US: Sep 2009
Indie comics are seemingly predisposed to be hit or miss. With the diluting and distilling effects of the big press system removed, independent comics are allowed to fixate on the machinery that drives comics. Whether this be the direct evaluation of comic mythologies, experiments with style, or pure metacomic commentary, independent comics appear to be obsessed with the shape of the mainstream in which they do not find themselves.
Sometimes this is to great effect. In the ‘80s, a wave of what-makes-a-hero-a-hero smartly flooded the racks. The ‘90s saw both Will Eisner resurrected through a deluge of comics about quotidian issues and heroes and R. Crumb be plagiarized over and over. This trend begged the question, “How far can the medium of graphic media be taken?” Finally, the ‘00s found the medium in a sort of comic shevirah as graphic media fractured from a certain solidarity into every imaginable — and, often, bastardized — form. The indie presses in the naughts gave us the literary adaptation comic, the “abstract” comic, the internet-inspired comic, superhero revivals galore, and countless other genres and sub-genres. To wit, the graphic taxonomies have reached a critical mass.
So, along comes Faction #0, the pilot fort a new independent comic from Erik Hendrix. In a fantastically comprehensive revue of indie tropes, Faction tells a semi-autobiographical story of a Marine, Acker Kinney, engaged in the Middle East until his arm is destroyed by a bomb. Science saves his arm with a mechanical replacement that he puts to use battling a magical legion of demons and such, Den Malignity. Of course, this is only after the counter magical legion of good guys, the Society of the Enlightened, save his life and recruit him. To summarize, that makes one confessional undertone — author Hendrix grew up as an army brat — one inquest into mythology, one Middle Eastern commentary, and one lament about our descent into post-humanism. Faction reads almost like an indie press catalogue.
Furthermore, author Hendrix seems to be aware of his pillaging of the indie (counter) canon. In the 32 pages that comprise Issue 0, Hendrix elaborates all of the exposition I detailed in the previous paragraph. Most comics would take half a season just to get to the part where Kinney actually joins the Society. Faction throws him right in. The plot elements — tragedy that makes a hero, initial resistance to join good guys, magic stuff — are trotted out absolutely perfunctorily just to cross them off the list.
None of this, though, means that I disliked Faction #0. With cool, classic art and seemingly competent direction, the series can go one of two ways. Either it can take its indie pastichiness and use it for good as a supra-commentary on the hyper-codification and genre bandying of indie comics or it can simply ride the wave of its scavenged elements. I will certainly be looking forward to see which direction it chooses.