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Review: “Wanted” by Mark Millar & J.G. Jones

Title: Wanted
Writer: Mark Millar
Artist: J.G. Jones & Dick Giordano (Flashback sequences in issue #6)
Rating: ****
Publisher/Copyright: Image Comics, 2007

Every once in a while you run across a book like Wanted. Well written, excellent art, genius premise, a smart story and interesting characters….and a stated goal of offending every sensibility you have. In that, Wanted certainly succeeds. Am I recommending you go read it? That depends on who you are and how easy you are to offend. This one’s not for everyone. It’s been billed “Watchmen for super-villains,” if that tells you anything.

Wesley Gibson is the ultimate loser. His girlfriend is cheating on him with his supposed-best friend, he has a dead-end job with a boss who chews him out regularly, he’s a hypochondriac, and to top it all off he seems to be a clone of Eminem. But all that changes when a woman named Fox upends his life. It seems that Wesley’s father was the Killer, one of a cabal of super-villains who have secretly run the world since 1986. Now the Killer is dead, and Wesley stands to inherit not only his worldly possessions but also his place in The Fraternity. Before you know it, Wesley is a whole new person with a whole new set of…well, maybe not friends. Associates might be a better word. Tensions are rising within the Fraternity. After years of peacefully keeping the world subjugated, certain members are getting tired of living behind the scenes. Civil War seems eminent, and there’s no better time to be the Killer….

Imagine suddenly having the ability to do whatever you wanted, with absolutely no consequences. Blow away a restaurant full of people? Police have no suspects. Make your “friend” who’s cheating with your girlfriend disappear? Doesn’t even make the news. Whatever your fancy, it will be covered up. How? Because the super-villains are ruling the world. Do you remember the Heroes? No, of course you don’t. They’ve been relegated to cheesy TV shows and comic books. They never really existed. Or at least, that’s the story now. Turns out that in 1986 all the super-villains – ALL of them – teamed up and took down the mighty Heroes, rewriting reality so that they never even existed. A certain pair of caped crusaders now think they just played those characters on TV, and the world’s greatest hero spends his days in a wheelchair staring out the window at a world that has forgotten him, wondering just what he’s trying to remember. The gang’s all here, given a gritty update and with their names changed to protect the author from lawsuits. Some of them are recognizable, others less so. Remember Bizarro? The failed clone of Superman that turns everything opposite? He’s been translated into [REDACTED]*, a “Down’s Syndrome copy of the world’s greatest hero.” Clayface? Try [REDACTED]*, a creature made up from the feces of the world’s six-hundred and sixty-six most evil beings that have somehow become sentient. There’s more in the same vein. Fox is clearly Catwoman stuck in Halle Berry’s body. (No, I have no idea whether that’s a coincidence. The comic was released first, but I don’t know how far back the casting for Catwoman was announced.) Mister Rictus is a darker take on the Joker, a former priest who died for a few moments only to find that there’s nothing waiting on the other side. Now? Now he does whatever he wants, eats what(or who)ever he wants, fornicates with whatever he wants. Currently? He wants to take America from his old rival Professor Solomon Seltzer….

The content here is over the top offensive. There’s the obvious profanity, sexual content and gore, but there’s also adapting DC’s Bizarro to have Down’s Syndrome (and then making fun of him), or putting not-Superman in a wheelchair….just like the guy that used to play him in the movies. At the same time, the premise is genius. The characters are all incredibly well executed. The plot is a purposeful inversion of Campbell’s “Hero’s Journey” theme. This is an incredible piece of work….except for how offensive it is. So, should you read it? I’ll let you decide.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity throughout. Explicit sexual content, including references to rape and bestiality. Strong, gory violence. Not for children!

*I keep this blog PG, even when the works I’m reviewing definitely aren’t. Redacted names contain profanity.

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Review: “Horns” by Joe Hill

Title: Horns
Author: Joe Hill
Rating: *****
Publisher/Copyright: Harper Collins, 2011

I’d been meaning to read some of Joe Hill’s work for a while, and just hadn’t got around to it yet. Then they announced that Horns was going to become a movie, and so of course I had to read it. Can’t commit heresy by seeing something without reading the book first, right? (I still haven’t seen it, but they’ve got my name on the list at the library for when it comes in.) In case you don’t know, Mr. Hill is the son of horror fiction’s crown prince, Stephen King, and has taken to his father’s craft with a vengeance. I’m not kidding when I say that every single book he’s produced has been recommended to me by one person or another, usually multiple times. I’ve mentioned before that in my limited reading of King I tend to not be particularly fond of the protagonist for one reason or another (there are exceptions, of course.) That’s not a problem Hill has, at least not here. The project here is ambitious–I half-imagine someone bet Hill that he couldn’t write a story with the devil (or more accurately, a devil) as the protagonist and make him sympathetic. Well, if that’s the case, Hill won the bet.

Until a year ago, Ignatius “Ig” Perrish was a saint. No, that’s not quite right–saints don’t typically smoke, drink, or spend the night with a girl they’ve not yet married (even if there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that such an event is in their future.) Ig does all of these things on a regular basis. So, a sinner, but a good-natured one. All that changed the night his girlfriend, Merrin Williams, was raped and murdered in the woods. Ig was the only real suspect, as she had just broken up with him in a very public drunken shouting match at a local restaurant, but the case went cold for lack of evidence. Ig never got his day in court, and so never had a chance to prove that he didn’t do it. Even if he had, it may not have convinced anyone. Ig spent the next year a bitter, drunken wreck of a man. On the one-year anniversary of the murder, he spent the night drunk and doing terrible things. The next morning, he woke with horns growing from his temples–not that anyone else can seem to see, but they’re there. Also, people seem to be confessing their deepest, darkest desires to him, almost seeking permission to fulfill them. Skin contact reveals their most hidden secret sins they’ve committed in the past. Ig has no idea where this diabolical power has come from, but he knows what he’s going to do with it: find whoever killed the woman he loves, and give them Hell….

Like I said, a very ambitious book. The premise alone was intriguing, but the execution was simply masterful. I wholeheartedly recommend the book to anyone with a fondness for the horror genre, or that likes a story that’s just a little bit off the wall. I will warn you though, the book can be incredibly disturbing at times. There’s a whole section of the book told from the perspective of the killer, including the night of the rape and murder of Merrin Williams. The night I hit that section I stayed up reading long past when I had planned to stop, simply so that I didn’t have to go to bed still in his head and could reach the (comparatively) wholesome POV of Ig once again before drifting off to sleep. I didn’t want SPOILER OMITTED spending the night in my subconscious. The whole story is told somewhat out of order, starting the morning Ig wakes up with horns and then spending large chunks of time filling in the background through flashbacks as different revelations are made and need context or someone inadvisedly touches Ig and reveals their darkest secrets.

There are all sorts of issues with the book theologically-speaking, of course, but that’s not the point of the book and so I really won’t get into that here. Christianity, the church, and the Judeo-Christian God don’t come off well in the book, but that’s to be expected from a character who feels so betrayed and embittered towards Heaven. And really, given the treatment Hill’s father gives similar themes on a repeated basis, are you really all that surprised? I more or less expected something along those lines.

CONTENT: R-rated profanity throughout. Some gruesome and disturbing violence, including a rape and subsequent murder. Some explicit sexual content, including but not limited to the aforementioned rape (though this scene is played for horror, not titillation). The main character is becoming something along the lines of the traditional Judeo-Christian devil, including an array of diabolical powers. I think that probably counts as occult content.

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