A Long Time Ago In a Comic Far Far Better Than Most
I’ve been trying to get my wife to read Saga. God, I freakin’ love Saga. The Will and Lying Cat are the desktop image on my laptop. And I have a child.
But the Mrs just isn’t interested.
To someone who isn’t really INTO sci-fi, let alone comics, it’s a hard sell. It is, ostensibly, SCI-FI in capitals.
But Saga has something an awful lot of this SCI-FI stuff doesn’t (compared say, to Grant Morrison’s God-fuck awful World War III Justice League run, which I slaved through after making an ill-advised impulse buy at Chester Comics Co):
Saga has all of the following:
A gay facial cum shot displayed on the face-screen of a robot soldier
A massive ogre with tiny cock
A naked spider woman
A prostitution planet
Oh, it also has:
You can probably see where I’m going with this. Saga is a story in the true sense of the word. It is not a platform on which to display the first list of things. It is a journey, and its characters are woven into it. That second list of things is what makes it more than a disposable piece of pulp eye-candy.
When there is sexuality shown, it is in keeping with the characters and their interactions. They swear when we would. The violence is sparing, but shocking, and makes perfect sense within the context it is placed.
And let’s just look at the violence specifically. It is there (beautifully/grimly drawn by Fiona Staples) to show a character’s brutality, the horror of war. And it stems from a situation; the situation has not been engineered into the story to allow/excuse the depiction of violence.
Okay, now I’m going to pick on Mark Millar, because some of his works stand out to me as the antithesis of this. I’m sure he is not the only one, but have you read Nemesis?
Nemesis struck me as a cold, cold, cold revenge story told for the sake of its own shock value. I mean, kidnapping a guy’s children to then inseminate the daughter with the son’s sperm, with her womb booby-trapped to make an abortion impossible… Jesus, it’s a teenager’s revenge fantasy.
And that’s so often the case with material emphasised to the nth degree to shock, the sexualisation of the violence, the titillation via disgust it induces giving it an oh, so ADULT veneer.
Kick Ass 2 has a gang rape scene. Purpose it serves: This bad guy (Red Mist/The Motherfucker) is a really bad baddie.
It’s cheap exploitation and poor writing. It’s a form of porn, let’s dub it Discomfort Porn (I already bought the URL).
Red Mist/The Motherfucker is a one-sided and dull cartoon. Darth Vader, Hannibal Lector, The Joker even…those are villainous characters who stay with us because, as callous and brutal as they are, they are written and executed well, and do not rely solely on shock to entertain.
It is easy to write a bad guy – and the seemingly increasing use of child abduction/abuse is the easiest go-to of all – but it is much harder to craft a villain in the true sense of the word.
Rant Nearly Over, I Promise
I’m not saying these things should not be discussed or portrayed, because these things DO happen in society. And I believe that comics are as valid and vital a place for the discussion as any other. But when I see someone trying to pull the SHOCK tactics out of their limited bag, I just turn off these days, because it feels like a cheap and pointless exploitation, not so much of the characters (for what they are), but of me as a reader.