Monday, April 18, 2005

Trying desperately to regain, or retain, or even establish my indie cred!

Before we begin, a shameless plug. Pictures of my daughter are up on my other blog. See how someone as grotesque as I could produce someone so beautiful!

Okay, moving on. Last week, the enigmatically named GreyGlobe took umbrage with my praise of mainstream tripe like Ultimate X-Men and Power Pack and offered his suggestions to ameliorate my bad comics vibe. As I responded, the problem with his suggestions is that I have to order them, while Power Pack was just sitting on the shelf. And I just have a problem with people giving money to DC and Marvel when they don't like the comics they are buying. I like Ultimate X-Men. But I will say, Mr. Globe, that my issue of Action Philosophers is merrily on its way. I think you were the one who recommended that, and I appreciate it. And even if you weren't, you can't get much more indie than that!

Last week, while I was lining the coffers of the Evil Two, I also picked up Nil: A Land Beyond Belief by James Turner from Slave Labor. No, I did not purchase it in a desperate attempt to prove how "indie" I am. I bought it because it looked cool. And it is. And I'm going to tell you why you should run, not walk, to the nearest comics shoppe and pick up your copy.

First, the value. I care a little about the price of comics, and Nil costs $12.95 for 232 pages of dense text. Considering lots of people pay $3 for full page money shots of Captain America insulting France and Slade Wilson dressed up as Batman, 13 bucks is cheap. This book is packed with pictures and words, and is excellent bang for your buck.

But the story, Greg, the story! And the art, the art! Does it hold up? Does it offer "kewl" moments like Spider-Man fighting everyone on the Raft or treasure maps on the backs of subway commuters? Well, no. It's far more interesting than that.

Nil is the story of Proun Nul, who lives in a country where there is no belief. Every idea that could be believed in has been sucked out of the populace, and there is no hope for anything, even love. It sounds bleak, but it's not, because Nil is as savage a satire as you'll find this side of Jonathan Swift. Yeah, I just compared a comic book to Swift. You wanna make something of it?

Turner satirizes everything - democracy, totalitarianism, religion, the pope, Stalinism, the machinery of war, optimism, reality television, sex - all with a wicked wit that causes you to bust up laughing every few pages. The story is simple: Proun Nul works as an engineer on a battleship that goes out every day and destroys memes, which, as ideas, threaten to destroy the Land of Nil with their dangerous ways. The memes burst from the ground as buildings spouting slogans like "Workers of the World Unite!" and "Corporatism Rules! Death to the Inferior!" - it doesn't matter what ideology the memes use, it's all bad for the rulers of Nihilopolis, Nil's capital. The battleships are powered by rhetoric, read by a bulbous man called the Hot Head. One day Proun Nul, in an effort to pump up the power, gives the Hot Head first Chomsky, then Coulter. He gets the desired effect, but inadvertently kills a co-worker, who happened to be the nephew of the Hypocripope, Nil's "spiritual" leader. Nul is hunted by demon cops from Hell (literally), who let him escape so they don't have to go home. He tries to defect to Nil's mortal enemy, Optima, but gets stuck on the front lines of the war the two countries have been fighting for ages. Meanwhile, his legend back in the city grows until people believe he's a terrorist leader who shoots laser beams from his eyes. He fights in the war until he realizes how pointless it is and how much he wants the love of his Heloise, Miss Void. He returns to the city, where the previously uninterested Miss Void is suddenly taken by this dashing fugitive terrorist leader. The books ends ... well, not exactly unexpectedly, but somewhat surprisingly. It's in keeping with the tone of the book, however.

All this sounds absurd, and it is, to a certain degree. Turner's real genius is in bringing this world alive, even with the absurdity and the outrageous art, which is unbelievably detailed and strange, but stirring all the same. The real pleasure in the book is the small details, of which there are many. The slogan of the Hypocripope is "Quae nocent docent," which means, loosely, "Those things that hurt teach." Professor Toten, the philosopher who "makes nonsense into sense," speaks only in lectures, complete with footnotes. Miss Void can pass herself off as the Queen of England because there was a mix-up with the IDs, and no one in the bureaucracy challenges her. Hell invades New Jersey (didn't they already?). The soldiers can only return fire when attacked if they've filled out the proper forms. Both the latrine and the coffee shop are in No Man's Land. The Optimists charge into No Man's Land carrying signs that read, "I am a tree" and "I am also a tree" in the hopes that they won't get shot. In order to determine the next ruler of Nil, the candidates are dropped off on a desert island, and the last survivor is the winner (which isn't actually a bad idea). When a group of politicians are shot by a firing squad, the soldiers shout, "This one is for Kierkegaard!" And that's not even scratching the surface.

What Turner is attempting to do, beyond pure evil satire, is make us question our assumptions about what we should believe in, if anything. We say we believe in liberty and democracy, but should we? The Optimists do, and it doesn't stop them from fighting in a war none of them really believe in, but fight in gleefully nonetheless. Nul starts to believe in things throughout his journey, but it never gets any easier for him, and it might have been better if he hadn't started to believe in the first place. The Hypocripope comes up with a strategy to kill everyone because life is hypocrisy, and if you think that's crazy, check out some cults we've been subject to in the past. All of this is examined and torn down in this gem of a book, and we're left on our own, trying to make sense of the world, which is how it should be.

Nil is a brilliant book. It is the kind of book that makes you laugh, but also the kind of book that makes you think. It is the kind of comic book that you should support, because unlike most of the standard superhero comics, it challenges what we think of as the status quo, and shows us that there might not be anything behind the curtain. Seek it out!


Blogger Brian Cronin said...

You are so indy, Greg.

4/19/2005 07:24:00 PM  
Blogger Greg said...

You're damn straight I am!!!!

Now, where's my X-MEN????

4/19/2005 07:42:00 PM  
Anonymous radJose said...

Thanks for recomending Nil. I loved it so much. I usually do go for that kind of thing, but I'm not sure I'd've searched it out if it wasn't for your recomendation. So once again, thank you.

4/24/2005 10:54:00 PM  

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