Wanted #1 (Of 6)

Ryan Paul

This is the kind of wish fulfillment that orphans dream about.

Wanted #1 (of 6)

Publisher: Top Cow
Contributors: J.G. Jones (Artist)
Price: $2.99
Writer: Mark Millar
Item Type: Comic
Length: 32
Publication Date: 2003-12

Wish Fulfillment

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.

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.

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