[23 December 2002]
Laughing For a Change
When faced with crisis and tragedy, people generally have two options: to fly into naïve escapism, or to look at the situation as it really is and deal with it head-on. Since 9/11, the entertainment industry has been tasked with trying to gauge the mood of the American people.
At first, extreme sensitivity was the rule. Any images that might upset our fragile psyché were quickly purged from entertainment outlets. As time went by, more and more violent imagery worked its way back into pop culture, colored with a new realistic evaluation of the consequences of such actions. Ultimately, the avoidance of disturbing images became, to the viewing public, as unsatisfying as the confrontation of those images. Now we seem to have come to a new crossroads, one not far from the point we were on September 10, 2001. All the explosions and special effects remain, but the critical awareness of what it all means is becoming dim once again. Many have gone from a naïve hope that if they didn’t see it, it wouldn’t be real, to head-on confrontation, and then back to fantastic escapism every bit as violent as reality—but without all the messy unpleasantness.
The comics world has been no different than any other segment of the entertainment industry in this regard, and Garth Ennis is hopping mad about it. Creator of the acclaimed Hitman and Preacher series, as well as current scribe for The Punisher, Ennis has a penchant for barbecuing any and all sacred cows unlucky enough to draw his ire. In the original graphic novel The Pro, published by Image Comics, he turns his attention to that holiest of comic book bovines: The Superhero.
Satirizing the superhero genre isn’t a particularly difficult enterprise, nor is it something that hasn’t been done before by many other writers—Ennis himself included. When one thinks about it, people prancing about in Technicolor Spandex, saving the world from space aliens, and cavorting with prepubescent sidekicks are a pretty ridiculous concept to begin with. And Ennis’ story of a street prostitute that is granted superpowers isn’t particularly subtle about its point, either. It makes all the obvious crude jokes and sight gags one could imagine(including super-speed fellatio, super-powered male orgasms, and revenge against a non-paying customer, administered in a rather painful anal manner), skewering just about every beloved superhero icon and convention in the process. What makes this book work then is not some high-concept subtly and wittily delivered, but the sheer tenacity and unabashed guts with which Ennis attacks his prey.
The truth, as Ennis sees it, is that these superheroes, and the escapist mentality they represent, are obsolete. In a world of terrorists, rapists, and murderers, it is time to grow up and put aside the silly models of “good vs. evil” and deal with what is really going on. This may mean dealing with uncomfortable and disturbing facts about ourselves and the world we live in, but Ennis believes it is the only way things will ever hope to improve.
In the past, some of Ennis’ work has become bogged down in a rather juvenile sense of humor, such as the mini-series Fury for Marvel’s adult-oriented MAX imprint. And while that same sense of humor is present in this book, it is more Voltaire than Andrew Dice Clay. There is plenty of crudeness to amuse, but behind it, there is substance which serves to shock the system.
It is almost unimaginable that comics would ever drop the superheroes altogether. They are the genre’s bread and butter. The genre is, in many ways, very different from the simplistic portrayal in this review, but the criticism still stands. It is time to wake up, grow up, and face life as an adult. This is a lesson that the comics world should take to heart, both creators and readers, before the world passes them by, leaving them irrelevant and forgotten.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/review/pro/