Friday, August 6, 2010

Entropy Week: Nancy in Hell # 1!

Nancy in Hell # 1
Image Comics

Script: El Torres
Pencils: Juan Jose Ryp
22 pages for $2.99

I'm closing out entropy week with this little number, and I probably should have lead with it since it's the least depressing of the lot. But still, the despair is in there.

After the plague hit Europe (and other assorted locales) and wiped out about 1/3 of everybody everywhere, art understandably took a turn toward the macabre. It was beautiful, to be sure. But your prevailing subjects were demons, grim reapers, hell, death. Understandable, actually. When a crisis of that magnitude hits, it's difficult to be focused on cotton candy and unicorns.

But what's our excuse? Yeah, we had 9/11, and that's a bitch. The threat of terrorism is a bitch, in some ways worse than the cold war - at least then we could nail down a locale for the bastards who wanted to do us.

Take a look around, though, at the psychological comic book landscape. How bout Final Crisis at DC proper or World's End in the Wildstorm Universe? Warren Ellis pretty much wipes out America in Black Summer, then wipes out London in Freakangels, then wipes out everything in Supergod. In the 1960s, Cesar Romero made The Joker funny. In the 21st Century, that aint just face paint. The Joker is fucked up down to the core, and makes a more compelling case for nihilism than Batman did for hope in Nolan's Dark Knight.

Art mirrors life. And if you look carefully, you can see a thread unravelling the sweater. Or at least, we seem to think the sweater is coming apart. And while Nancy in Hell is more relaxed and more committed to fun than Crossed, there's still something morose about it. The threats in this book are omnipresent, and the prevailing wisdom is that there is no getting out of it.

I guess if you want the crux of the 21st Century lament it is this: "We have bitten off more than we can chew." Obviously there have been problems in the past that scared the shit out of us as a species: predators, natural disasters, inter-tribal conflicts, disease, etc.

I think the difference is that in The Good Olde Days, it felt like the problems, no matter how vicious, seemed temporary and localized, and that there was maybe somebody out there with the goods to fix them. If not God, then Caesar. I don't think we have that any more.

We don't believe that anybody has a handle on the impending oil/energy crisis. Shit, we can't even plug leaks in oil pipes! It takes three months to stop a rig in the Gulf from puking out millions of gallons of oil? REALLY??? I don't think we have faith that anybody has answers for the Climate Crisis, if there is one. Still can't even agree on that. Even if we did, does anybody think that something significant would be done if it prevented BP from making an extra nickel?

Our antibiotics are losing efficacy, the diseases keep getting scarier, and if FEMA couldn't get a trailer to New Orleans for a crisis they KNEW was coming, you can imagine what the response is going to be like if Avian flu ever gets rolling.

So it makes sense that El Torres would set his book in hell and pit Nancy against impossible odds. It just feels right to be fucked in the 21st Century.

As a comic mind you, it's not half bad. I like a variety in my reading diet. There's a place in my heart for books with simple, cheap, dirty hooks. You take a stock blond tough chick, you toss her into the infernal pits with a shotgun and let her go to town.

And if that's what you're looking for, well, you're going to get it. Nancy does a lot of ass kicking, with a chainsaw more often than not. She's kinda cute in a gutter whore sort of way, complete with jean shorts cut into what amounts to a denim thong. And as is his specialty, Juan Jose Ryp depicts the violence in every graphic detail.

Torres at least makes a valid attempt to introduce some fresh elements to the well-trodden ground he's walking on. There are sub-cultures in hell, (and inside the story, most of the characters assume they're in hell, but there's no signs posted or anything) and the castes are largely built upon the strength of your identity. Physicality is built on memory and attitude. So as you remember or believe you are, so you are in that realm.

Everyone it seems ultimately loses a grasp on that identity and degrades into a mindless shambling husk of themselves. In the interim, there are sentient groups that have gathered together to indulge in whatever sick pleasure suits their fancy. So Torres is trying to carve out his own cosmology of the damned, and some of it feels like it could pay off if fleshed out, pardon the pun.

But while there was a legitimate attempt at novelty, much of Nancy in Hell feels painfully familiar. There's nothing to really separate Nancy from say, Cassie Hack, other than the fact that Cassie has more interesting things to say and plays with more depth due to her relationship with Vlad.

How about Nancy's mentor at the bar, Phil? Here's a panel of Phil:

And here's the cover of Antony Johnston and Christopher Mitten's Wasteland # 1:

Separated at birth I guess. Maybe Phil just walked out of the Big Wet into the valley of the damned. I don't know. There's some succubus type demon chicks that are pretty stock, and the Big Bad so far reminds me a lot of that crazy guy who shot lasers out of his eyes at Luke Cage and Iron Fist during PM/IF # 108.

I'm not suggesting that the Nancy in Hell team swiped that guy, since I'm probably the only human left on earth who even remembers that comic. I'm not suggesting they intentionally swiped anything. Look, this is well-travelled ground, and things float around in the culture, and they become what Jung would call Types. There's a lot of them in this comic.

If you find yourself jonesing for the old Chaos material, I think this is an outstanding fix for you. It reminds me a lot of what Brian Pulido was doing with Evil Ernie in terms of tone and such. As a high-action feast for the eyes, I recommend Nancy in Hell heartily. And of all the entropy books this week, Nancy in Hell certainly has the most fun. One gets the feeling that Nancy might even win this fight. Looks like she's going to need Lucifer's help to do it, though. And that's where we're at psychologically in the 21st century. Your best hope looks like The Devil. Fuck, that's depressing!

- Ryan

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