18.10.08

So now I have to have contempt for Garth Ennis as well.

I recently read the first issue of Garth Ennis' "Crossed", a new entry in the zombpocalypse genre, in which people desperately band together to flee from the ravening crowd. You may ask "Hey, Count, what separates this particular zombpocalypse comic from all the other ones out there in the market?" Well, in addition to being much worse written, its zombies aren't technically dead yet (like 28 Days Later - also terrible, By The Way), and unlike normal zombies, they absolutely love to rape! Yeah, they can't get enough of that rape. If you forced them to choose between raping and eating flesh, they wouldn't be able to, so instead they'd hit you with a hammer and then do both to you while you were unconscious.

I'm not shocked to see this show up in Garth Ennis' zombie comic, after all, his latest series "The Boys" deals primarily with super-powered rapists and the 'fellas' that work for the CIA and try to put them in their place. Sure, I found the rape scene objectionable, but it was just the unpleasnt cherry atop the worthless pie that is the rest of the comic.

I think what bothers me most about the comic is how much it crystallizes all of the bad things about Ennis' writing in one easy to tear-up place. He's always been on the punk nihilism side of things, presenting an absurdly bleak view of humanity under the guise of black comedy. It always seemed to fit in the utterly broad, wacky worlds he created, the preachers and hitmen and the like. Truth be told, I was a fan of a lot of his early work, although since Preacher ended I haven't gone back to read any of it - I have a feeling it won't hold up well through the eyes of something other than an alienated teenager.

As I continued reading his work, I began to detect a couple of themes running through it. First was the way he seems to cover his lack of ever really having anything to say by making his stories as shocking and transgressive as possible. This isn't exactly an unusual thing to see in a modern comic - plenty of popular writers have built their entire careers on it, but Ennis is unique in that while Morrison uses objectionable material because he doesn't know how to get across the big ideas he has, and Millar uses objectionable content to cover the fact that he only has deeply unoriginal ideas, Ennis tries to disgust people because he has absolutely nothing to say.

The second theme I noticed is even more prevalent in modern comics - an overwhelming smugness on the part of the authors, who all seem to think that they're above the work they're doing, and let that superiority seep into their characters' points of view. As a result, you get comics entirely about people who smugly smirk at the whole world, almost as if they know that they're the voice of the man who created it. If you're looking for an example of this, try any random issue of Hitman.

This is the natural extension of another thing that bothers me about modern writers: Their insistence on taking things they love to talk about with their friends and applying those opinions to their characters - you know what I go to a Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic for? I'll give you a hint, it's not two pages of people talking about Amy Winehouse. Ennis is no stranger to this kind of behaviour. I'll never forget the extended scenes where Preacher stopped dead to present the comedy of Bill Hicks verbatim. Bill Hicks: The comedian whose comedy is so true that everyone loves it, from Irish Vampires to Southern Ministers who grew up in the captivity of religious nuts.

It's not that people base characters on themselves and their own attitudes that bothers me, it's the assumption that the world somehow bends to that character, and that they are given some advantage by being based on the writer. This is the only thing more obnoxious than having an artist cast a famous actor as one of the characters, something Ennis and Derrick Robertson did in 'The Boys', giving Simon Pegg the lead role.

This stuff had always existed in Ennis' work, but I didn't really notice it until he came back to Hellblazer for a five issue run - I hadn't read Hellblazer in a while, so perhaps by the time Garth returned the darkly comic urban fantasy I remembered from Jamie Delano's run had long since turned into something more low-brow and unpleasant, but I was still shocked to see just how low it had fallen. There were the endless puerile jokes, the oddly pathetic (and extremely creepy) sequence of the 40-something John Constantine seducing a 20-year-old lesbian with only the force of nicotine-soaked sexiness, and of course, there was the villain a demon that loved to - what else? - rape people to death. I didn't offically swear off his work after reading the storyline, but I certainly wasn't rushing out to pick it up, either.

Then came his... interesting... take on the Punisher, which deserves an article of its own. Okay, it really deserves three or four articles of its own, and this isn't the time or place.

Which brings us, in an incredibly roundabout way, to Crossed, a comic which takes all of the flaws of Ennis' writing and magnifies them to the point of intolerability. Normally in an article like this I'd offer pictures to reinforce my points but that would require that I both A: Open the comic again, and B: scan it into my computer. Since the comic has a fast-approaching date with an open flame, that's probably not going to be happening. More to the point, you shouldn't see any of this comic. No one should.

Let me ask you a question - in a zombpocalypse sort of situation, who would be the most likely person to survive? According to Ennis, it's not the survivalists, or the people who know a lot about fiction and therefore are more willing to accept zombpocalyptic situations, no, the likeliest survivors will be the miserable snarky pricks who think they're better than everyone else. Oh, and of course emotionally distant women who suffered brutal spousal abuse, and may or may not have used the zombpocalypse as an opportunity to off hubby.

Let me fill you in on the lead up to the scene that caused me to part ways with Ennis. It seems that the pop culture loving character, who is depicted as an object of ridicule - somehow, despite spending weeks or possibly months on the road, scrounging for food, he's managed to remain obese - believes that the zombies are weak against salt, because he saw one choke on salt one time. Of course, this is ridiculous, they're just humans who love to rape and murder, but rather than do something interesting with the character, perhaps going into just why someone would so desperately need to believe in an easy answer in the face of an apocalypse, Ennis decides to use these characters that he has contempt for in his obligatory splatter-panel. How do I know he has contempt for these characters? They're nerds who named their daughter Arwen. It wasn't exactly the Da Vinci Code.

So the morning after the man explains his theory, the group is walking up a hill, hoping to stay ahead of the zombies. The wife twists her ankle and can't go on, so she insists that the husband and daughter go on without her. The husband decides that this is the perfect time to test out his salt theory. At this point, I started to check out, certain that no one on earth could possibly be this stupid. Even if the salt theory made sense, why risk everyone's life on it? The wife's the only one who can't move - why not leave her with the salt? If it works, great, if it doesn't... well, she was dead anyways.

Now, in a comic with better characterisation, it would be clear that his desire to save his wife with the salt is deluded man's attempt to exert control of some segment of his life. Even if this were the case, and he insisted on staying to save his wife, that wife his never on board with the whole salt thing, so why wouldn't she send the girl running off, or, if she was too sick to move (possibly the case - I'm not going back to check), beg someone else to carry her?

In any event, none of those things happen, and the family are killed, after the zombies aren't impressed by the salt. Which leads to the check-out scene I mentioned earlier: A two-page splash that features the husband and wife both being raped to death while their daughter is in the process of being torn to pieces by zombies.

Now aren't you glad I didn't put a picture of that here? I feel dirty using thirty words to describe it - how would a thousand have felt?

So, about this scene - Garth Ennis finds it hilarious! How can I possibly know that? Because, as she's being raped to death, he gives the wife a few lines of dialogue where's she's screaming at her husband in the most profane way possible that the family's death is all his fault.

I suppose it's the meanspiritedness of all this that I find so off-putting. Ennis offers characters that he has open contempt for, created solely for the purpose of giving his readers an inexcusably gory image. The strange part is, if it hadn't been for the excessive gore, the scene might have had a little resonance and been quite effective. There's a shot of the zombies looming over the family that's quite creepy, and had the next two pages stuck together and I found myself looking at the next scene, where the main character looks back, horrified at the fate befalling the family, my mind would have filled in the horrible blanks, and I would have respected Ennis for keeping gore for gore's sake off-panel. Hell, I might have even picked up the second issue.

But Ennis couldn't do it. He had to go for the gore. Because he has nothing else. You know, I spend a lot of time talking bad about 'The Walking Dead'. Roughly twenty minutes of complaining per issue (which, for the record, is nearly ten times as long as it takes to read an issue of 'The Walking Dead'). After reading Crossed, I realize that I owe Robert Kirkman an apology. I wasn't reading any of the other zombie books on the market, so I had no idea just how high above the rest of the crowd it was. Well, okay, I knew it was better than BlackGas.

Between this and 'The Boys', which attempts to answer the question "What if everyone in the DC universe was a mass murdering sexual deviant", Ennis has reached sub-Millar levels of juvenile pointlessness and gory pandering. I won't be surprised if this is the last Garth Ennis comic I ever purchase.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Do you honestly hate Garth Ennis or do you not? If I'm, I'd never ever buy any of comics because of his prejudice for sacredness and superheroes.

Anonymous said...

that is the two main reasons why I hate him exactly! he should NEVER be allowed to touch any superhero comic book because all he does is fill it with his drivel and anti-superhero sentiments.

his work just makes me want to throw up when I see or hear of it... "Dicks"? really?


so whenever I see that name, I avoid it like the plague. he's not worth my time or money.

RedCarp said...

I thought I was the only one to despise Ennis' work. I find his comics juvenile and idiotic, as if they were written by a third grade bully.

Anon said...

I praise everyone one of you Garth haters. You, RedCarp, are right that he is a bully. In fact, he's no better than the people who he claims to hate. As far concerned, he should be executed for his bias against sacredness and superheroes. that's what he gets for painting all theists with one brush and for creating the Saint of Killers.