Powerful Panels: Corpse Debris in Big Guy & Rusty

You read Big Guy & Rusty quick. In part because it's brevity kinda dares you to gulp it down in one sitting and in part, because it's basically an extended action sequence, with a ton of incidental dialogue. It's easy to read. It could be a word-less comic and work just fine.

And art-wise, Geoff Darrow's obsession with detail, has the strange effect of making you actually move through it faster. You trust Darrow's detail and though you could stop and stare into any of the pages for twenty minutes, you totally don't have to, to get what's going on. The details work on a subliminal level, they're not messy or confusing, so you like, absorb them by osmosis.

So, on an initial reading of Big Guy, you might whiz by the panel above, stopping to read the comic book villain declaration ("FOOLS!") and register the image as an explosion of debris--the accidental result of a bunch of maybe too forward-thinking scientists (there's Miller's Conservativism for you) recreating "the primordial ooze"--and leave it at that. But what you'd be missing is that a significant amount of the debris flying through the air are indeed, human bodies.

Besides it just being a particularly gruesome detail, it's a very realistic one. Giving some visual time to the carnage often passed over in those old Godzilla movies and in big, Hollywood action/event pictures..and the news when it's covering real-life violence and devastation. Darrow's clearly a nut--in the best sense of the word--and obsessed with the fun and insanity comics can create, but his eye for not only detail, but near-photo-realistic detail moves even his most comic book work into something very grounded in the real-world. The image, humans as debris, flying through the air no different than the pieces of building, invoked the specific, in-the-moment, broadcasted on TV horrors of September 11th...and the subsequent, sincere though problematic focus on those horrors.

Though it often leaned more towards rubbernecking, the insincere sincerity of "the human interest story", there was indeed, a heart-felt attempt by the nation at-large to feel empathy with those stuck in the buildings. To put ourselves in their shoes even though we knew there's just no way to grasp even a tenth of the confusion and everything else going on that morning. Frankly though, most of these attempts, on a public scale failed miserably. News reporters and journalist forcing narratives and melodrama onto a situation that was sheer chaos if you were in the buildings or on one of the planes. The movie United 93 is a particularly self-righteous, quasi-"objective" example. The interest with the 9-11 "jumpers" is another.

A kind of sicko web meme, the story of those that chose to jump instead of burn or be crushed is deeply moving and cuts to a kind of core, awesomely horrible issue of contingency and morality that we rarely have to face; a choiceless choice. Death or death. Still, the interest in the jumpers was putting a human face--or really, human body--onto what was more likely, a giant mass of faces and bodies...and metal and stone and steel. Darrow does a similar thing, taking the time to insert flailing human bodies into a explosive, destructive action scene.

The difference though, is of course 9-11 really happened and honing-in on certain images and events, didn't magnify the tragedy, it dulled it. Focusing on the jumpers seemed to be a kind of coping mechanism--an intellectualized, particularly extreme example that's therefore understandable. 9-11 in a single photo, but not the obvious photo (of the buildings blowing up) we're much too cool for that. The falling man was taken to even greater extremes when Jonathan Safran-Foer, a fairly loathsome twee-hipster author, culminated his 9-11 novel Extremely Loud & Incredibly Close with a flip-book of one of the jumpers, the sequence of images reversed, so that the jumper leaps upward. Ugh.

Darrow's panel here helps erase the intellectualized over-contextualization of the 9-11 and 9-11 jumpers and all that, bringing the visceral images and horrors of the event--and the specific like, sub-horror of the jumpers--back to their no-words, "can you even fucking imagine it" simplicity. That it comes from a comic made six years before the event is a healthy reminder that the sort of horrors of September 11th, though sometimes less politically loaded, occur all over the world all the time...even in Frank Miller's cartoonized vision of Industrialized Japan.

It's oddly appropriate that there's a distinctly "September 11th"-invoking image in a comic as fun and aggressively violent and American and jingoistic as Frank Miller and Geoff Darrow's Big Guy & Rusty the Boy Robot. Reading this along with 300, you're reading Miller in his final steps of transition--from a kinda cynical, skeptic Liberatarian to a Limbaugh/O'Reilly-esque right-leaning nihilist.

Remember that pill-popping, Nam' vet psycho Nuke from Daredevil: Born Again? Well now, it seems like Miller would write that character without the satire. It's symbolic that his 9-11/terrorism comic Batman: Holy Terror! is forever-delayed--the politics of the Right since 9-11 have been bouncing up and down and all around, twisting and turning, retro-fitted to the latest spin or flat-out lie. By the time it's drawn and written, who knows if the spiel Miller's giving readers will still align with the G.O.P's.

All that said, Miller's still a total legend and because there's a weird tension between satire and sincerity in a lot of his work, there's a great deal to unpack and figure out. Especially in Big Guy, which has all the xenophobia of 300 but frames it in a more fun and self-mocking style: Bubbling over with Darrow's insane art and wrapped around an updated Godzilla movie conceit. A strangely perfect comic to wrestle with 9-11 through...


samuel rules said...

This is really great, I think it's great you wrote about this, and not like, the Spider-Man issue where he goes to Ground Zero. Seriously, great post.

Benjamin Leo said...

Great post - seems like a great blog.