Bela Lugosi’s Dead, Johnen Vasquez is Alive, and the World is an Unjust Place.
Okay, here’s the thing – or "check it," as I believe you crazy kids say these days – just because Jhonen Vasquez has a bunch of JTHM shirts at Hot Topic doesn’t mean you’re contractually obligated to emulate him.
Not that Johnny the Homicidal Maniac wasn’t pretty brilliant stuff. It was, at the time, a great little injection of goth-punk insanity, concentrated nastiness with a witty edge that had more fun with gore than anything since… well, anything, really. Granted, Evan Dorkin had beaten Vasquez at his own game almost a decade earlier with the hyper-violent and even funnier Milk and Cheese, but Vasquez upped the mayhem, upped the gore, and outfitted everyone in these ginchy little black outfits with lots of zippers and buckles, and threw in just enough self-disparaging "don’t goths suck just as much?" references to keep readers feeling hip and self-aware rather than a giant circle jerk of recovering Sisters of Mercy groupies.
But there it was, and I, like many, read and enjoyed JTHM, and when the time came, I put it aside and moved on. Vasquez himself has moved on as well, and is now peddling more kiddie-oriented fare like the late Invader Zim.
Many, unfortunately, have not.
I can’t click a link these days without seeing some sort of bastardized rip of the concept of ludicrous violence. And while it was funny when Monty Python dropped the sixteen-ton weight on somebody about twenty-five years ago, and while that Buster Keaton was a real cut-up with his pratfalls and boy howdy, that Wile E. Coyote sure could make me howl with his ACME-induced antics, the Vasquez clones run thick and bloody upon the ground, cannibalizing a short-lived rather-good comic book that was pretty much built from spare parts to begin with.
"Hey, it’s that neighbor I don’t like! He wants to borrow a cup of sugar! But instead, I will HACK HIM UP WITH THIS CHAINSAW AND FEED HIM TO THE ALLIGATORS IN MY MOAT!" is pretty much a typical example of its type, except compared to a lot of them, this sparkles with wit. Everybody is doing ‘something unpredictable’ so much these days that somebody doing something that you actually expect would be a warm spring breeze, wouldn’t it?
This is the thing, and the thing is this: JTHM was pretty funny, what with the mayhem and the blood and the endlessly deep house with its basements and blood-drinking walls. But the hilarity – and the ridiculous levels of gore – were tempered by the fact that Vasquez actually had a story to tell and an underlying point to make. I can’t remember what it was exactly, but it had something to do with Mr. Eff and the doughboy cut-out and the fact that Johnny was in fact some sort of spiritual sump pump to absorb the world’s negativity. And when that was revealed, one per cent of the JTHM-reading public sort of twigged to the fact that this was like that last episode of Seinfeld when the show basically said "if you enjoy this, you are a RAGING ASSHOLE." As easily predicted, 99% of the readership zipped right past that in favor of the next exploding-head joke, which is a lucky break for Vasquez as it is what allowed him to later buy that death ray satellite or whatever the hell.
Regardless – at the end of the day, half of the fun of JTHM was that occasionally there was a break to the sick excess, and you were given a clue that all of this really did have a point (and the point, as it turned out, seemed to be that you have to be a real jerk to think this stuff is funny). It wasn’t just ludicrously violent pratfall after horrific atrocity, lather rinse repeat. But imagine the hell, the torturous agony, of somebody striving to keep tabs on this massive thing they call webcomics when you find yourself mired time and again in a sea of endless juvenile "head-explodey" humour with nothing to buoy it, and not even Vasquez’ sense of kinetic humor or structure (sometimes things lead up to the big violent scene, kids, it’s called "pacing") to make it slightly more palatable.
I’d take Johnny with the icepick over this any day, gang. I’d stake my 25-hole docs with the sterling silver lacetips on it.
Dalton Wemble is a bitter, bitter ma– umm, staff contributor for the Comixpedia.