[14 February 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Everything’s worse now and Johnny Zito’s to blame.
Not in the sense that, swayed by anarchist sensibilities fueled on a lifetime of the Ramones and Blondie, Johnny dons his faux-hawk and Union Jack tee, breaks into FBI offices and tags the photographs of President Obama with an Anarchy symbol in red spray-paint.
No, not quite, not at all.
Rather in the sense that only the really, really great stories have That Moment. It’s the one where everything just gets too much. The impendingness of everything comes crashing in, the enormity of it, the momentum. It’s there in Mission To Mars when Gary Sinese decides to travel to the alien homeworld (it’s actually the human homeworld, in a strange twist). To stand on one world, he says, and to look to the next…Wasn’t that always the dream?
You need to go back to 1999’s The Matrix for the next Moment down. When Carrie-Anne Moss speaks in a hushed tone: No-one’s ever done anything like this before… and Keanu in possibly the best deployment of his reserved and austere sensibility in acting replies, That’s why it’s going to work.
And before that, you’d have to go back to Steven Spielberg’s 1993 megahit Jurassic Park, to the moment when the power fails and the cages holding back the terrible monsters come unlocked. Mr. Charles, Richard Attenborough murmurs in a vain attempt to show some courage in the face of overwhelming consequences about to cascade in on everyone, would you be so good as to take a Jeep and fetch back my grandchildren?
Was it actually Mr. Charles? It scarcely matters. What does matter instead is the idea that the human mind has no defense against the impending. Remember the opening of Clint Eastwood’s magnificent Hereafter? There’s nothing to do when the tsunami hits. Except lean into it and ride it out. The impending is when heroes are born. It’s when we, even just by reading, just by viewing, marshal those inner resources and become more than ourselves. Mike Mignola’s haunting words from Hellboy: The Island, “Thing’s will be worse now…you feel it?” don’t signal an end. Instead they are an invitation into mystery, to walk the land with new powers.
And Johnny Zito just made everything worse. Just by being consistently better. These Moments are rare and they should be, but working with his writing partner Tony Trov, Johnny just seems flawlessly to fill each page of every one of his books with such Moments. South Fellini comics, Johnny and Tony, are that rare kind of brilliance. Bright lights that immerse you in a radiance that seems to illuminate even the most ordinary of conversational exchanges.
Mr. Khan seemed to have ruined everything. A storm must be coming. And it’s always time to cowboy up. The language is as simple as an equation. ‘you’, ‘reading’, ‘Dogs’ equals, ‘will be better later’.
It’s hard not to feel the kick of emotion when reading Zito and Trov. Hard not to get drawn in. If you’ve read science fiction at all or seen any scifi flick in the last, say, forever, you’ll know the plot exactly. MarsBase is under attack from Mars itself. Dogs is easy to understand because it’s really Jurassic Park, but that’s just the gateway, it’s just how you get in.
At its heart Dogs isn’t about the hard life of a Marine. It isn’t about the hard science elements of the genre where ScienceTeam is drilling to the planetary core to detonate a nuclear device and kickstart Mars’ magnetic shielding. At it’s heart, Dogs is about table tennis. It’s about the aggression the belligerent Capt. Zoe shows, especially to her number two, Commander Turk. Even over so simple a matter as table tennis. At it’s heart Dogs is about haircuts, the one Zoe gives her lover prior to his broadcast to Earth. At it’s heart, Dogs Of Mars is about buying a girl a beer, as Isaiah does, even if that girl can’t remember his name.
At it’s heart, Dogs is about the torque of human existence, far away from home in a place that will kill you. Literally, the place will kill you. It’s about tension, and frisson, and in the strangest most direct sense, it is about the Impending. The stuff that will make heroes of us all.
But that’s not the real reason you’ll read Dogs. The real reason you’ll read Dogs Of Mars is because it belongs to you. Because far away from a culture of superheroes and secret identities, capes and cowls, and literally in some cases dozens of years of history, Dogs Of Mars is very much like the planet itself that the book’s protagonists hope to terraform. It is far, it is distant, it is isolated, and it is history-free. And the one thing you don’t need to appreciate it, is years of having read.
Johnny and Tony are a revolution in comics. Won’t you join in?