Grotesque Anatomy
Thursday, June 17, 2004
  Getting What You Wish For
Howdya like that for gratitude?  I complain about having to wait an extra month to read Demo #6, Larry Young hears my plight and graciously sends me a copy, and then I never write about it.  Really, it just goes to show how easily I get distracted.  I meant to write about the issue much earlier--I even took notes on my immediate reactions as I read the story through the first time (notes I can no longer find, natch, and the only thing I recall from memory was that the opening page reminded me of Alec Stevens)--but I got caught up in reading everyone else's thoughts on the story and surrounding topics, and then lost my motivation to jot down my own thoughts.

So what are my thoughts on "What You Wish For"?  Well, one of the nice things about coming into the conversation so late in the game is that I can simply piggyback off what others have already said, taking a little from Column A, a little from Column B.  Several people have complained about the gap between events in the framing sequence and Ken's past, wondering how Ken got from point A (child with supernatural powers and repressed anger) to point B (seemingly well-adjusted adult groom).  That didn't bother me much.  For one thing (as I think others noted) we have no guarantees that Ken really is well-adjusted as a grown-up.  Presumably he could snap again at any moment, especially if something were to happen to his lovely bride or his beloved dog (again).  And I didn't have a problem with Ken's supposed passivity, or his lashing out, or his "getting away with it."  (I mean, other than the sense that I'd have a problem with these events were they to happen in real life.)  As Sean Collins remarked, "a one-two punch of institutional racism and animal abuse" seems like an understandable motivation for mass murder, even if it's still not excusable.

The part I did have a problem with was the scene where Ken suddenly reined in his end-of-the-world, dogs-and-cats-living-together wrath with a meek "OK."  I'm not sure why, but that scene made me laugh (in much the same way that most of The Day After Tomorrow made me laugh), which I doubt was the intent of Wood or Cloonan.  I think it was the abrupt shift in tone.  Or perhaps it was the feeling I got that Ken so looked up to this nameless Asian (?) gardener, simply because they physically resembled each other in some way, that Ken would have done anything the gardener demanded.  "Hey, kid, what can you do about raising my wife from the dead?  No, wait--scratch that.  Bring me the animated remains of...Linda Lin Dai!"

Another part that bugged me was that Ken somehow got his dog back.  It's bad enough that this simply happens with no explanation or internal logic (if Ken's powers allow him not only to reanimate the dead but also to bring them back to life, why doesn't he resurrect all the people he's just killed?), but it also undermines the very lesson Ken's supposedly learned.  At the end Ken implies that the sight of his dog keeps him from going over the edge again because there's a constant reminder of what happened "staring [him] right in the face."  Actually, isn't what's staring him right in the face a reminder that he gets what he wants when he loses his temper?

In general, I didn't really feel frightened or unnerved or even grabbed by this story.  (I blame Junji Ito for spoiling all other horror comics for me.)  Plus, the art seemed more uneven than in previous issues.  Check out the dad on page...wait, that's right--there are no page numbers.  Well, that's OK because the dad looks off in pretty much every scene in which he appears.  (On a positive note, I agree with Sean Collins that Cloonan makes Ken's bride both attractive and authentic:  "the protagonist's bonnie new bride, for example, is refreshingly human and real, a woman you could quite conceivably fall in love with as opposed to the usual Brechtian device connoting 'PRETTINESS.'")

As for the debate about what's missing from the story (and the series overall), I'm still not sure I understand Johnny B's specific complaint (the complaint that launched a thousand blog entries).  Perhaps, as he suggests, part of it is due to being conditioned by years of reading mainstream superhero comics to expect some grand scheme (retroactively inserted by John Byrne, no less) that will tie everything together.  Would he (and by "he" I mean anyone who feels this way about Demo) have the same expectation if he were reading a collection/series/anthology of short stories about everyday non-super-powered individuals?  Would he dismiss stand-alone short stories by the same author as "trivial and inconsequential somehow" if they didn't all hang together?

And on that note, we now return you to your regularly-scheduled discussion of Demo #7 (which will take place on this blog approximately one to two weeks after everyone else has started analyzing Demo #8).
 
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by John Jakala

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