The mainstream news media and certain “bipartisan” politicians may be happy to peddle the lie that having the incoming Trump Administration billionaire autocratic overlords running the federal government is normal. Fortunately, a quartet of currently available pieces of graphic literature from Image Comics and Fantagraphics Books demonstrate that capitalism worship means obeisance to a malevolent dark god.
Writer Jonathan Hickman (“East of West,” “Fantastic Four”) and artist Tomm Coker (“Undying Love”) make this point literally with “The Black Monday Murders” (Image Comics). Its chilling premise supposes that the world’s big banksters became wealthy for decades by literally selling their souls for occult power. An occasional blood sacrifice keeps these wealth worshippers in their dark gods’ graces. The banking cults may count among their members black popes and International Monetary Fund hitmen. However, they’re all agreed that the 99% need to be kept in their place. Will Police Detective Dumas’ investigation of Daniel Rothschild’s murder upset this secret arrangement?
Hickman is notable as a comics writer for marrying deep speculation to his sometimes outrageous premises. The first story arc, which will be collected as the forthcoming “All Hail, God Mammon,” emphasizes the worldbuilding. Settings for the story include the 1929 New York Stock Exchange and East Berlin in the 1980s. While this writer hasn’t personally read the series, reviews have been positive. Interested readers can try visiting one of the comics shops mentioned below to track down the four issues of the first story arc. If they prefer waiting for the paperback collection, be aware its release date is the Wednesday after Trump takes the oath of office.
Readers preferring a better balance of character and worldbuilding need to check out Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s dystopian science fiction saga “Lazarus” (Image Comics). In “Lazarus”’ future, sixteen incredibly wealthy Families have divided the entire Earth into their personal fiefdoms. Outside of the Families, the rest of humanity is either a Serf (those whose skills or talents are deemed useful enough to advancing a Family’s fortunes) or Waste (anybody without skills of special use to a Family). Forever is the Carlyle Family’s Lazarus. She’s both her Family’s genetically engineered unkillable primary protector and chief Black Ops agent. So what happens when Forever starts questioning her loyalties to the Carlyles?
The awfulness of the socially medieval and technologically futuristic world of “Lazarus” is mediated by Forever’s character. Compared to the scheming and duplicity of the Carlyles, she comes off as an honorable innocent skilled at killing people.
Rucka and Lark’s slow burn story-telling lets the reader see how easily everything they know about relations between the people and their social order can be upended. But then a lot of planning went into creating this near-future world. There are mini-biographies of the various Families, samples of a particular Family’s heraldry, and even the timeline resulting from X Day (the day the Families divided the world). Readers will wonder how far Big Money purchases of elections and the ascendancy of Donald Trump has pushed the world towards X Day.
Lucas Varela’s graphic novel “The Longest Day of the Future” (Fantagraphics Books) is also set in a capitalistic future that seems just as bleak as Rucka and Lark’s future.
In a futuristic megalopolis of flying cars and intelligent robots, the Bunny and Pig corporations engage in a never-ending war for ultimate domination. The arrival of an alien visitor and a fighting robot contest lead to gambits by both corporations to obtain final victory. A corporate drone and a custodian robot with a fondness for flies become unwilling pawns in these intrigues.
Varela’s book may be dialogue free. But its critique of the emotionally corrosive effects of capitalism speaks volumes. Corporate allegiance has devolved into a tribal mentality where your life can be compromised for drinking the wrong brand of coffee. Sickeningly gory cartoons indoctrinate children into thinking of the opposing corporation as monsters to be destroyed.
The antiseptic lines of the future megalopolis’ architecture and technology can’t hide the signs of spiritual rot seen at ground level and hinted at underneath the city’s surfaces. If personal aspirations aren’t petty, they’re shown to be symbolically corrupted as a talisman-like Paraiso postcard makes clear. Even if Varela’s characters could speak, it’s doubtful they could do a better job of articulating the emotional bleakness captured in the graphic novel’s images.
After the awfulness of the titles mentioned above, Kaare Andrews’ “Renato Jones—The 1%” (Image Comics) delivers two-fisted and bullet-riddled catharsis in spades. Readers whose lips curled in contempt at the light punishment afforded the Brock Turners and Affluenza Teens of the world can revel in rich pedophiles getting the Swiss cheese treatment.
Doling out the punishment is young 1%-er Renato Jones. He has been trained by his mentor Church to slay the wealthy so-called “job creators” who feel that they’re above legal retribution. When Renato isn’t doling out anti-1% ultraviolence, he obsesses over beautiful next-door neighbor and childhood unrequited love Bliss Chambers.
“Renato Jones”’ plentiful female nudity and grotesque violence will definitely offend over-tender readers. Portraying the rich as well-dressed vermin whose contemptible behavior demands their extermination yesterday will disturb them further. Images of torture chamber videos and nyotaimori will cause such conservative snowflakes to mount a “not all rich people” defense. The rest of us by contrast feel refreshed seeing rich people killed after deliberately leaving their servants to die.
Disregard for worker suicides and hate-mongering political slogans are just two of the real-life 1%-er behaviors Andrews references in his comic. Such references make “Renato Jones” an incinerating blast of graphic punk rock-like vitriol that should make America’s wealthy alleged overlords tremble.
(The comics and graphic novels mentioned in this article can be found at the following fine San Francisco graphic literature establishments: Comix Experience (305 Divisadero), Two Cats Comic Book Store (320 W. Portal Avenue), and Isotope Comics (326 Fell). If a particular title isn’t on the shelves, the store’s staff will be happy to re-order it for you.)Filed under: Arts & Entertainment