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NUM-INOUS COMICS PT. 2

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...

Friday, April 27, 2018

MYTHCOMICS: HACK/SLASH: GIRLS GONE DEAD (2004)

It's probably not a coincidence that, a week or so after finishing my ANATOMY OF A PSYCHO KILLER NARRATIVE  series, I turned my attention to an omnibus of stories featuring the adventures of two hunters of killer revenants. Of the two protagonists, only one's name, that of Cassie Hack, is in the title. As far as I can tell, "Slash" just indicates the monster-killing activities of Cassie and her seven-foot-tall male partner Vlad.`In fact, Cassie’s the one who gives her partner the name “Vlad," which is surely meant ironically. The big, slow-speaking fellow is not a smooth undead seducer, but a hulk who displays both the sensitivity and brutality of Dracula’s conceptual opposite, the Frankenstein Monster.



Though the origin-story for the duo has some mythic aspects, the solo 2004 adventure, subtitled "Girls Gone Dead," proves one of the best observations of the sex-and-violence dynamic of the psycho-killer narrative.  The title plays on a series of popular "spring break" titillation videos, "Girls Gone Wild." Making fun of the prurient Spring Break rituals of youthful idlers is at best easy prey, and it's to the credit of creator/writer Tim Seeley that he goes after bigger game.

I should note in passing that though Seeley sometimes drew his characters, in this outing, the second for the heroes, one Frederica Manfredi handles penciling chores. I can't say whether or not Manfredi contiibuted any input to the setup-- two grim hunters venturing into the surf-sun-and-sex world of Palm Beach-- but it adds a little extra to the production to see a female penciler contributing to a story that doesn't totally trash the idea of sexual embodiment.



Like many other supernatural crusaders before them, Cassie and Vlad begin their adventures by investigating media  reports on mysterious deaths. Vlad doesn't know quite what to make of all the prancing, semi-nude bodies, the wet T-shirt contests, and shutterbugs trying to snap pics of feminine nips. Cassie, having been raised in-- and essentially rejected by-- mainstream youth culture, surveys all she sees with a combination of bitterness and ill-concealed longing. Seeley makes clear that she's correct to consider the Palm Beach to be "a place where a bunch of pre-adults can spend mommy and daddy's money, drink like fish, paw at each other, and not have a care in the world." Still, it's a world she can't help but find enticing, compared to her crusade of demon-slaying-- which, the origin makes clear, allows her to fight her own inner demons by expunging killer revenants-- which Cassie terms "slashers"-- from the real world.


This “Palm Beach story” is far more Cassie’s tale than Vlad’s, since parties with her fellow adolescents belonged to a world that Cassie left behind to pursue her demon-slaying career. In the grand tradition of the Protestant Work Ethic, young Cassie tries to put aside her personal needs to investigate the slasher-murders. She finds two enemies who may incarnate a “Catholic Ethic,” even though it seems filtered through the dominant Protestantism of the U.S.


The undead member of the psycho-killer team is Father Wrath. In life he emulated the “fire-and-brimstone” rhetoric of Protestant holy-rollers, inveighing against gays and Jews, despite presenting using the name of a psuedo-Catholic priest and wearing Catholic vestments. Yet casting stones didn’t insure that he was without sin, for he secretly liked to dress up in women’s clothes, and eventually lost his life when he approached the wrong hookup.



Yet he’s wholly controlled by the still-living Laura Lochs, whom Cassie calls a “Catholic school girl from hell,” though for no reason beyond Laura’s prim-and-proper garments. Laura was once engaged, but she didn’t believe in sex before marriage. Her beau then sought easier pickings at a Spring Break wet T-shirt contest, thus giving Laura a permanent mad-on against the beach-blanket bacchanale. She somehow stumbled across a magical book full of spells capable of reviving and controlling dead people, which led her to re-animate Father Wrath.



Cassie escapes the deadly duo, but not without gleaning the germ of their plan: to massacre a beach-house full of “Girls Gone Naughty” party-goers. While Vlad waits as backup, Cassie has to force herself to act the part of a “normal girl” to infiltrate the party. Early on, her mission is compromised when one of the male party-people slips Cassie some vodka. Yet Cassie isn’t attacked, and she actually starts enjoying herself with the casual juveniles even as she thinks things like, “Why am I dancing? I don’t dance. I hate these people.” Laura and her puppet-priest show up to begin the slaughter, resulting in a big blowout in which Vlad duels Father Wrath and Cassie takes on Laura. The highlight of the battle includes a moment in which prim Laura is subjected to a “wet T-shirt” ordeal, playing off the ritual that seduced her boyfriend, before she and Father Wrath are defeated—though Laura makes at least one return appearance.



I won’t claim that Tim Seeley’s script is strikingly original. The psycho-killer subgenre is rife with narratives in which a psycho-killer is spawned by human sinfulness, resulting in the killer’s obsession with avenging those wrongs. A number of psycho-killers, whether explicitly religious or not, devote themselves to crusading against “the beast with two backs,” and their jeremiads are always pathetic, doomed to fail against the irrresitable tide of human sexuality. Seeley isn’t concerned with the social roles embodied in repressive religious practices, only with spinning an escapist story combining tits and terror. What makes “Girls Gone Dead”interesting is its resistance to other pervasive social narratives. Early in the story, a young woman—one of Wrath’s impending victims—observes that Spring Break is just “beads, beer and showin’ your tits to strangers,” and her friend replies that if the woman wanted tamer fare, “you should have went to a church picnic.” In contrast to the alleged dominant pattern of psycho-killer films, it’s the comparatively “good girl” who’s first to die.

Similarly, the relatively minor incident in which a bad boy slips Cassie vodka does not end with that guy, or anyone else, attempting to rape the heroine. Such a scenario would be fully in keeping with the narratives approved by WAPsters and their current philosophical kindred, the #MeToo movement. Cassie really does loosen up after being given strong drink, and she continues to drink on her own, as well as making fleeting connections with strangers. Only grim duty forces her to abandon the carefree revels and have her showdown with a woman as obsessed as she is, who also uses a male partner for “muscle” just as Cassie does. In the end, the wages of “anti-sin” exert a higher price than those of plain old sin, and it’s hard to believe that Seeley doesn’t want his readers to make the same conclusion—which is at least a more complicated theme-statement than one gets from the majority of psycho-killer tales.





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