BURN IN HELL, NEW COMICS. (the part that is the first)

*The BURNING is here. For too too long, new comics have flooded our streets with comical newness. No more. New comics need BURNING and DESTROYING. The guy from the towing company said he thinks the problem with my car is in the fuel system. But what I head him say in his secret voice was “Comics, Jog. Now is the time for Hell!” Truer words were never spoken, and he did not charge me cash because the garage was within five miles.

Thus, the holy mission of this site begins with a review of a book from back in the Paleolithic Era, which is to say November 2006. Revolution!

American Virgin Vol. 1: Head

This collects the first four issues of a still-ongoing Vertigo series, which is now up to issue #9. It’s only $9.99, and stretches out its length with 14 pages of bonus features, more than usual for this type of collection. Even less typical: the extras are actually pretty funny and entertaining, especially an extended parody of Wizard that takes up nearly half the space and has a great deal of fun exploiting popular perceptions of the importance of various members of a comic’s creative team. Especially good is the couldn’t-care-less tone of an interview with letterer Jared K. Fletcher and colorist Brian Miller, and the inevitable confusion that results from terming such folks ‘artists’ - everyone knows only pencillers are artists!

A little bit of that sense of lively fun extends to the book as a whole, but it’s crowded out by a whole battery of tones and moods that writer Steven T. Seagle seems intent on cycling through. American Virgin is the story of Evangelical Christian superstar Adam Chamberlain, who’s made a mint on books and speaking engagements extolling a life of abstinence from sex; he’s being groomed by his slug-like mother and shifty step-dad to supercharge the ratings of the latter’s television ministry, possibly because he’s the only one among the youth of the family seemingly suitable for the task. Unfortunately, everything he understands is questioned when his beloved girlfriend is beheaded while working in Africa with the Peace Corps., and he embarks on a quest with his errant, debauched older half-sister to find the body (the whole body) and figure out where he needs to go in life.

It’s a decent enough premise for a series, and I’ll even credit Seagle with probably knowing where he wants to go with it, but the execution is choppy and uneven to the extreme, the story’s feel veering wildly from over-amped satire to melodrama to faintly dopey action thriller, complete with villains firing guns at characters from but a few feet away, still somehow allowing them to make it into a car and drive off to safety. And unfortunately, the lead character gets about the worst of the book’s wobbly treatment; it’s evident that Adam is supposed to emerge as a fully-rounded human being in an environment ripe for caricature, but that doesn’t stop him from lapsing into obvious parody at inopportune times. It’s understandable that a conservative Christian would clash a bit with various aspects of world society, but it’s a bit much to have Adam wander into a village in Mozambique, muttering about topless woman and calling them all heathens. Sure, we get it; the modern application of abstinence education as seen in places like the US is a construct of that society’s particular mores, and probably isn’t applicable to different places despite the gloss of eternity to such socio-religious viewpoints. But it doesn’t have to be punctuated with all the Heathens! or tortured masturbation sequences or whatnot - that’s just blunt, and kind of obvious.

But the story keeps oscillating between heartfelt character work and blowsy rhetoric, as Adam wanders, searching for what he’s after. By the time Adam confront the extremist that participated in his girlfriend’s murder, talk about the hated West and personal morality burbling all over, one finds it difficult to discern exactly what Seagle is going for in this book. It ain’t much of a character study; too artificial and cartoonish. It’s satiric, but an action/drama, but it’s not entirely adept at either. Certainly Becky Cloonan’s pencils are nice (she’s joined by Jim Rugg, soon of Vertigo’s Minx label, on the latter two issues), in that the characters express themselves vividly, and the ‘hot’ female lead is actually drawn with meat on her bones, but it’s difficult to clear the hurdles presented by this scattered, confused story.

It’s Christian soldiers in search of a tone, and one hopes the series calms down and finds itself before its the lead character does, so it might find a greater resonance.