Column: Comics Over Innsmouth: The Tedium Zone

By Lyndsey Holder

McKelvie, Jamie (artist) and Gillen, Kieran (writer). The Wicked + The Divine. Image (2014).

Vilanova, Guiu (artist) and Straczynski, J. Michael (writer). The Twilight Zone. Dynamite (2014).

I am a multi-tasker. I do really well when I have seventeen million things to do at once, but when I have only one task, I quickly become bogged down in minutia. When my house is an absolute riot, which it always is because housework is pretty low on my priority list, it’s great, because I can make dinner, organize the kitchen and get laundry going at the same time, but when I’ve only got the bathroom to clean, I find myself doing really ridiculous things like dusting bottles of cough syrup.

The fact that I had to turn off the television when I was reading The Wicked + The Divine, then, should tell you something about how much is going on in the first few pages of the comic.
It’s like a Kubrick movie. There’s very little dialogue in some places because there doesn’t have to be, because what you are seeing tells the story far better than words ever could. Language is a prison, sometimes. This is a comic that remembers – and embraces, even – that the whole point of a comic is the art.

Myths are real and they’re on a regular cycle of reincarnation that has just come due. Amaterasu, the Shinto sun goddess, is a pop singer. Her fans have orgasms at her concerts and then pass out – I’m not sure if that’s an endorsement or not. Lucifer, or Luci, is a blonde, androgynous anti-hero who discovers Laura, our protagonist, takes her to meet Amaterasu, and keeps her safe, of course. Of course. Lucifer is always the sneaky, sarcastic good-but-bad guy. It’s cliché, but it couldn’t be anything else because pure evil is boring and because fallen angels are the only interesting kind of angels.

Since it’s created by the team behind Phonogram, I’m a bit worried that it will also derail itself in its attempts to ensure that we are all aware of how incredibly clever it is. If Gillen can manage to keep his ego on a leash this time, The Wicked + The Divine

When I was a kid, I used to sneak downstairs to watch TV on the old black-and-white, rabbit-eared set in my parents’ basement. It wasn’t hooked up to cable. The only channel it could pick up mostly ran talk shows and soap operas. Except at night. At eleven o’clock every night, they’d play reruns of The Twilight Zone, which fostered in my young heart a love for dystopian sci-fi that I’ve never been able to shake.

The scary part of The Twilight Zone, the part that really got under your skin, was that it showed a mirror to society. A funhouse mirror but a mirror all the same. It amplified all of the ugly bits about the way we treat each other. Maybe it looked ridiculous sometimes, but you couldn’t help but recognize the honesty in it. Perhaps the only way that we can handle uncomfortable truths about ourselves is when they’re couched in fiction.

The Twilight Zone comic starts out really well. There’s a sneaky, slimy jerk with lots of money who is going to jail. Like all shifty rich men, he has the money and connections to avoid such a plebeian fate. He makes a shady deal and takes a pill that will turn him into a new man – giving him a completely different body, even different fingerprints.

The problem is that the story doesn’t end. He turns into a new man. He sees news reports about his old self. Then a bunch of nonsense happens and it just keeps going. The thing that was so brilliant about Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone was it was short. It made its point and then left you alone to figure out what it meant to you, because that was the point. It made you feel awkward and wrong about what society was doing and your complicity in that. The brain-crushing part wasn’t when you were watching: It was after it was done and you realized that you were one of the victims – or worse, one of the bad guys.

If you want more Twilight Zone, avoid this comic and watch Black Mirror, instead. It’s an utterly brilliant, brain-crushing series by Charlie Brooker, whose recent article on Gamergate proves that he intimately understands the dark, ugly parts of society. It is everything that this comic should have been.