Loveless Vol. 2

Mordechai Shinefield

The illustrations look like wood cutouts, carved from timber. The pages seem to drip red with setting suns and spliced veins.

Loveless Vol. 2

Publisher: Vertigo
Subtitle: Thicker Than Blackwater
Contributors: Artist: Marcelo Frusin
Price: $14.99
Writer: Brian Azzarello
Length: 168
Formats: Trade Paperback
ISBN: 1401212506
US publication date: 2007-03-28

The most succinct way to describe Vertigo's comic series Loveless is to compare it to HBO's Deadwood. Though one is graphic fiction, and the other is a now defunct television series, they share something in common: they are both graphically violent cowboy stories. Whereas Deadwood took place in the Western frontier, Loveless is set in a southern town after the Civil War. The Union soldiers have come carpetbagging, and the protagonist is a Confederate vigilante turned sheriff hell-bent on revenge. And so we find our hero-of-sorts, Wes Cutter, spending the majority of the new Loveless trade "Thicker Than Blackwater" doing what he does best: kinda-maybe-sorta protecting the town, and in-a-general-sense not giving-a-fuck about anyone but his Virginia rose, Ruth.

Brian Azzarello made a name in Vertigo with another series, 100 Bullets, and like 100 Bullets, Loveless does a couple things very well and a few significant things much too poorly. Sometimes the two dovetailed in the aforementioned crime series -- Azzarello became so consumed with the minutia of double backstabbing and underhanded violence that the plot disappeared under mountains of characters and divergent plotlines. As such, Azzarello's characters never seem to gel on the page -- instead they spend issue after issue with ambiguous motivations before they are wiped out by a gunshot denouement. The advantage of this kind of loose-and-fast playing with characters is that Azzarello has a sense of stylized violence his contemporaries sometimes miss. Contrast 100 Bullets to the recent Punisher Presents: Barracuda and the difference is evident. Azzarello doesn't require grotesque (and racist) depictions of minorities in order to convey the underbelly of modern criminal society. He just needs a good artist, and a lot of bullets.

So where Loveless works is on the page itself. Marcelo Frusin has an imaginative mind for this kind of comic book work. He matches the mythology of Western tales with Azzarello's taste for blood. Like Deadwood, the marriage is one made in heaven. The illustrations look like wood cutouts, carved from timber. The pages seem to drip red with setting suns and spliced veins. In fact, red becomes a motif in Loveless for everything of meaning to Azzarello. His character Ruth, who is called the only courageous woman in town, has a head of flaming red hair.

Ruth also has an incessantly referenced rape backstory, though, that betrays Azzarello's preoccupation with melodrama. Here, Loveless takes a different path from 100 Bullets. In the latter, character backstories were only useful for setting up firefights. In the former, flashbacks incessantly invade the narrative -- at times it seems like everything interesting already happened. That feeling is intentional. Azzarello wants the reader to experience the aftermath of war along with his characters, and as such, even the most vicious enemies -- in "Thicker Than Blackwater," a serial killer -- did most of their killing in the past. The most horrific moments in Blackwater occur in the old days. The serial killer slaughters a defenseless Union company and then smiles his satanic grin. In the present, though, he's a business man in the pay of the local company. When events finally do come to a head, they are deliberately drawn. A man takes five panels and one full page to die from a gunshot wounds, and the climactic moment happens completely off-camera -- a gunshot merely heard in the distance by a supporting character. Life happens at a slower pace now that the war has ended.

As far as Azzarello's message that war leaves us incomplete with the past, Loveless is an antiwar story. But Azzarello is also the Quentin Tarantino of comic books. He enjoys violence because it lets him set his toy soldiers up and then knock them down. Doing a Western feels a lot like Tarantino doing a Martial Arts flick (Kill Bill), or a Blaxploitation film (Jackie Brown). It's a chance to play around with the setting and the themes. So trying to read into Loveless the kind of political metaphor that Warren Ellis' Transmetropolitan presented, or commentary that Rick Veitch's new Army@Love struggles with is a mistake. Azzarello may have one eye on the news, but his story is eventually more in the tradition of Shane than Iraq. Hell, it's more in the tradition of Shane than John Wayne, either -- the romanticization of cowboys is more about their deaths than their lives. There's enough blood in Loveless to fertilize Georgia's war-burnt fields. Except that this story isn't about healing the past, it's about getting revenge for it in the present.

If "Thicker than Blackwater" adds anything new to the Loveless narrative, it's that no one is an innocent. During the first trade, "A Kin of Homecoming," Cutter faced off against the Union bastard soldiers that had plagued his town. But in "Thicker than Blackwater" everyone becomes implicated in the crimes committed during the War. The town is complacent in allowing Ruth's rape to happen, and even the people not wielding weapons are in the pay of the company. When a couple is found brutally murdered, Cutter asks a member of the town if he knows who did this. The answer is enigmatic: "Yes. No. Anyone." But though it gives no insight into the plot, it gives an insight into Azzarello's kinetic violence. Essentially it doesn't matter in Azzarrelo's world who kills who. It's that killing is done frequently, and often in retaliation for other killings. His sense of morality is hidden just underneath the crust of Loveless -- bloodshed begets more bloodshed. I doubt he'll be satisfied until every page of this series is coated with Frusin's red ink.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Editor's Note: Originally published 30 July 2014.

10. “Bedlam in Belgium”
(Flick of the Switch, 1983)

This is a massively underrated barnstormer from the boys off the much-maligned (unfairly, I think) Flick of the Switch. The album was missing Mutt Lange, but the Youngs did have his very capable engineer, Tony Platt, as co-producer in the studio at Compass Point in the Bahamas. Tony’s a real pro. I think he did a perfectly fine job on this album, which also features the slamming “Nervous Shakedown”.

But what I find most interesting about “Bedlam in Belgium” is that it’s based on a fracas that broke out on stage in Kontich, Belgium, in 1977, involving Bon Scott, the rest of the band, and the local authorities. AC/DC had violated a noise curfew and things got hairy.

Yet Brian Johnson, more than half a decade later, wrote the lyrics with such insight; almost as if he was the one getting walloped by the Belgian police: He gave me a crack in the back with his gun / Hurt me so bad I could feel the blood run. Cracking lyrics, Bon-esque. Unfortunately for Brian, he was removed from lyric-writing duties from The Razors Edge (1990) onwards. All songs up to and including 2008’s Black Ice are Young/Young compositions.

Who’ll be writing the songs on the new album AC/DC has been working on in Vancouver? AC/DC fans can’t wait to hear them. Nor can I.

9. “Spellbound”
(For Those About to Rock We Salute You, 1981)

"Spellbound" really stands as a lasting monument to the genius of Mutt Lange, a man whose finely tuned ear and attention to detail filed the rough edges of Vanda & Young–era AC/DC and turned this commercially underperforming band for Atlantic Records into one of the biggest in the world. On “Spellbound” AC/DC sounds truly majestic. Lange just amplifies their natural power an extra notch. It’s crisp sounding, laden with dynamics and just awesome when Angus launches into his solo.

“Spellbound” is the closer on For Those About to Rock We Salute You, the last album Lange did with AC/DC, so chronologically it’s a significant song; it marks the end of an important era. For Those About to Rock was an unhappy experience for a lot of people. There was a lot of blood being spilled behind the scenes. It went to number one in the US but commercially was a massive disappointment after the performance of Back in Black. Much of the blame lies at the feet of Atlantic Records, then under Doug Morris, who made the decision to exhume an album they’d shelved in 1976, Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap, and release it in-between Back in Black and For Those About to Rock.

In the book Phil Carson, who signed AC/DC to Atlantic, calls it “one of the most crass decisions ever made by a record-company executive” and believes it undermined sales of For Those About to Rock.

8. “Down Payment Blues”
(Powerage, 1978)

This is one of the best songs off Powerage -- perhaps the high point of Bon Scott as a lyricist -- but also significant for its connection to “Back in Black”. There are key lines in it: Sitting in my Cadillac / Listening to my radio / Suzy baby get on in / Tell me where she wanna go / I'm living in a nightmare / She's looking like a wet dream / I got myself a Cadillac / But I can't afford the gasoline.

Bon loved writing about Cadillacs. He mentions them in “Rocker” off the Australian version of TNT and the international release of Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap: Got slicked black hair / Skin tight jeans / Cadillac car and a teenage dream.

Then you get to “Back in Black”. Bon’s dead but the lyrics have this spooky connection to “Down Payment Blues”: Back in the back / Of a Cadillac / Number one with a bullet, I’m a power pack.

Why was Brian singing about riding around in Cadillacs? He’d just joined AC/DC, wasn’t earning a lot and was on his best behavior. Bon had a reason to be singing about money. He was writing all the songs and just had a breakthrough album with Highway to Hell. Which begs the question: Could Bon also have written or part written the lyrics to “Back in Black”?

Bon’s late mother Isa said in 2006: “The last time we saw him was Christmas ’79, two months before he died. [Bon] told me he was working on the Back in Black album and that that was going to be it; that he was going to be a millionaire.”

7. “You Shook Me All Night Long”
(Back in Black, 1980)

Everyone knows and loves this song; it’s played everywhere. Shania Twain and Celine Dion have covered it. It’s one of AC/DC’s standbys. But who wrote it?

Former Mötley Crüe manager Doug Thaler is convinced Bon Scott, who’d passed away before the album was recorded, being replaced by Brian Johnson, wrote the lyrics. In fact he told me, “You can bet your life that Bon Scott wrote the lyrics to ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’.” That’s a pretty strong statement from a guy who used to be AC/DC’s American booking agent and knew the band intimately. I look into this claim in some depth in the book and draw my own conclusions.

I’m convinced Bon wrote it. In my opinion only Bon would have written a line like “She told me to come but I was already there.” Brian never matched the verve or wit of Bon in his lyrics and it’s why I think so much of AC/DC’s mid-'80s output suffers even when the guitar work of the Youngs was as good as it ever was.

But what’s also really interesting about this song in light of the recent hullabaloo over Taurus and Led Zeppelin is how much the opening guitar riff sounds similar to Head East’s “Never Been Any Reason”. I didn’t know a hell of a lot about Head East before I started working on this book, but came across “Never Been Any Reason” in the process of doing my research and was blown away when I heard it for the first time. AC/DC opened for Head East in Milwaukee in 1977. So the two bands crossed paths.

6. “Rock ’N’ Roll Damnation”
(Powerage, 1978)

It’s hard to get my head around the fact Mick Wall, the British rock writer and author of AC/DC: Hell Ain’t a Bad Place to Be, called this “a two-bit piece of head-bopping guff.” Not sure what track he was listening to when he wrote that -- maybe he was having a bad day -- but for me it’s one of the last of AC/DC’s classic boogie tracks and probably the best.

Mark Evans loves it almost as much as he loves “Highway to Hell". It has everything you want in an AC/DC song plus shakers, tambourines and handclaps, a real Motown touch that George Young and Harry Vanda brought to bear on the recording. They did something similar with the John Paul Young hit “Love Is in the Air”. Percussion was an underlying feature of many early AC/DC songs. This one really grooves. I never get tired of hearing it.

“Rock ’n’ Roll Damnation” was AC/DC’s first hit in the UK charts and a lot of the credit has to go to Michael Klenfner, best known as the fat guy with the moustache who stops Jake and Elwood backstage in the final reel of The Blues Brothers and offers them a recording contract. He was senior vice-president at Atlantic at the time, and insisted the band go back and record a radio-worthy single after they delivered the first cut of Powerage to New York.

Michael was a real champion of AC/DC behind the scenes at Atlantic, and never got the recognition he was due while he was still alive (he passed away in 2009). He ended up having a falling out with Atlantic president Jerry Greenberg over the choice of producer for Highway to Hell and got fired. But it was Klenfner who arguably did more for the band than anyone else while they were at Atlantic. His story deserves to be known by the fans.

Next Page

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.