Thursday, March 06, 2008

Mark Millar's Wanted 2

We start with a recap of Wesley Gibson's problems -- no sex with the girlfriend who cheats on him with his best friend, irritating old man neighbor trying to be nice, mean boss, being picked on by "Spike Lee extras." Millar seems very worried will have forgotten all of this since last issue. Ostensibly we are reminded of all these things because in this issue, called "Fuck You," Wesley says just that to his old life and accepts his super-villain destiny. You can see what Millar is up to by looking at Wesley's little rebellion -- he scatters the papers in the cubicle yelling "Fuck you you fucking assholes" and it is clear that this is a American Dream moment -- his coworkers are shocked, but also a little impressed (one laughs, one looks like he is almost ready to put his fist in the air and join him). Then he kills random people, goes after all his enemies -- including a girl who turned him down for a date, and a guy who spilled ink on him once. The vile non-sense just goes on and on.

Wanted is the complement to the Authority, but does not work nearly as well. The Authority -- especially in Millar's hands -- took the basic idea about superheroics and pushed it to its natural extreme: having super-powers and punching people until they act like you want them to leads to the violence and fascism of the Authority, where you can no longer tell the good guys from the bad guys. Wanted is supposed to do the same thing for that American Dream of quitting your job and doing whatever you want. The problem is that while there is something vaguely frightening about the idea of Superman that can be persuasively jacked up in the Authority, the desire to ditch your job in a cubicle needs a pretty specific strain of nastiness to end with your raping and killing an A-list celebrity as she sobs in the bathtub. I think Millar wants Wesley Gibson to be a kind of Everyman but it seems clear that he is just a nasty racist psychopath. Importantly, the power does not corrupt him -- it is just that now he ACTS on his nasty desires.

That is where Millar's polemic goes wrong, but it also causes problems with his story here. Mr. Rictus is introduced as a bad guy -- even in the context of this story of bad guys. How do we establish that? He kills babies. That is apparently where we draw the line. Killing random young women with a sniper rifle, and shooting your harmless old man neighbor who says the same nice phrase to you every morning is all part of being a badass, but killing babies is where we draw the line. Millar needs the line to create conflict, but you cannot erase the line first or your story makes no sense.

Two things keep Millar in business. First, he can write some great Bad-ass dialogue. "What kind of super-people show up to a fight stinking of booze? [head explodes]" -- "The dangerous kind" will always stay with me. But Wanted, at least the first two issues, do not really have lines like that. Just as Alfred Hitchcock got bad once the restrictions on violence were removed (see Frenzy, as opposed to the earlier much less gory Psycho) Millar loses his touch when he can simply have characters say "Fuck You" all the time. Issue two actually includes Wesley saying "If I was chocolate I swear I'd eat myself right now" which is seriously weak, Lifetime movie network comedy weak.

The second thing that keeps Millar alive is the fact that every once and a while he has a really good idea. I have heard people claim that he steals or borrows them from Grant Morrison, but these ideas show up in his books and he occasionally has a great one. The zombie fake-out in his Ultimate Fantastic Four issue was brilliant and brilliantly marketed -- Marvel made it seem like the Ultimate books were going to cross over with the core books, and everyone went nuts, but both we and the Ultimate Reed Richard discovered the fake out together at the last moment. The idea of Civil War is quite good (though I do not know if that was his). Having the Authority go up against Jack Kirby and all his creations was pretty fun. The end of Red Son, where time travel makes it possible for the "El" in Superman's real family name to be a corruption of L, itself a shortening of Luthor was brilliant (though that one is almost certainly from Morrison, as he used it, less dramatically, in DC One Million). Issue two of Wanted shows Millar at his best, as Solomon explains what happened to the real superheroes after the bad guys re-wrote reality:

Now your father's old nemesis is just a camp, podgy joke who signs autographs for money. The Warrior Princess is a menopausal drunk who thinks she was a TV personality. And as for my own arch foe... [image of a man in a wheelchair] Well, according to the newspapers he needs someone to help him defecate now and spends his long, dull days staring into space, trying to figure out where it all went wrong.

Kingdom Come is dedicated to Christopher Reeve, "who made us believe that a man could fly." In part because of his terrible accident, there was a real sentimental feeling that Reeve in some way WAS Superman. [He was, by the way, brilliant, when he played against this, appearing on The Practice post-accident, as a wheelchair bound criminal mastermind]. Linda Carter will always somehow BE Wonder Woman, which is why she appears as the principal of a superhero school in Sky High. Adam West has of course never transcended his role as Batman, possibly the most famous Batman (as someone said in the comments recently). As vile as Millar is trying to be, there is this underlying compliment to Reeve, Carter and West that I find weirdly moving, because it plugs into the way all three actors are so locked into those roles. Before the world got awful -- before the super-villains took over and re-wrote reality -- Reeve, Carter and West REALLY WERE Superman, Wonder Woman and Batman. On some level, don't we all sort of believe that?

We were recently discussing the underrated Galaxy Quest. What makes Galaxy Quest so moving is that as much as it makes fun of Star Trek, it also provides a narrative in which the Star Trek actors -- many of whom fans know hated being pigeon holed into just those roles -- fully BECOME the characters. The contrast between the actors and the characters is finally resolved to great effect. There is something like that buried in Wanted, buried beneath the vile and casual assumption -- vile because it is so casual -- that its readers will identify with this racist monster who is our protagonist.


Anonymous said...

Truthfully and honestly, Wanted is the greatest graphic novel I've ever read.

Stephen Dunlap said...

Yeah you are sayin right this novel and this movie is on good ranking, i really like this post and in movie wanted i really like Wesley Gibson Wanted Leather Jacket