Saturday, March 24, 2007

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac #6

Johnny the Homicidal Maniac #6, March 2003, SLG Publishing
by Jhonen Vasquez

I've always been frustrated with the fact that mainstream beliefs in the afterlife only offer two options: heaven, or hell. Real life isn't as black and white, rife with choices and opportunities that present a multitude of subjective consequences, so why would the afterlife be so condensed? The implication is that death makes things easier. Of course, we'll never really know until it's too late.

Unless you're Johnny the Homicidal Maniac.

In this issue, Johnny is dead and inexplicably ends up in heaven, where he's treated to a guided tour of the paradise. Interestingly, whereas most would assume that the heavenbound would exude excitement, Johnny discovers a proverbial parking lot of complacency, of people just sitting, just staring. His guide (on loan labor from hell) assures him that these faithful are content, perhaps for the first time in their lives, as they've finally achieved an existence void of nagging desires and needs. Sure, they've achieved a "super-human" status, but ironically they feel no urge to use these powers. They're happy enough. Unfortunately, just by virtue of being in heaven, Johnny has these powers, too, and he instigates a head-exploding contest that rouses the dead if only for some moments. When God fails to answer Johnny's introspective questions, the dissatisfied homicidal maniac plummets to hell . . .

Where he's even more dissatisfied. The hellbent are in torment, but thanks to licking flames, rather the constant impression that they are being watched, and that they should look good. Further, hell is an ever-developing metropolis where the discontentment of mankind is in action; whole city blocks are abandoned and others are unnaturally congested. The devil offers Johnny some insight into his existence but promptly sends him back to life; apparently, it wasn't Johnny's time yet, and, after swinging by both options, such a time isn't much to look forward to either way.

I was surprised by how much I liked Vasquez's jagged little visuals. His page layouts seem intentional despite their cramped confinements, and while other artists that dabble in this kind of material often just surf their stream of consciousness, Johnny's creator has a direction, a method to all of this homicidal madness. Therein lies the potential of an otherwise mere "goth" book; while goth punks can enjoy its disturbed visuals and dark, quirky behavior, more casual readers like me can "get" its philosophical subtext. Vasquez tells his story in chapters, with weird little interludes that star characters reminiscent of Tim Burton's Oyster Boy book, and the breaks contribute to a suspenseful momentum that establishes the desired effect of interest. This could be a book for the ADD generation, tricking kids into investing in a larger story. While Johnny certainly isn't Dante, this issue told on a mythical scope that would help readers understand The Inferno more so than they might before the read.

Death is a mystery, especially to those that revel in it so, like homicidal maniacs. You would think that guys like Johnny would be experts, that they would know where they're sending their victims. I don't know if this realization comforts me . . . or scares the hell out of me.

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