Τετάρτη, 26 Σεπτεμβρίου 2012

What I Think About Stuff-Chronicles of Wormwood


Why, Mister Burrows! Thank you for the nightmares!


The Chronicles of Wormwood Or Blasphemy, done right.

When considering matters of faith, you should approach them with a certain degree of caution. Not because faith is something inalienable and unchangeable, immune to philosophical scrutiny, but because the religious crowd possesses a great number of zealots, who tend to view philosophical analysis on their religion as an offense.

The religious nerd is the most dangerous kind of nerd.


To question matters of faith is not the privilege of the atheist solely. Every person that follows every tenet, dogma, creed or cult reaches a point in their lives when they look up at the heavens mid-prayer and go:

“That’s all well and good, oh Lord, but what’s up with [insert sensitive, inflammatory or morally ambiguous matter of faith here]?”

“Just…just hear me out, ‘kay?”

Christianity is a religion that centers on the Apocalypse, the Eschaton, the end of the world in general. Even though this is not its main focus and the entire New Testament instead tries to provide some advice and guidance to the flock in order to help them run their lives a little bit better, popular culture and the Japanese tend to skip all that inspiring, spiritual shit and go straight for the fireworks.

It’s funny how nobody ever stops to consider that Armaggedon stands for EVERYONE FUCKING DIES HORRIBLY.
This misdirection has been built up so huge that Christianity has been equated (even among the faithful) as a religion of regret and guilt, its prayers an endless apology to God, which in turn is being exploited by every manner of bastard.

Some people follow the tide that the bastards have set up and become bastards themselves. Others fight back, but it’s a battle they fight on their own, never once daring to voice their dissent.

A chosen few cry out their battle cry and turn their conflict into art, which in turn they use as enlightened fists with which to smash the bastards’ noses. Garth Ennis is one of them

Irishman. Comic book writer. Angry as fuck.

Irish born, Garth Ennis is a fountain of vulgarity and storytelling expertise that’s hard to find anywhere else on the planet. His work is thick with blasphemy, depravity and dick jokes used to promote greater, far more controversial themes.

And the man knows how to write great fucking dialogue. When I said how I would cherish the chance to rip his dialogue pump from his carcass to build my monstrous comic book writing gestalt, I wasn’t kidding. His characters engage in simple, funny and meaningful exchanges that actually serve to contribute to the story, never once requiring unnecessary prose or thought balloons.

Also, creator of the most sympathetic Satan in fiction.

His stories, despite their complexity and depth, focus on the straightforward struggle of good and evil and his characters are archetypical champions of each side. His work is simple, but not simplistic. It’s easy to follow and it’s rich in depth.

Garth Ennis’ work in comics is legion, but he is most renowned for Preacher (the series that dealt with the responsibility of God toward Man) and for his most recent success, the Boys, which took the same idea on a completely different direction and pitted man against OverMan.

Also, the series which gave him free creative reign, with mixed results.

Garth Ennis’ work focuses on morality, on being the best kind of person you can be in a planetful of assholes, of going against the rules set by society and making your own.

Chronicles of Wormwood, along with Preacher, showcase these themes perfectly.

But before I move on to the review itself, let’s talk about the art, shall we? The miniseries was drawn by Jacen Burrows.

Pictured here providing cunniligus to the universe.

There’s one thing I learned by studying Mr. Burrows’ work in this minseries and that’s that he has seen Hell or at the very least, experienced it. I don’t honestly care about the hows and they whys of such an occurrence (although I’d wager they involve several goats, books bound in human skin and lots of sacrificial daggers made blunt by excessive use), but goddamn I’d love to take a trip into his mind and take some pictures!

Then proceed to get the fuck out before the flesh-roaches and cock-demons force themselves on me and eat me alive.
His artwork is grotesque, it’s violent and it pretty much seeps off the page and enters your bloodstream through your fingers, making its way into your brain in a few seconds. By the time you’ve seen the Hell covers, it’s already too late, son.

And now, for the actual review:

Meet Daniel Wormwood:

He hates mornings, just like you!

Born of a mortal woman and the Jackal, Danny is the proud owner of a New-York based television station with controversial programs, a prized bachelor with a healthy and long relationship with a wonderful woman.

He’s also the Antichrist, whose birth heralds the End Times. Which is why he keeps getting pestered by his dad…

Satan:

They’re not getting along all that well…

The Lord of the Pit, dissatisfied with his son’s life choices and his adherence to living out his life protecting the disgusting Earth Monkeys from the horrors of the impending Apocalypse is a detriment to his plans.

Danny would have had to go through this crap alone, if it hadn’t been for his best friend and ultimate wingman…

Jesus:

This scene makes me smile and feel like shit at the same damn time.

What would the Antichrist’s birth be like without the second coming of Christ? Sent to Earth to guide mankind and save them from themselves, Jesus went ‘Nope. Better idea’ and instead tried to involve himself in politics and peaceful protestations, receiving crippling head injuries for his troubles.

Like Wormwood, Jesus has turned his back on his dad and has refused to go along with this Apocalypse crap. But there’s one more faction that has just as much to lose by this postponement of the catastrophe…

The Holy Roman Catholic Church (specifically its newly inaugurated Pope, Jacko the First):

Tha’s roight, mate.

The forces of the Lord are destined to win this battle (as ordained by John the Prophet), therefore it’s in Pope Jacko’s best interests to eliminate Wormwood and take Jesus out of the picture, so he can bring about Armageddon. 

But war on this case makes for strange bedfellows and…

No. No, I’m not giving you a summary. It’s a story about the end of the world and small conflicts and vulgarity and the ultimate clash between good and evil and in my opinion, it’s the best comic book miniseries dealing with the Apocalypse I’ve read so far. I have absolutely no intention of spoiling it for you.

What I will do, is give you the traditional best/worst points comparison and let you decide for yourselves whether it’s worth the purchase. So off we go, listing my most favorite bits:

·         Chronicles of Wormwood takes the most worn-out, tired concept in fiction and gives it a new twist:

The end of the world is one of those ideas that has been done to death. Fiction has been killing us all off with viruses, nuclear weapons, stellar furnaces, rips in space-time and copious amounts of zombies in every possible setting since the 19th century

Yes, there is a meteor-annihilates-everyone story by Edgar Alan Poe. Was that your mind blowing up in the background? (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Conversation_of_Eiros_and_Charmion)

Of those themes, the Apocalypse is by far the most ridiculously abused one. The final battle between good and evil might be timeless, but there’s so many ways it can be done before you start feeling sick at the stomach at the mere mention of the next shitty pretentious iteration

Pictured: the symbolism that broke the camel’s back

Chronicles of Wormwood chooses instead not to focus on the conflict itself, not making any mention toward the great battle and avoiding great big spectacles and tedious clashes of angles and demons. What it does instead, is show you what is worth fighting for:

People. Plain old, boring, wonderful people.
This theme alludes to Dogma, which was obviously a very important influence to Wormwood with one notable exception:

·         Chronicles of Wormwood succeeds where Dogma fails:

Dogma  was a movie that sought to reinvent the Apocalypse, the supernatural struggle for the fate of mankind, the hidden and important bits on the Bible, while at the same time showing the audience that the world is indeed worth fighting for.

Dogma, however, degenerated into a circus of supernatural entities shooting the shit about halfway in. 

It also wasted its George Carlin capability.

Chronicles of Wormwood doesn’t do that. In just six issues, it details the supernatural factions, presents the stakes, outlines the roles of the battle and resolves it. Satan (and Jacko’s) motivations are detailed in two-page splats. Heaven is presented in a single issue. Hell as well. We meet the rest of the very important players in the conflict and then BAM!


Beers at the end of the world.
Which brings me to my very next point, being…
 
·         For an atheist, Garth Ennis writes him a wicked afterlife:
\
None of us can claim what the lands beyond the Pale our like and none of us should. And how could we? All our references come from unreliable sources and the very fact that death is an inevitable fact of life (wrap your head around that) makes the matter all the more incomprehensible.

The matter of our ultimate destinations is not a light one and needs to be tackled very carefully, even by the faithful. Which is why I was amazed when I saw Garth Ennis (who isn’t exactly known for his subtlety toward religious matters) present an ambiguous definition of both planes of metaphysical existence.
Here’s Heaven, according to Garth Ennis:

Oh shit, son! There’s nothing here you can argue with!

And here’s Hell:

That’s Jesus, crying for the people he couldn’t save from Hell.
And now for the weaker aspects of the series:

·         Loose the Garth, spoil the tale:

I mentioned before how Garth Ennis uses vulgar means to tackle large and intelligent themes and succeeds for the most part. Preacher, for example, had scenes like this:

The end result of constant DC scrutiny on Ennis’ work.

This is mild shit compared to some of the stuff Garth Ennis gets away with in Chronicles and in The Boys. You see, back when Garth Ennis was making the Preacher, he was held on a short leash and he still produced the raunchiest, most violently intelligent comic book of its time.

But that was Vertigo. And Vertigo is a cruel, harsh mistress. Now, imagine him moving from Vertigo to Avatar (a much smaller comic book publisher), where he is given absolute free reign over his work. Can you imagine what happens next?

Preceding panels edited due to poor taste.
The Heaven issue is wonderful, beautifully drawn and intelligently written and it’s almost spoiled because of a scene that…well…didn’t belong there. In fact, it hurt the narrative in order to crack a topical joke on a crime that hurt both sides of the conflict it references. I’m not trying to be politically correct here: I just think that no one deserved this shit in the first place, both in fiction and in the real world.

·         Babs:

Babs is a supporting character that caught my eye since the minute she showed up.

Shit girl, I’d buy you a goddamn brewery!

She’s not only hot, but she’s also knowledgable, able and immediately presents herself as a useful and powerful ally to Wormwood’s cause.

And then she goes away so she can make a brief cameo toward the end and that’s it. Which is a bloody shame, really because Garth Ennis can and does write strong female protagonists. Though her absence does not hurt the story, her presence would have made it even better.

·         The Ending:

This happens:

Go buy the fucking comic book, son…
Why? Was it necessary? Was this helpful to the story in any way? Did it help? 

Nope. That was just Garth Ennis, being Garth Ennis.

You know what kind of dish Chronicles of Wormwood would be if it was a dish? It would be something familiar, plain and easy to make.

Like pasta with plain tomato sauce, bit of onions and pepper.

 It would be something that you’ve had a million times and right when you’ve thought you’ve had enough of it, your parents serve it to you on a Sunday dinner and for the first time since you were a kid you rediscover the flavor and you realize why you fell in love with it. Oh sure, there would be a tinsy bit of carton from the tomato sauce box that grandma accidentally dropped in, but it would be a minor inconvenience.

You’d eat it and then savor it and then talk to your friends about it though no one would want to hear because they’ve each had pretty much the same experience and know that words can’t do it justice.

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