Featured Post


This essay is a very belated response to a " part 1 " published in February 2015. The gist of that essay was a response to a corre...

Monday, September 23, 2013


I first read WANTED as a graphic novel compilation after seeing and enjoying the 2008 film derivation.  I say "derivation" because the film could not be called an adaptation in the true sense: it merely borrows the loose outlines of the graphic novel.  WANTED the GN concerns a pathetic wage-slave who learns that due to his heritage he can become a member of a globe-spanning network of costumed super-criminals, while WANTED the movie concerns a pathetic wage-slave who learns that due to his heritage he can become a member of a globe-spanning network of non-costumed super-assassins. 

Though the filmmakers may have any number of justifications for changing the content of their scenario, I speculate that the biggest reason was one of narrative clarity. When dealing with matters metaphenomenal, live-action audiovisual media, which must use actors to some extent, it's difficult to present huge hordes of metaphenomenal characters, as comic books frequently do.  The cinematic medium-- like its cousin, television in its serial manifestation--  is dominantly allied to what science fiction readers have called the "one gimme rule," in which for the length of the narrative the story may ask the reader to believe one impossible thing-- time-travel, an alien invasion-- but not two impossible things. 

Prose, however, has long been able to weave together many impossible things together into a single strand, ranging from archaic epics like THE ARGONAUTICA to THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS, the novel that advocated believing in six impossible things before breakfast.  Ironically, the "one gimme rule" was first articulated with prose fiction in mind, but prose-- and all media dependent on the printed word, such as comics-- have always had a greater ability to entertain many impossible things, with or without detailed explanation.

The WANTED movie chose to use super-assassins-- a bunch of ordinary men transformed into a cult of killers by a secret organization's rituals and weapons--because that was the easiest narrative concept to put across in a two-hour film.  The WANTED graphic novel, however, began as a proposal to DC Comics, which would have taken the old 1970s SECRET SOCIETY OF SUPER-VILLAINS concept and cranked it up for the ultraviolence audience, imagining an alternate dimension-- evocative of, but not identical with, DC's normative universe-- in which the more numerous supervillains banded together to kill off or render helpless all the superheroes.  Further, the villains managed to erase the memories of everyone on that earth as to the former existence of superheroes.  Thus, given that ordinary law-enforcement was incapable of fighting hordes of fiends with super-weapons and super-powers, nothing restricted the supervillains but their own kind.  They formed guilds in order to rein one another in, not out of any sense of probity but simply to avoid (1) killing the "goose" of common humanity and depriving themselves of its golden eggs, and (2) drawing the attention of whatever superheroes existed in alternate dimensions.

I said above that I enjoyed the movie, and then read the GN, which I mentioned briefly in this 2008 post.  To the best of my recollection I had not read any other Mark Millar work; at most I might've known his name as one of many British (specifically Scottish) authors who became noteworthy in the 1990s.  I briefly followed up my short post with ID-IOT'S DEMISE, in which I compared the constant battles of heroes and villains in adventure-fiction to the adversarial interactions of "the ego" and "the id" in the Freudian schema.  To repeat the obvious pun once more, I found WANTED wanting in this regard:

One might think that in a world where the supervillains have successfully killed off all of the superheroes (and even wiped out humanity's memory of the event), one might see the supervillain in All His Glory: might see all sorts of weird, perverted, diabolical id-impulses on display. But I see more "id-iosyncracies" in an average issue of BATMAN than in this facile antiheroic tripe.
In addition to critiquing WANTED on the basic of its paucity of imagination, though, I want to add that its take on the human capacity for evil is far more meretricious than almost every superhero comic book ever made.  The only tool in Miller's kit is that of the Punk Who Shouted Hate at the Heart of the World, and he screws that up almost as badly as he fails to create strong villainous presences. 

It's certainly possible to imagine a world where villainy is the ruling principle.  The Marquis deSade did so, and even though Sade's vision is rife with philosophical weaknesses, he never for a moment compromises his belief that persons possessed of the will to torture and destroy others should be able to do so. 

In contrast, Millar shows just as much compromise as the wage-slave "assholes" he professes to despise.  At one point in the story, protagonist Wesley Gibson-- the fellow who is saved from life as a corporate drone, so that he can enjoy endless adventures of rape and murder-- confesses that after he made a one-man assault on a police station, killed almost everyone in the station, and then suddenly had a crying-jag.  He reflects to his bed-partner Fox that now he thinks about how he ruined the families of all the cops he killed, and observes that "maybe this 'being evil all the time' crap's just starting to feel a little forced." His bed-partner Fox, also a spree-killer, has these words of wisdom:

You really think we just go around fucking shit up all the time?  This is a global business, man,  We got our fingers in a little piece of everything and that means you gotta be disciplined.

Where a Sade character would dispel moral objections against sadistic acts with a breezy lecture about the necessity of imposing force on others in order to live, Millar dodges the issue of moral recriminations entirely.  Fox does not comment directly on Wesley's crying-jag at all; she merely says that Wesley has "hit the same wall we all hit after the first few months [of rape and murder]."  Fox counsels the same deferral of passions that motivates the original Wesley not to rebel against the people who sign his paychecks: "business"-- except that now Wesley is one of the bosses instead of one of the underlings.  It's interesting that discipline for the sake of efficiency and "time" are her watchwords:

You don't have time to rape, kill and mutilate people all the time, baby... [your father] just wanted you do what you really wanted to do with your life and sometimes that means watching TV in bed all day long and other times it's murdering some fucker.

The characters of Sade view their libertine excesses as a sort of self-actualization as well, but Sade himself is a positive zealot about tearing down the old hypocrisies of religion and morality.  In WANTED Millar, the prophet of an "idiot id," can't summon up the least interest in moral issues, even to dispel them. Fox doesn't even bother to tell Wesley that he's probably less concerned with the cops' families than with his own family traumas, which would be a logical enough conclusion given the psychobabble limitations of Millar's universe.  Implicitly the crying-jag is not actual remorse, just a physical reaction to stress.  Once Wesley has the discipline of a true killer like his father-- whose biggest guilt is that he allowed Wesley to be raised by his pacifist mother-- he will be able to sublimate any guilty reactions to the acts of rape and murder and will be able to chill out watching TV in bed all day when he so pleases.

To be sure, I only reread this graphic novel to test the accuracy of my original reaction and because I was obliged recently to agree with one of Millar's statements in this essay. I wanted to give at least one reason why I considered Millar's use of "ultraviolence" to be stupid and meretricious. Perhaps in a future review I'll cite an example that proves a little more in tune with the "expenditure" ethic of the Grand Marquis, and less with Millar's "consumption" ethic of simply consuming more consipicuously than the ordinary asshole wage-slave.

No comments: