Matt Kindt's new graphic novel, the grimly topsy-turvy
(Vertigo: 192 pp., $24.99), starts with the sort of
nightmare that's become a permanent feature of our headspace. In a nameless Midwestern city, a hungover Sam reports to his dismal newspaper job (he edits party photos) as buildings explode all around him. His own office spews smoke; everyone evacuates save his boss, Jan, who sits stunned at her desk. There is no love lost between them: "I'd fire you, but no one else wants your job" is a typical Jan remark--but the extraordinary circumstances compel him to hustle her out of harm's way.
The mystery intensifies when they encounter a man in the parking garage who appears to know Jan. He punches her in the face; an adrenalized Sam defends her, possibly killing him. Sam and Jan spend the night together, wounded and petrified.
When he wakes up, however, it's as if nothing happened. Jan berates him, exhibiting no memory of the intense experience they shared. To pound home the status quo, his girlfriend and coworker, Maria, swings by and asks him out to lunch, at a sushi place next to a home furnishing store ("We could pop in there!").
For the rest of "Revolver," Sam lives in two worlds. There's "the one with the horrible job and dog-only cookie shops and ten-thousand-dollar couches," where he's increasingly driven up the wall by Maria's bourgeois priorities. ("Do we always talk like this?" he asks bluntly, after she considers the virtues of a particular dining room set.)
And then there's the world in which he feels alive: the devastated, chaotic America in which he and Jan are on the run, looting for survival, having shootouts, helping publish a guerrilla newsletter called "Revolver" (motto: "The One Side of Truth") that tries to figure out what exactly is going on. And, not incidentally, sleeping together. Information from one world eventually informs the other, and Sam seeks a therapist to make sense of it all.
The title refers to the way Sam's contrasting lives follow each other, like night after day -- the time 11:11 appears to be the hinge. But could it simply be that one world is the false reflection or deep hallucination of the other—a virtual-reality game, a poisoned dream, insanity? The key might lie with P.K. Verve, a ubiquitous inspirational speaker whose face is visible no matter which track Sam lands on. (One ad, taking up a full page, reads: "Verve will uncover the hidden YOU inside of YOU!")
Last year's "Three Story" found Kindt construcing a literal tall tale about a boy who never stopped growing. The full-color compositions were inventive, and there was a certain "Benjamin Button" purity to the story, a mounting futility as the protagonist's height shot off the chart. But something about the material felt enervated, and the whole production, though often visually gorgeous, stopped short of being an affecting fable.
"Revolver," on the other hand, unfurls at breakneck speed, with an unhinged, almost drunken vigor to the deliberately rough drawings. Though the plot is fairly involved, it never feels claustrophobic. Thanks in part to Kindt's unadorned, noir-inflected writing, Sam's existential dilemma is as exciting as watching him and Jan kick in doors and elude snipers.
As I read "Revolver," I couldn't help thinking of the more famous "Revolver," the Beatles' landmark 1966 album. Devin McKinney's description of it, in "Magic Circles:
in Dream and History," as a sort of pop schizophrenia, seems not irrelevant to the subject at hand:
"Revolver" is multicolored music in a black-and-white wrapper, terse pop songs of dream, escape, cynicism, forebodings… By its exploratory nature an affirmation of life and possibility, a bold and radical advance upon the new horizon, the album was at the same time fourteen kinds of oblivion served on a Top 40 platter: nostalgic about what had been, and paranoid about what it saw coming.
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A SHORTER, LESS BLOOD-SOAKED, yet equally memorable take on the line between fantasy and madness can be found in the current (July 2010) issue of
"Asimov's Science Fiction"
($4.99). Alice Sola Kim's short story "The Other Graces" is about a Korean American high schooler named Grace Cho, self-described "yellow trash," who yearns to get into an
school. She gets a strange e-mail, that begins like spam but turns out to be something far more strange:
you have been chosen for a mentorship by the other graces
the other graces are grace chos from alternate timelines of a high fidelity to yours.
we have decided to help you with your dream of acing the [SAT]
in order to do so we will have to open a subspace corridor into your brain[…]
The e-mail is signed "grace prime." Should Cho accept this otherworldly boost from a consortium of like-named beings?
The protagonist's situation is more serious than it appears: Her father has gone mad and lives in a halfway home; her brother watches the History Channel and is prone to conspiracy theories like their dad. College—and a good one, at that—is her only way out. Kim tells this raw, startling, occasionally humorous story in an intricate second-person voice that comes to have chilling significance by the end. This is a story worth seeking out.