Age & Sex In Unknown Soldier #5 & Black Hole

In the last issue of Dysart and Ponticello's Unknown Soldier (issue 6 comes out next week), Moses reunites with his wife Sera. It's one of those inevitables that a lot of other comics would hold-off as long as possible. Dysart's confidence in characterization and interest human drama though, trumps forever-teasing comic narrative and we're treated to an incredibly moving scene of husband and wife back together. Of course, it's under strained and rather ugly circumstances.

We've been right there with Moses since he damaged his face and went stalking the LRA, so we've grown used to his hastily bandaged face, but it's entirely new to Sera. Employing the kind of emotional realism and wise shifting of feelings within a few pages--and often on the same page--Dysart has Sera scared, horrified, and then moved by Moses. They embrace and then she removes the bandages out of medical concern ("These desperately need to be changed") and a loving wife's need to see her husband. Their interaction bounces between the pragmatic ("We're going to have to shoot you up with penicillin...") and the romantic ("My love"), followed by a lustful kiss; Sera and Moses both forgetting his wrecked face.

After their kiss, the narrative quickly shifts to a few years ago, when in the jungle, Moses proposes to Sera ("Will you grow old with me?") and then back to the present, where I could be wrong but they might be having sex, and then, the couple on a bed, Sera nursing his wound-of-a-face. As usual, Dysart's daring narrative choices and well-wrought realism magnify the feelings, and Ponticelli's art, a mix of precise line scratched-about ugly detail, makes the whole thing oddly cinematic in the flashy, over-the-top sense, and documentary-like real too (you can get lost staring into Moses' wounds).

And at the risk of drawing more ire from the #1 comics creep, who doesn't really want to accept that weird pulpy, eroticism's one of of comics' selling points, this scene's both oddly romantic and realistically lust-filled. This mix is one that comics do well and in a way it seems, only comics can do because literature does not have the visual element and films are rooted in real-life human beings and so, there's an odd distancing effect.

Maybe someone like Bertolucci's gotten there a few times, but that's about it. I'm struggling with something as I write it here on purpose, as sex and sexuality's got this weird, indescribable balance of idealized in-your-head-ness to it and very real, messy, fumbling-ness too. This is something I've struggled with before, when I talked about Pirates of Coney Island and a Paul Pope illustration and I think Dysart and Ponticelli's scene adds a deeper, more mature context to this. Less a scene of adolescent lust that can't be contained, this is two people, still in-love, still in-lust, after years of marriage and they cannot resist one another despite the context--be it Moses' meat-grinder face or the LRA's pervasive threat.

The scene above from Charles Burns' Black Hole immediately came to mind as a kind of partner sequence to Unknown. Partner in that both are about a kind of overwhelming sexuality, but in another way, Rob and Chris of Black Hole representing the same kind of lust but from a younger, less mature point of view. This scene's the highlight of Black Hole and encompasses Burns' themes and ideas brilliantly. It's comic books doing what comic books do best, taking something very real and relate-able and blowing-it-up into some oddball, sci-fi, horror, out-there conceit that actually makes the scene feel even more real and relate-able.

In just this one page, there's so many of the concerns, fears, joys, and dangers of adolescent sex. The infected functioning as so many things, from H.I.V and less STDS, to the simple change that happens when you're no longer a virgin, to a kind of weird fear/obsession one has with the opposite sex that's inconceivable until you're you know, doing it. Dicks and vaginas are weird and bizarre and like, not beautiful or anything, but there's this odd animal-brain reaction we have to them, that's certainly enhanced as a hormones-rushing adolescent. The fact that Rob has the mouth on his neck and in effect, has a kind of vagina which Chris kisses, also hints towards a very-real, sexual ambiguity, flexibility, and confusion that teens, "straight" or "gay" wrestle around with. Like that one Replacements joint "Sixteen Blue" goes: "...everything is sexually vague/Now you're wondering to yourself, if you might be gay...".

And so, Black Hole's scene is about the kind of youthful awkwardness and self-consciousness of sex, when you're like "Okay, this is weird, there's this weird sex organ in front of me" and Unknown's scene is about later in life, when you've grown at least kinda comfortable with this whole sex thing. What I love about the scene is that it addresses age and maturity indirectly, you're mainly viewing the characters as two lovers reunited, but behind it, is a kind of healthy desperation, a wise disinterest in what's "weird" that's trumped by the same lust Rob and Chris feel, but directed towards true, lasting, love and romance.


Vee (Scratch) said...

I've been meaning to check out Burns' Black Hole.
Freaky scene.
Unknown Soldier. I'm not mad about the spoiler but that scene was kind of disturbing. Normally I would be too caught up in the action to pay attention to that exchange, but that is kind of intense. I also find it really disturbing, especially the way it is depicted.

NOw I need to get the small mouth neck image out of my head.

david e. ford, jr said...

yeah, this is really good. i particularly like the way you demonstrate how ponticelli's art is sort of deceptively real--you can get caught up reading it and then that scene hits and, as you say, you begin to get lost in those wounds, and that deceptive realism of the illustrations just nails you.

brandon said...

This is the second spoiler alert for you, ha. This and Scott Pilgrim. Though this has been out for almost a month, so I get a pass?

Check out Black Hole for sure. The art's obviously great and there's plenty similarly freaky images ala mouth neck to obsess over.