Sunday, December 17, 2006

We Are Outcast: Brief Reviews of Gail Simone's Welcome to Tranquility #1 and Gen 13 #1

There are some people in this world, Gentle Reader, who would do anything to return to high school. They try to relive their "glory days," or, as is most likely the case, try to create glory days that never really existed. These people have fantasized and fetishized high school into a mythical time, and spend their entire adult lives trying to go back, back, back, never remembering how very awkward and scary high school really was.

These people, more often than not, are people afraid to grow old. Not that anyone truly longs to reach the twilight-—and hope for us all, healthy midnight—-of life, but there is something to be said for aging gracefully, and healthily. There is something to be said, Friends, for the Knowledge and Wisdom that comes with age.

To juxtapose Gail Simone's two new runs, then, is to look at these two extremes: Youth, and Age. It is to look at the knowledge gained and missing, the time wasted and spent wisely, the recriminations, the trials and tribulations with growing pains: at the pink flush of dawn, and at the darkening violet of dusk. Of growing up, and growing old. Neither are very graceful times, and neither are times of great social strength and respect.

We, as a society, tend to discount our youth and our elderly: one for not knowing enough, and the other for knowing so much that forgetfulness begins to rear its ugly little head. We trumpet our youth's failings at the same time we place the weight of the future entirely on their backs. We look forward only as we look back, forever expecting better of them, and forever comparing them to those that came before. And what an interesting time this all comes in, as the Baby Boomers are on the edge of retirement, as my Generation, the infamous Gen-Xers, settle uncomfortably into middle age, and as the new Generation, technologically advanced, computer-literate, shiny and clean and new, tries very hard to grasp some toehold of power as it trickles from high school to college as we watch, chewing on our fingernails, to see how it will take to it.

The old and the young. What came before and what comes next. Is anyone more outcast than those on the periphery?

Gen 13 #1 begins with a fairly harsh and stomach-clenching scene in which a party of onlookers, eavesdroppers, and overseers monitor, from the very confines of the car, one young woman's impending date rape. One voice, the mysterious Special-T, starts to express his discomfort with the scene, with his position as Onlooker as a young woman is raped. He is told, "you pay, you stay," and reminded that, for a "diamond mine owner," it is sheer audacity to suggest that others are cruel and immoral.

As the scene continues, however, we discover that the young woman's reaction, her metamorphosis, her mutation, if you will, into her power is the true spectacle of the evening, rather than the rape itself. That the flesh dealings of the evening are even more grotesque: teenagers, much like this young girl who mutates to protect herself, are the commodities of the day. Her rape and eventual murder are just a "taste" for the clients. Remember, Friends: the first one's always, always free.

Then, in quick succession, we are introduced to several teenagers all suffering, in one form or another, from the cruel realities of everyday life. Growing up for these kids seems to involve a great deal of suffering. The first young woman, Caitlin, asks, "do they hate me because I'm smart, or am I smart because they hate me?" A crucial question and an interesting dilemma: has she turned inward because she lacks social acceptance from her peers (started, perhaps, at a young age?) or does she lack peers because she doesn't need social acceptance?

This Humble Author has fiddled, briefly, with teenager-important issues on this blog, mainly in conjunction with one of the latest issues of Supergirl, but what I haven't said is that you couldn't pay me enough to go back to high school. Not that my high school experience was particularly brutal or horrifying; I believe I was luckier than most bookish, chubby girls stereotypically are. I escaped high school relatively unscathed. But does anyone ever leave high school without any scars? Do we not relive some of those most painful moments over and over again, just to remind ourselves that we don't, not for a billion dollars, ever want to be that neurotic and insecure and awkward ever again?

"I dreamed I was falling and never hit the ground," Bobby, our next character says, and how apropos this statement is for the high school experience. "Slut. Tramp. Idiot," goes through Roxanne’s head, while the skaterboi tell us, as he falls off of his skateboard, "I am overthrown." And the most poignant words spoken, by Sarah, level a wealth of outcasting at us; she, a lesbian teenager of American Indian descent, tells us, "I will never be invisible enough for them."

Five teenagers. All with different dreams and desires and needs, all trying desperately to keep their heads above water. All trying, with great hope and determination, to keep breathing. Then they watch as their parents die before their very eyes. When they wake up in the same room together, they wake up as five strangers, but five strangers connected, so very intrinsically, by an overwhelming bond: they have nothing left now, but each other.

At the very end of the book, Caitlin pulls them all in for a group hug, and this pure moment of genius is so typical of Gail Simone. She takes five strangers-—and who are strangers together more than teenagers?—-and makes them realize that there are no strangers in strange lands. That before this moment, they were separate, but now, they are a team. Together, united behind a common goal, whether that is revenge or loneliness or desperation, it doesn't matter. They are, as of now, a united front. Ms. Simone is a master of her craft, but most importantly, she is a master of the Team-Up. No one, no one writes a team of disparate characters and brings them together better than Gail Simone.

I was worried Gen 13 would remind me too much of Runaways, so much so that I would read it as DC's answer to the Runaway Dilemma. Not so. Not so at all. I've only read the first issue of Gen 13, Gentle Reader, so I can only speak to that issue. But I've read it three times so far, just in the course of writing this review, and I can say, with great authority as A Reader, that it is, without a doubt, some of the best that Ms. Simone has offered us. I read Gen 13 as I read Whedon's Firefly so very long ago: I loved all that came before, but in this, I see all of the genius that the writer has learned, over the course of the passing years.

Welcome to Tranquility offers us a glimpse into the idea of passing years, as we are presented with a superhero retirement community. Those Golden Agers, who fought for truth, justice, and The American Way have long since hung up their tights (too baggy) and flights (now too myopic), in theory at least. In actuality, they are menaces to society as they try to continue to do the work that they have done for years. The citizens of Tranquility are less trying to relive their glory days as much as they are trying to hang on to the life they've known for so long. The sheriff, Tommy, tries to protect her town from geriatric aviators, elderly mongoose-and-cobra-vendetta avengers, and lecherous but charmingly aging swordsmen while maintaining some modicum of dignity for the town's residents. Not an easy job, of course, when octogenarian Minxy Millions seems hellbent on crashing her plane in town square.

All fun and games, yes? A gentle guffaw at the gentle sight of aging. So it seems, indeed, until we see the former Maximum Man reading every word from a dictionary. He used to have a magic word that transformed him from Accountant to Superhero, but over time, has forgotten it. Desperate to get it back, he reads dictionaries out loud, cover to cover, in every language he can find. All fun and games.

That is, until someone loses an eye. Or a word.

What this comic reminds us of is simply this: aging is not a graceful process. Imagine the fluster of lost door keys, Elizabeth Bishop tells us, or the hour badly spent. The art of losing isn't hard to master. We lose something every day, and the longer we live, the more we have to lose. Maximum Man reminds us of our own mortality, of the sometimes undignified process that is part and parcel with getting older. Sometimes the growing pains are funny, worthy of a chuckle, but mostly they are of quiet desperation. We spend our whole lives accumulating knowledge, only to watch that knowledge fail us, in the very end.

Or as the sheriff reminds her journalist companion, "These people, Collette. They told the Nazis to shove it. Sometimes literally. Don't make them a punchline."

There are no cheap punchlines in Ms. Simone's delicate, funny, ruthless, beautiful little book. It's a fantastical world in which everyday things happen. Sometimes the young woman turns to the older man for sexual companionship, and sometimes people put themselves in danger for a paycheck. Sometimes, just sometimes, people die and stay dead. This is a comic book, certainly, but it makes no pretensions as one.

This community was formed, the mayor tells us, "As a safe haven for MAXIs and their families to live out their golden years in peace." But there is no safe haven anymore, even if there ever was, and there is no chance for peace when the very body you inhabit betrays you, again and again. And this "safe haven" still doesn't protect you from the knowledge that you formed it just so you wouldn't be an outcast anymore. A community of outcasts is still a community, yes?

What Tommy seems to want to remind Collette (the journalist) of the most is the fact that *others* judge the outcast and label him or her so. Because Collette is on the outside looking in, she is able to make judgments such as these. She's able to label Tommy the Hero because she doesn't see the legacy the hundreds of others in this town left behind. Or, rather, she's only able to see the legacy, and not the potential. What if Maximum Man were to remember his magic word? What then?

What then, indeed?

I, for one, am going to pick up the next issue and find out.

6 Comments:

At 6:55 PM, Blogger Loren said...

Wow! What a wonderful perspective, Amy Reads. I didn't even think about the fact that the two Gail Simone Wildstorm titles are about two different spectra of age.

I'm loving both titles, but Welcome to Tranquility has totally embraced me in a way that I haven't been embraced by a comic in awhile. I absolutely LOVE this book and hope that people will buy it so I can read it for a long time to come!

PS - Thank you for the congrats on my blog!

Loren

 
At 7:02 PM, Blogger Gail Simone said...

At the risk of sounding like a complete self-adoring buffoon, I still have to say it. That is an astounding analysis of two series that yes, indeed (and I think you're the only one to pick up on this aloud), are actually bookends--unknowing reflections of each other.

You've offered some insights here that are extremely distinct and correct. I'm really quite stunned.

I don't like to discuss the thinking behind my work very often, but I couldn't do much better, should someone ask what I was attempting, than to send them to this site. Thank you very much for looking beyond the surface, so so deeply.

Gail

 
At 7:42 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Loren,
Wow! What a wonderful perspective, Amy Reads. I didn't even think about the fact that the two Gail Simone Wildstorm titles are about two different spectra of age.

Thanks, Friend! It was rather accidental that I read these together, but I'm glad I did. They fit together so perfectly.

I'm loving both titles, but Welcome to Tranquility has totally embraced me in a way that I haven't been embraced by a comic in awhile. I absolutely LOVE this book and hope that people will buy it so I can read it for a long time to come!

I agree that WtT caught me in a way that I didn't expect. It's just smart and sweet and harsh all at the same time, and it's hard to find that in 22 short pages!

PS - Thank you for the congrats on my blog!

You are, of course, fabulously welcome :) Thanks for being such an enjoyable read! Here's to 100 (and 1000) more!
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 7:48 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ms. Simone,
At the risk of sounding like a complete self-adoring buffoon, I still have to say it. That is an astounding analysis of two series that yes, indeed (and I think you're the only one to pick up on this aloud), are actually bookends--unknowing reflections of each other.

At the risk of sounding like a gushing fangirl, thank you so very much, for reading this review, and for being such an amazing writer. You're an inspiration for all of us aspiring women writers trying to get a toehold in such a male-dominated field.

You've offered some insights here that are extremely distinct and correct. I'm really quite stunned.

Thank you, Ms. Simone. I mentioned in a previous comment that reading the two together was a complete accident, but a rather fortunate one, I believe. I quite enjoyed both works, although I think Tranquility will be a secret favorite :)

I don't like to discuss the thinking behind my work very often, but I couldn't do much better, should someone ask what I was attempting, than to send them to this site. Thank you very much for looking beyond the surface, so so deeply.

You are so very, very welcome! I'm so glad you enjoyed my review.

I have a million more gushing comments just itching to burst free, but I am going to tamper down My Inner Fangirl and just say thanks for reading, and most importantly, thanks again for writing.
Ciao,
Amy

 
At 7:53 PM, Blogger Gail Simone said...

Bleah, more swooning. But just here for a moment to say, EXACTLY.

"As the scene continues, however, we discover that the young woman's reaction, her metamorphosis, her mutation, if you will, into her power is the true spectacle of the evening, rather than the rape itself. That the flesh dealings of the evening are even more grotesque: teenagers, much like this young girl who mutates to protect herself, are the commodities of the day. Her rape and eventual murder are just a "taste" for the clients. Remember, Friends: the first one's always, always free."

Yes, yes, yes, and more than reviewer I respect and enjoy missed this crucial bit completely...the date-rape is precisely not the attraction, it's the live snuff thrill of seeing her kill the boy that the voices on the screen came for.

Just one bit I'm glad to confirm in a great piece of analysis!

Best,

Gail

 
At 10:04 PM, Blogger Amy Reads said...

Hi Ms. Simone,
Bleah, more swooning. But just here for a moment to say, EXACTLY.
Yes, yes, yes, and more than reviewer I respect and enjoy missed this crucial bit completely...the date-rape is precisely not the attraction, it's the live snuff thrill of seeing her kill the boy that the voices on the screen came for.


I think what's so very interesting about this scene, for me, is the anticipation it builds. The date rape is bad enough, but there is the suspicion that the scene will get Even Worse. The art at this moment is particularly well done, and really speaks to the marriage of writer and artist in the comic book. The horror on the young girl's face, and the transition to Caitlin reveal the horror of not just the teenager as commodity, but the *teenager body* as commodity. Which almost seems even worse.

Just one bit I'm glad to confirm in a great piece of analysis!

Thank you again, for your kind words. This is what I do for a living, albeit with 150+ year-old books. I'm a firm believer in pop culture--my beloved Victorians invented it, in fact!--and the novels we read as Canonical now were, in fact, the pop culture books of their day.

To wit, I believe, sincerely, that if we are to expect others to take comic books seriously, then we, too, must take them seriously. I review them as I review "literature" (although I try very hard not to make that differentiation in my head!).
Ciao,
Amy

 

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