Comics That Harness Hysteria, Politics and the Artistic Vision
In the world of comics, the division of labor is pretty straight forward. Writers write, artists draw. Sure, there are the colorists and the lettering that can also subtly make or break a title, but they’re more often than not the unsung heroes of the trade (and worth discussing in their own article). Sometimes there’s an inspired kismet when separate forces join together and produce art of any description. It can transcend the grand total of the individual talents involved and make something truly special.
So when we happen upon works from a creator that does it all, you’re getting a unique, singular voice with (hopefully) a story to tell. Perhaps they have the opportunity to really say something about the times we live in, to push forward an idea that isn’t compromised or diluted by consensus.
Below all three titles that bend the lines of hysteria, normalcy, and politics in society. While each comic is interesting, they don’t always work.
Divided States of Hysteria (Image Comics)
Howard Chaykin isn’t a stranger to controversy, but with his latest work he’s really hit a new high (or low). This first issue of Divided States of Hysteria has a woman dressed in a stars & stripes niqab, and that’s just the cover. Inside its pages, the reader is bombarded with bloody violence, ugly racial stereotypes and the brutal attack of a transgender character that coincided with Pride Month.
It’s the type of book that could only come from one mind. You’d imagine that any artistic partner would temper some of the more vulgar elements in play here.
Chaykin seems to be rallying against the current political climate in the US, but in doing so he’s managed to insult some of the most vulnerable sections of society and give credence to all the Middle America paranoia that’s bubbled to the surface.
He doubles down in an essay at the back of the first issue, arguing that identity politics have brought the country to the era of Trump, but it’s hard to see what he’s doing beyond exploiting the divisions and hatred that exist.
Maybe there’s something to his idea that the Balkanization of the Left has strengthened the likes of Trump and his supporters, but a white Baby Boomer male probably isn’t the best person to be flying this flag. The ultimate irony is that his charge of arrogance and hubris against the “divided states” is something he’s equally guilty of here.
Which isn’t to say there’s nothing of merit about the book. Chaykin is seasoned pro by now, and he’s doing interesting work with how the images and text play off each other.
But while the artwork is solid, the story is difficult to swallow or even follow: new characters are thrown into the mix every other page, presumably to take on more significance as the plot unfolds in later issues, but they don’t serve much of a purpose here beyond shock value. As a reader, I’m not titillated by any of this, just bored.
The cover for Issue 4 has upped the ante for offense the past few days. I don’t really want to say anything about it, as lots of digital ink has already been spilled over whether it should be pulled.
Besides, I haven’t even got to the good stuff yet.
Planetoid Praxis (Image Comics)
This is actually the follow-up to the 2012 miniseries Planetoid, which saw a stranded Han Solo-esque space pirate rally the various tribes on an industrial wasteland planet to overthrow the brutal regime in charge. Both are written and drawn by Ken Garing, who has an amazing style reminiscent of the great European artists.
His artwork has the dense, techno-organic look of classic Métal Hurlant or the rampant imagination of Moebius. The interplanetary universe he’s created reminded me in particular of Worlds of Aldebaran by Léo.
There are people of different colors, shapes and sizes, and even several species of aliens all in the mix. You get the feeling that any of the characters stuck on this planet have backstories worthy of their own series.
The opening of the first issue is a masterclass in scene-setting and atmosphere; eight pages, no dialogue. That was enough for me to know I was all in. It’s that good.
Where the first miniseries explored ideas of how societies are formed and the fight against tyranny, Planetoid Praxis deals with how those people react to a threat from their enemies, either real or imagined.
Do they use their better judgement, or do fear and mob rule take over? We don’t need to look beyond our own planet to see how this resonates.
Renato Jones: Freelancer
This one is another second round knockout, following on from the five issue run last year. Renato Jones has been described as The Punisher meets Occupy Wall Street, but in this second miniseries there’s more than a touch of Bruce Wayne to the title character.
Where the first series had him on a cathartic kill mission through the 1%, this series so far seems to be delving into the wounded psyche of the man. Like the best iterations of Batman, it really examines what would drive someone to take on the role of the avenging angel, and what the fallout would be.
It’s “created, written, drawn and OWNED” by Kaare Kyle Andrews, who is really pulling out all the stops here. His default style of art appears to be heavily influenced by manga, but there’s experimentation on every page both in terms of narrative and visuals. It’s a genuine thrill to read.
Flashbacks are shown on weathered pages, while the main story moves from surreal colors to black & white. Some pages are left blank except for the text, which has a devastating effect, and there are faux adverts for “OLIGARCHY” and “OBSTRUCTION” peppered throughout the story.
His targets are largely the same as Chaykin’s but his precision is better. There’s a beating heart behind the violence and the cynicism, which makes it all the more effective.
All three titles are available from Image Comics.