Comics

THE ONE, The Last Word in Superheroics

Jesse Hicks

It possesses a bleak view of supposed heroes: politicians, businessmen, even superheroes are manifestations of The Other's violence and blind hatred.

The One, the Last Word in Superheroics

Publisher: King Hell Press
Length: 192
Writer: Rick Veitch
Price: $17.95
Item Type: Comic
Amazon

McLuhan Center Says A-Bomb May Be Good

Rick Veitch's THE ONE, The Last Word in Superheroics, opens with the headline above, from the Sunday, February 12, 1984 edition of the New York Times. According to the Marshall McLuhan Center -- named for the famous media theorist -- the Bomb is the world's greatest unifying myth. Its capacity for Biblical-scale annihilation "binds people together in a way they have not been linked since the Middle Ages, albeit on the brink of collective suicide."

Heavy stuff. In 1984, when THE ONE was first published, it was hard to argue that we weren't perched on the brink. The specter of impending Armageddon was so pervasive that it sublimated into military strategy: Mutually Assured Destruction guaranteed that whoever launched first would be handing the world's reins over to the cockroaches. Yet neither side could be the first to scale back their arms; a global game of nuclear chicken.

Ronald Reagan was fond of the Manichean worldview (now back in vogue); his battle against the "Evil Empire" was the stuff of superhero comics. Ironically, or perhaps in response to Reagan's elevation of comic book morality to national policy, comics of the time were drawing more ambiguous, troubling pictures of our national heroes. THE ONE was one of the first, preceding both Alan Moore's Watchmen and Frank Miller's The Dark Knight Returns.

Anxiety, resignation, and a perverse amount of national pride reigned everywhere under the atomic Sword of Damocles. Veitch explodes that tension within the first few pages. Itchy Itch, a voracious Howard Hughes-like capitalist, speaks directly to the reader: "It was a situation crying out to be exploited!" For Itch has been selling weapons hardware to both the Russian and American Navies. Taking control of that hardware, he sets them against one another, making it appear to the entire world that World War III had begun. The US President and Russian Premier, acting to protect their national honor and appease their respective populations, have no choice but to launch their nuclear missiles.

The weapons, all of them, fail to detonate, stopped by a mysterious burst of light. At the same time, two-thirds of the world populace falls into a death-like trance; the remaining third takes to rioting in the streets, figuring the end of the world is at hand.

In the midst of this chaos appears The One, looking like nothing so much as a blissed-out Uncle Sam with shades and a bowtie. He impresses Grace, a single mother and artist who becomes the moral center of the book, with his calm knowingness. He keeps his head when all about him everyone is losing theirs.

During the '60s, some proposed the consciousness expansion of LSD as the spiritual antidote to the death-worship of the Atom Bomb. This spirit incarnates in The One, who appears at the moment of mankind's self-inflicted annihilation in order to midwife humanity into the next stage of evolution. His opposite -- The Other -- thrives on man's animal nature, ruling through violence and pursuing only brute survival. His is the voice that makes the world's leaders choose incineration to protect their all-consuming ideologies.

The great dichotomies of the Cold War were not just Capitalism vs. Communism, US vs. USSR -- but also more essential divides: us vs. them, fear vs. love, progress vs. death. All of these divisions are explored in THE ONE, as barriers to be transcended.

Contemporaneous with Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns, THE ONE shares those comics' bleak view of supposed heroes: politicians, businessmen, even superheroes are manifestations of The Other's violence and blind hatred. The President calls for a nuclear strike on Washington, leaving his subordinates to deal with the wreckage while he retires to an underground bunker; Itchy Itch, mad Captain of Industry, brings on all this misery with his naked lust for power through wealth; and the Superiors, genetic mutants envisioned as the next step in the superpowers' arms race, only too late realize they are superhuman pawns of outdated ideologies. Their powers do not include wisdom or humanity.

Post-Watchmen, it's become fairly common for comics to take a "No Heroes" line. Once Moore proposed that the people we normally look to as leaders -- politicians, businessmen, men-in-tights -- were seldom as heroic as we hoped, it was easy to conclude that there were no heroes anywhere. Indeed, that conclusion has launched a thousand pale Watchmen imitations.

But in THE ONE, Veitch was ahead of the whole game. He'd already seen Moore's points about the corruptive power of ideologies, the naivety of looking for saviors, and the impotence of costumed heroes. THE ONE makes all those points and then some. Then the story moves on to the larger question: who are the real heroes? If our politicians are corrupt, their ideologies obsolete, our superheroes their pawns, and our business leaders out only to fleece us, who will save us from ourselves?

When Grace, who has spent most of the story vacillating between The One and The Other, falls from a building into the clutches of an angry mob, she asks the same question. She asks for help, salvation. The One, speaking as her son, answers, "I'd like to save you, but everyone has to do that for themselves."

When you wash away all the false saviors who assume leadership for the sake of power, who is left? Who are the real heroes?

The heroes are us.



Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Film

Buridan's Ass and the Problem of Free Will in John Sturges' 'The Great Escape'

Escape in John Sturge's The Great Escape is a tactical mission, a way to remain in the war despite having been taken out of it. Free Will is complicated.

Books

The Redemption of Elton John's 'Blue Moves'

Once reviled as bloated and pretentious, Elton John's 1976 album Blue Moves, is one of his masterpieces, argues author Matthew Restall in the latest installment of the 33 1/3 series.

Music

Whitney Take a Master Class on 'Candid'

Although covers albums are usually signs of trouble, Whitney's Candid is a surprisingly inspired release, with a song selection that's eclectic and often obscure.

Music

King Buzzo Continues His Reign with 'Gift of Sacrifice'

King Buzzo's collaboration with Mr. Bungle/Fantômas bassist Trevor Dunn expands the sound of Buzz Osborne's solo oeuvre on Gift of Sacrifice.

Music

Jim O'Rourke's Experimental 'Shutting Down Here' Is Big on Technique

Jim O'Rourke's Shutting Down Here is a fine piece of experimental music with a sure hand leading the way. But it's not pushing this music forward with the same propensity as Luc Ferrari or Derek Bailey.

Music

Laraaji Returns to His First Instrument for 'Sun Piano'

The ability to help the listener achieve a certain elevation is something Laraaji can do, at least to some degree, no matter the instrument.

Music

Kristin Hersh Discusses Her Gutsy New Throwing Muses Album

Kristin Hersh thinks influences are a crutch, and chops are a barrier between artists and their truest expressions. We talk about life, music, the pandemic, dissociation, and the energy that courses not from her but through her when she's at her best.

Music

The 10 Best Fleetwood Mac Solo Albums

Fleetwood Mac are the rare group that feature both a fine discography and a successful series of solo LPs from their many members. Here are ten examples of the latter.

Music

Jamila Woods' "SULA (Paperback)" and Creative Ancestry and Self-Love in the Age of "List" Activism

In Jamila Woods' latest single "SULA (Paperback)", Toni Morrison and her 1973 novel of the same name are not static literary phenomena. They are an artist and artwork as galvanizing and alive as Woods herself.

Film

The Erotic Disruption of the Self in Paul Schrader's 'The Comfort of Strangers'

Paul Schrader's The Comfort of Strangers presents the discomfiting encounter with another —someone like you—and yet entirely unlike you, mysterious to you, unknown and unknowable.

Music

'Can You Spell Urusei Yatsura' Is a Much Needed Burst of Hopefulness in a Desultory Summer

A new compilation online pulls together a generous helping of B-side action from a band deserving of remembrance, Scotland's Urusei Yatsura.

Music

Jess Cornelius Creates Tautly Constructed Snapshots of Life

Former Teeth & Tongue singer-songwriter Jess Cornelius' Distance is an enrapturing collection of punchy garage-rock, delicate folk, and arty synthpop anthems which examine liminal spaces between us.

Books

Sikoryak's 'Constitution Illustrated' Pays Homage to Comics and the Constitution

R. Sikoryak's satirical pairings of comics characters with famous and infamous American historical figures breathes new and sometimes uncomfortable life into the United States' most living document.

Music

South African Folk Master Vusi Mahlasela Honors Home on 'Shebeen Queen'

South African folk master Vusi Mahlasela pays tribute to his home and family with township music on live album, Shebeen Queen.

Music

Planningtorock Is Queering Sound, Challenging Binaries, and Making Infectious Dance Music

Planningtorock emphasizes "queering sound and vision". The music industry has its hierarchies of style, of equipment, of identities. For Jam Rostron, queering music means taking those conventions and deliberately manipulating and subverting them.

Music

'History Gets Ahead of the Story' for Jazz's Cosgrove, Medeski, and Lederer

Jazz drummer Jeff Cosgrove leads brilliant organ player John Medeski and multi-reed master Jeff Lederer through a revelatory recording of songs by William Parker and some just-as-good originals.

Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.