Maybe I’m just a crusty old-timer who yearns for days gone by, but goddamnit — I miss having comics on the store shelves that were sick and wrong.
Oh, sure, plenty of series have moments here and there designed to shock — Saga is certainly famous for it, although such instances been fewer and farther between lately — but books with a genuinely twisted and perverted core premise are in painfully short supply, and have been for some time. Thank goodness (or, more likely, its polar opposite) then for a couple of upstanding gentlemen I admit to never having heard of before, named Doug Wagner and Daniel Hillyard.
Granted, the first issue of their new Image Comics five-parter, Plastic (which comes our way under the auspices of the suddenly-surging 12-Gauge Comics studio/imprint) isn’t going to make you suddenly forget all about the work of gleeful reprobates like S. Clay Wilson or Mike Diana, but it’s more than enough to make the morally and ethically average reader feel more than just bit queasy, and that’s something to be grateful for. Consider, if you will, this scenario and let me know if it ticks enough boxes off your “dude, that ain’t right” checklist: former “black ops” agent turned serial killer Edwyn Stoffgruppen has finally met his perfect partner, Virginia. She calms his homicidal urges with her non-stop sex drive, and the two of them seem to be having the time of their lives travelling the backroads of America in his old Ford LTD. Heck, they’re getting along so swimmingly that they’re even planning a trip to Rome together. But when a run-in with some local hooligans leads, by a fairly straight-forward series of interpersonal connections, to Virginia being kidnapped by a Louisiana multi-millionaire, our guy Ed’s put in a sticky situation : either kill some of the rich asshole’s enemies for him, or his old lady gets a bullet in the head.
Okay, put that way things sound more than a little bog-standard, but there’s one tiny detail I forgot to mention: Virginia is a plastic sex doll.
If you take a look at the preview pages included with this review, they suddenly take on a whole new meaning with that in mind, don’t they? And what appears to be rather banal dialogue? Well, it’s really anything but. Wagner’s script rather masterfully portrays Edwyn as precisely what he is, namely a hopelessly sick fuck, but you also sort of want the best for him and his “lady” friend, not so much because “either” of “them” are sympathetic figures in any way, but simply because the alternative to him living happily ever after with a rubber fuck-toy is probably so much worse. One way or another, then, “good” outcome or “bad,” things are probably gonna get even weirder and bloodier before this whole thing is over.
Hillyard’s art is almost disconcertingly innocent in its appearance, with a definite and pronounced animation influence, which is what makes it so perfect for this kind of depraved material. When one of Virginia’s kidnappers starts licking “her” arm, for instance — damn, you wanna feel physically ill. And given that veteran colorist Laura Martin primarily hews to a bright and vibrant palette (again underscoring the animation cel look), the downright garish contrast between what’s depicted and the way it’s depicted borders on the dizzying. I can see a strong argument being made for the idea this book’s art really doesn’t “match up well” with its story, sure, but I think a conservative viewpoint like that rather misses the point entirely, in my own hopefully-humble opinion. And while Andrew Robinson’s memorable cover should be more than enough to clue the average store browser in to exactly what they’re getting with this one, anyone who bails on this series after this opening shot across the bow isn’t someone I can necessarily begrudge for their sensibilities — this is, after all, a book that probably will (hell, probably should) only appeal to the tiniest and most (ahem!) specialized of audiences.
The fact that I’m part of said audience may be a cause of concern to my therapist, I suppose (that is, if I had one), but come on — you and I both know I could give a flying fuck about that. Recently a rather pompous-seeming individual opined that he “detest(s) me (not my reviews, mind you, but me, personally) with the fiery heat of a thousand suns” due to what he perceives to be my apparently-obvious intellectual shortcomings as evidenced by my comic reviews in particular, and I would imagine that my whole-hearted endorsement of a series as amoral (at best) as this one will sink my already-low stature in the eyes of these self-appointed “honor brigade”-types even more, but there are plenty of self-serious, sanctimonious titles out there explicitly designed to appeal to the sort of folks who think that stories featuring super-heroes with PTSD or asking themselves “do I have the right to kill villains X,Y, and Z” passes for “deep.” Well, they can keep all that shit — truth be told Marvel, in particular, hasn’t been able to do angst properly since Steve Ditko walked away from Peter Parker/Spider-Man. My own interest in moral heavy-handedness is at an all-time low, and if you’re as sick of it as I am, then chances are you’ll agree that Plastic is the perfect antidote to all this wretched, over-wrought earnestness.
Will you feel appropriately guilty about enjoying this comic? Oh, I should think so — hell, I dearly hope so. But who are we kidding? That’s half the fun, too, isn’t it?