruce share a tender moment.

However the Flashpoint universe is collapsing.

As Barry and Bruce enter into the timestream they end up entering it before the Reverse-Flash was killed so they meet him holding his Watchmen badge.

Thawne is running to his doom though he says he knows who is behind this all. As for the issue it’s a bit of a mess as regular writer Tom King has Joshua Williamson help with the plot, and with Williamson dealing with the script too the entire thing feels like an undercooked stew.

Still, next issue of The Flash sees this story come to a close as DC ramps up the integration of Watchmen so that Comedian versus Batman series some fans have been drooling about is nearly here..

What I thought of Hook Jaw #5

After the penultimate issue we arrive at the climax of this revived series of Hook Jaw as it draws to a close and finally delivers the blood and gore it’s teased throughout its short run. To recap; the baddie Somalian pirates and the baddie Americans have all kidnapped, threatened and tortured each other and the rapidly depleting band of environmentalists are stuck in the middle of a power-play that threatens the world.

Writer Si Spurrier manages to tie things up in a nice little bow and in the grand Hook Jaw tradition there’s only one character out of the main cast who survives to presumably tell the tale of Hook Jaw and what it is. Hook Jaw now isn’t just a slavering eating machine but a figure of folk mythology bordering on the supernatural as well as being an eating machine. As a series it lacked a certain bite for gorehounds, but managed to beef up the actual character of Hook Jaw which is something of an achievement.

So overall a good solid mini-series that now its introduced the concept to a new generation of readers moves onto greater things, assuming of course that Titan continues to publish stories.