As long as one of us is wearing this pin… we can do whatever we want.
The Fox, Wanted #1
When David Fincher’s adaptation of Fight Club hit screens in 1999, it tapped into a fierce well of emotion, and the buzz around Chuck Palahniuk’s underground novel went mainstream. It succeeded so brilliantly because so many people identified with the disaffected, violently chaotic characters. These were middle-class white males, once without question the dominant species on the planet, now finding their place at the top of the food chain threatened on all sides. They were stuck in dead-end jobs, abandoned by their fathers, their dreams were dashed, and their masculinity broken under the weight of consumer comfort. They didn’t matter.
Mark Millar creates a super-powered fight club in his new series Wanted, with a young man named Wesley Gibson taking the place of Edward Norton’s everyman “Jack”. Wesley’s life is a textbook example of mediocrity. Every day he hunches down in a lifeless cubicle, hoping to avoid the taunts of his overbearing boss. His girlfriend parades around her numerous infidelities in front of him, daring him to react. He desperately clings to anything that hints at individuality, but the only thing that distinguishes him from anyone else is his unusual taste in sandwiches (served to him, in a cute touch, by a man named “Jared”). He doesn’t matter.
But there is something within him that he doesn’t yet know about, just as “Jack” never knew about the vicious Tyler Durden growing in his own mind. His world collapses when a young woman named the Fox brings him to a place he never knew existed. In a matter of moments, his entire reality is rearranged. He finds out his father, absent all his life, was the top assassin in the world, and part of an elite group of costumed supervillains who control all the crime in the world. On top of that, Wesley has just inherited a multi-million dollar fortune and his father’s old job, a job which has been bred into Wesley’s very DNA.
This is the kind of wish fulfillment that orphans dream about. Suddenly, Wesley matters. Like the characters in Fight Club, he finally belongs, finally has an outlet for his dissatisfaction and rage. Every nerdy, picked on comics fanboy has at one time or another secretly dreamed of having heat vision, or getting hold of Green Lantern’s ring to wreak havoc on the bullies. It’s the kind of power fantasy we all indulge in once in a while to let off some steam.
But the difference between Fight Club and Wanted is that the former ultimately exposed such negative emotion, and the social terrorism that followed, as nothing more than the petty tantrums of an immature mind. The triumph of “Jack” is that he finally deals with his own pain, and finally accepts the consequences of his own life and actions.
Wanted has been called a “Watchmen for supervillains” by some. But while Alan Moore’s seminal masterpiece of the superhero genre deconstructed the characters to show that, hey, these guys are pretty messed up, and no better than anyone else, Millar’s work revels in the childlike glee of this fantasy world. The story exults in its own outrageousness, in its wanton destruction of social mores. Every time we read about Wesley’s boss, Millar is sure to mention that she is African-American. As if the fact that Wesley works for a woman isn’t bad enough, her race makes it even more intolerable. You can almost hear what he really wants to call her. It’s ironic then that his first encounter with his new comrades is through the sexy, deadly, and very Halle Berry-esque Fox, an African-American woman with a penchant for two-fisted handgun killing rampages.
Millar’s first issue is undoubtedly entertaining, pushing the boundaries of good taste with the same kind of ultra-violence and social brutality that made Fight Club so popular, and has made Millar one of the current crop of “rock star” comic writers. But the question remains of whether his series is more than just an adolescent power trip. It doesn’t look like it so far, but I’ve been wrong about Millar before: I disregarded his first issue of Superman: Red Son as nothing more than fanboy wanking, but the series wound up as an intelligent commentary on the conflict between freedom and stability.
What becomes of Wanted depends on the answer to one question. There’s a point early on when Wesley’s boss asks him if he’s looking up “www.small-white-dicks again”. The issue ends with Wesley holding a revolver with his new mentor telling him that it is “the answer to all your problems.” The question is whether or not Wesley really does have a small, white dick, and if he thinks he needs the gun to make up for it.