You ever get the feeling that the wool’s been pulled over your eyes, just a bit?
Garth Ennis is known for a few things. Blood, curse words, comedic facial deformities, sex jokes, a mild hatred of superheroes, and more blood and then a few more curse words. On the good side, he’s a pretty solid plotter, he knows his strengths, he does great dialog, and he’s the best war writer since Kanigher and Kubert.
Just in case you aren’t familiar, he’s written comics where a demon named Baytor becomes master of hell, Nick Fury strangles another dude with his own intestines, an alien sex pervert becomes a British diplomat and gets eaten by a tiger while dressed in a corset with an orange up his butt, a soldier constantly tries to trick his superior officer into kissing him by faking death, a guy gets his nose swapped with his penis and vice versa, an Australian pope has sex with nuns and curses, the Saint of Killers shoots God, a short man with glasses has sex with a giant statue made out of meat, superheroes are depicted as a bunch of people who are completely worthless human beings (and sex perverts), a dude has sex with himself and then shoots himself in the face in front of his son, and– actually, this is a pretty good sampling of the stuff he’s known for. Plus, this is going to completely ruin the search terms on this site.
Anyway, Ennis has got something of a rep. He’s done his fair share of gross-out comics, though it’s usually played for humor. But, I’ve been noticing something in his comics. He keeps sneaking in these little things that make a scary amount of sense. I don’t necessarily agree with Ennis on the religion front, but he makes good points about how to live life. Sexism, racism, whatever– it’s all stupid. It doesn’t matter. Leave it behind and just do right.
The quote up top is from The Boys #8, a series about some humans whose entire job consists of smearing and then beating the snot out of superhumans, who are all sex perverts and callous jerks. We’ve seen a bulldog have sex with another, smaller dog, and a Teen Titans-alike have a screwed up coke orgy. The book opens with a guy swinging around with his girlfriend like they were in a movie, only a superhuman comes crashing down and basically explodes her on impact, leaving the guy holding her severed arms. There’s also a dude who lives below a comic shop who basically calls Will Eisner a punk. And despite all this grisly stuff, you get little scenes like the one in that image up there.
Punisher: The Slavers dealt with white slavers. On the one hand, it’s a wish-fulfillment fantasy. We, the reader, get our revenge on the rapist and slavers of the world through Frank Castle’s actions. He kills quite a lot of them, and the series ends with him lighting a local boss on fire on video, looking into the camera, and saying “Don’t come back here.” He sends the video back to Eastern Europe with one of the allies of the slavers. On the other hand, though, I can’t remember the last time I saw the aftereffects of rape and kidnapping in a comic. One of the cops featured in the story actually quits the force, because she believes she can do more good helping track and assisting the girls who were kidnapped. The last two pages of The Slavers are heartbreaking. You don’t have the full context here, obviously, but I think the pages are worth sharing. Check out the softcover or the hardcover (B&N link) if it catches your interest. The softcover’s like ten bucks, it’s worth it. I cut out the pages where Cristu was burned alive because they aren’t 100% relevant here.
For reference: Viorica lost her daughter to the slavers.
(words by ennis, art by fernandez)
“All she can do is live with what life they left her.” Ouch.
7 Brothers was the John Woo comic out of Virgin. Ennis has the writer’s credit, and that story ended with what is essentially a “We are the world” sentiment. Everyone is the same, we share the same blood, we are all brothers.
Ghost Rider: Trail of Tears features a Civil War vet named Travis Parham. He gets badly injured, but is nursed back to health by a black man. He realizes that all men are worth the same amount. Parham leaves after a couple years, and comes back to find his friend dead. He goes off to find his friend’s murderers, because it’s the right thing to do. Right is right.
Chronicles of Wormwood, a book about the Antichrist living on Earth, is kind of terribly sacrilegious, but at the same time, preaches that the rule people need to follow is “First do no harm.” The main character (i.e., the Antichrist), says that “it’s the best advice there is. Be careful with people. Try to live your life without hurting, without abusing or shattering or betraying. First do no harm.” In this one, the Antichrist has no interest in actually ending the world, and is doing his best to live life as best he can. Also, Jesus is a black dude in that book, and I can dig that.
Hitman was about loyalty and how a good friend is hard to find, but good friends last until the end.
Midnighter has a one-off line about how in the future, homosexuals don’t exist… and heterosexuals don’t, either. Everybody just chooses who they want without limiting themselves one way or another. Everybody is equal in worth.
I guess what I’m saying is that there is more to Ennis than superheroes suck’n'blood’n'guts’(fill in the curseword)face. He’s, for lack of a better word, really kind of progressive. He writes dirty comics, yeah, but he’s got this life philosophy that shines through in his work that’s actually pretty smart. I think that if more writers followed his example, there’d be a lot less to complain about. He works this stuff in without seeming preachy. It isn’t a Very Special Issue of Punisher, it’s part of an organic story arc.
I think that Ennis is smarter than a lot of people give him credit for. I’ll admit that it’s easy to get lost in the gore and grossness. I didn’t like Ennis as recently as three years ago, judging by the internet. He’s well worth a deeper look, though.