Can we escape our fate? And is doing so only a question of substantiation? The substantiation by means of a certain weight of money, or maybe the transubstantiation of piety in a hyper-noir landscape…
Ten Grand #1Publisher: Image
Length: 22 pages
Writer: J. Michael Straczynski, Ben Templesmith
Publication Date: 2013-05
"How much blood must I bathe in, before I'm clean?" It's a nothing line, from a forgotten movie called the Hunted. Not the 2003 movie the Hunted in which PTSD-riddled ex-Spec Forces operative Benecio del Toro goes crazy in the Pacific NW and gets hunted by his erstwhile trainer, Tommy Lee Jones (who else, since 1993's the Fugitive). But an earlier the Hunted, from 1995, where businessman Paul Racine while in Tokyo falls on the hit list of ancient ninja assassin and head of his own ninja clan Kinjo and then under the protection equally ancient samurai lord, Takeda Sensei.
It's a nothing line from a forgotten movie, but it's the germ of something. Especially in the hands of an accomplished actor like John Lone who infuses it with an almost spiritual ambiguity. It's a line that's obviously written to demonstrate the paucity of Kinjo's grasp of any kind of system of ethics or having cornered the market on any kind of ethical validation for his lifestyle. In fact, this is what the Hunted is really about -- the men on both sides of the equation, both aggressor and protector lacking any morality and needing to absolve themselves of the modern world by ancient cultural rituals of bloodletting.
The equally indomitable Yoshio Harada who plays Takeda Sensei with aplomb is demonstrated over the course of the film to be less interested in actually protecting Racine (played by a cowering Christopher Lambert in a welcome disjunct from slightly-zany Connor Macleod from the progressively worsening Highlander series of films). Takeda's sense of it is rather to exploit Racine's position (as the only man to have seen Kinjo's face and still live) to lure Kinjo and his ninja clan into a final conflict with his own samurai clan. Even if the end of this final conflagration is the destruction of the last true samurai and ninja clan in all of Japan.
What remains by the end of the movie though, is that line that John Lone tosses like an oldtimey bundle of dynamite sticks, bound tightly together in a neat cylinder, with a ticking clock attached. "How much blood must I bathe in, before I'm clean?" And in that delivery, a Lone straddling the dramatically ironic disengagement of the audience, with the almost genuinely human anguish of Kinjo, with the melodramatic, hyper-operatic tradition of Far East cinema that the screenwriters and the director of the Hunted are reliant upon, even as they're already attempting to erase it.
From the Hunted's release on February 24th, 1995, it would be at least another 18 months until those handful of days before Halloween '96, until the pilot episode of Millennium. It's a show that's a brand extension show for Chris Carter's X-Files, as much as it is a flexing of his creative muscles on a darker theme. Like X-Files, Millennium is visualized as a cinematographically lavish world-grown-darker version of our own reality. In the pilot it shows a Seattle that grayer and ghastlier by far than the Seattle we can walk through or even a Seattle we can imagine walking through.
But, almost beneath our notice, what Millennium does achieve is that same sublime twist John Lone's flawless execution of that line from the Hunted makes us heir to. With Lone's delivery we saw him reaching, perhaps vainly towards the near-farcical exaggeration of the melodramatic, the hyper-operatic that so many warrior-culture movies from the Far East seem to fluently exude. And in so doing, he struggles against perhaps the screenwriters' perhaps the director's attempt to "modernize" the genre and demonstrate such operatic emotional to be ethically flawed and morally vacuous.
Millennium achieves the same effect of a character/player struggling perhaps vainly against a generic construct, not only with the viewer struggling against a fictively more noir-imbued Seattle, but with viewer struggling against killers inspired apocalyptic prophecy. The ideological gambit is exactly the same. Which will win out? Preexisting structure, or the inherent novelty of potential? The potential to change, the potential for the player to shift entire game.
If Lone's struggle against the confines of the screenplay (or perhaps merely the confines of directorial vision) plays well across the Pacific in North America, it's because his struggle is essentially a democratic one. And at it's heart, a single question--can we escape being ill-fated? Or even, fated at all.
Writer J. Michael Straczynski and artist Ben Templesmith's collaboration on Ten Grand's first issue ("Blood Oath") takes the question of personal assertion in the face of grandiose systemic definition to a ridiculously beautiful level. Ridiculously beautiful, because it's simply unfair that a work be so perfect, as it puts itself perfectly beyond other works.
Joe the hitman has fallen in with a bad crowd, the kind of crowd that struggles for the spoils of the hereafter, angels and demons. He's working off a karmic debt that, once cleared, will allow him to rejoin his beloved in what he hopes will be the Lesser of two Evils.
In one of the smaller interactions, he speaks to the reasoning behind his fee. (His fee as a hitman, ostensibly whatever Heavenly Forces have co-opted him have sagaciously allowed him to continue to ply his trade.) 10,000 bucks is just about enough to weed out the lookie-loos. And in a beautifully noir-inspired leap, Joe the hitman doesn't count the money, he checks its weight. Somehow, over the years, he's gotten an intuitive grasp of what the weight of ten grand feels like. This is a wonderfully materialist vision of the world, one infused with the core elements of noir and neonoir.
And yet, just a handful of scenes later, there's the unbidden abstracted, intangible power of money clear to be seen. After a job's gone down badly, Joe the hitman draws a summoning sigil on a single, and slips the bill to a stripper. The Heavenly Presence that co-opted Joe appears, possessing the stripper. Here's the intangible, the intractable, the immaterial, transubstantiated power of money. Power that only exists in the imagination, and yet affects the material world. Not so very different at all from the immaterial otherworldly powers that Joe is now subject to, and wrestles against.
The democratic struggle that John Lone enacts when struggling against authorial intent, the same one reenacted by Millennium with landscape and apocalyptic prophesy being executed by deranged killers, is once again reenacted, in a post-Financial crisis world, by Straczynski's thematic use of money as material currency, and magickal currency.
Somewhere in this, in the muck of Straczynski's bold elevation of neonoir, there's a perfectly good Master's Thesis waiting to be written. Ten Grand comes with absolutely the highest, must unreserved praise.