Tuesday, 11 June 2013

Books: The One


The One
By Rick Veitch

Available now from Islington Libraries
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I wish I could somehow make it so that you could read this entire post as if it was being read out in the slightly-stoned, slightly-spaced out, slightly-altogether-strange voice of Keanu Reeves. That voice that seems like it's best suited for a character that calls you up at 2am in the morning and lays you with a few carefully chosen semi-profundities: "Dude - did you realise that we're like: all made of stars?" Because it's that whole kind of view-point that seeps through the pages of this comic like the smell of illicit substances coming from the room next door: you want your cosmic enlightenments mixed with some hardcore superhero punching extravaganzas? Well: if the fact that the book opens with the legend "for the cosmic traveller" doesn't tip you off maybe the Alan Moore introduction will (quote: "a realistic, if satirical appraisal of our global psychosis next to an extravagent utopian fantasy that Timothy Leary and Max Yasgur [1] would have been proud of") [2].

But maybe I should cue you in with some history: as I'm hoping most of you guys already know the big two splashes of modern comic history occurred with the publication of Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns in the second half of the eighties. I mean - yeah yeah: at this point it's a big fat cliché that they're the ones that gave birth to the idea that "comics weren't just for kids anymore" - but hey: I'd say this is one of those times that the reason it's a cliché is because it's true. But - just because Frank Miller, Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons were the first to the world that it was possible to be a little bit more serious with your sequential art storytelling that doesn't mean that there weren't those who managed to make inroads before it all got paved over by the three-headed juggernaut.

Not that I'm saying that The One is as good or as careful composed as Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns because (- sorry Rick Veitch): it's not. But (for you film fans out there) it's kinda like the Easy Rider to the Jaws and Star Wars that came after: a bit of a trailblazer or something I guess (although in comic terms The One is a little bit more obscure than Easy Rider: but no matter [3]).

But yeah: first distributed by Epic Comics back in 1985–1986 (which technically I guess means that it wasn't really early to inspire Watchmen or The Dark Knight Returns in any major way: but early enough for Rick Veitch [4] to say (I mean: if he ever wanted) that he got there first) The One (as you should be able to tell from that washing machine detergent style cover up there) has much more on it's mind that your typical superhero comic of the period [5].

(To give you some idea of what you may be getting yourself in for here's a whole bunch of dialogue that caught my eye: "The nuclear bomb is the ultimate information medium." "Mommy? Are they really going to blow up the world?" "His theory is that atomic weapons represent a new universal myth." "The conflict between the higher and lower natures in man. And evolving planetary consciousness and sixties stuff like that.")

But in fact - as weird and as twisted as it can get (and make no mistake: this is a comic that gets plenty weird and twisted) it actually takes the idea of superheroes with a lot more respect and consideration than most other stories of this type: namely in the way that - well: you know how it's always a bit strange how in long running superhero stories the appearance of a being with god-like powers (or if we're talking of the DC and Marvel universes: the appearance of several hundred beings with god-like powers) completely fails to change society in any significant way [6]? What's great about The One is the way that it (not at all subtly) links the notion of superheroes to nuclear weapons and then proclaims (in giant capital letters): what? you think that the advert of a higher power on Earth would somehow leave us physically and psychically un-scarred? HA!  

Of course all of this philosophising isn't as strictly high-brow as it is in modern comics (see in particular Warren Ellis' little unofficial superhero trilogy of Black Summer, No Hero and Supergod) as - well - all of this was all pretty untrodden ground at the point it was made: and so it never manages to feel quite as solid as one would hope and yet (on the other hand) that kind of adds to it's charm. I don't know if this is just me: but the whole book as this kind of rough and ready quality that makes it feel like it was made by a talented sixth former (which is the kind of thing I normally say as a criticism - but here I guess I just mean it more descriptively): there's a fascination with old style rock as the medium through which all our souls will be saved and the superhero fight dialogue (and man I love the way that Veitch draws trains raining from the sky) is peppered with lines like: "Marx tells us to quietly observe the technological advances your greed and avarice drive you to... then to pick out the few ideas that actually hold merit and apply them correctly!" which is (of course) brilliant but also - well - a little precocious. Let me put it this way: everytime I read it I can kinda smell that damp musty odour that you'd get in a bedsit in Brixton which isn't meant so much said to turn you off than to make sure that you should know that you need to be a particular type of person in order to have this turn you on: a little bit crusty, a little bit intellectual and a little bit lefty. And for me: well - that's one of my favourite type of people: but results will differ according to taste.

[1] Timothy Leary I already knew about (the type of person prone to making such remarks as: "I declare that The Beatles are mutants. Prototypes of evolutionary agents sent by God, endowed with a mysterious power to create a new human species, a young race of laughing freemen.") Max Yasgur on the other hand I had to google: turns out he was a simple dairy farmer who, in 1969, let his land be used for the Woodstock festival so the American version of Michael Eavis basically.

[2] Of course - maybe the fact that the book is called The One means that my brain is tuned to Matrix frequencies but yeah: still - whatever - Keanu Reeves.

[3] In fact - I'm not too sure that I ever would have heard of it without coming across it on the shelves on one of our branches. But then I'm not exactly a comic book historian or anything (I'd never heard of The Adventures of Luther Arkwright until - well: I came across it on the shelves on one of our branches: so yeah -so what do I know?).

[4] Who - funnily enough was working with Alan Moore on Swamp Thing at around the same time as he was doing The One: so maybe he was stealing his brainpowers or something.

[5] Or - hell: let's be honest: more on it's mind that the typical superhero comic now: but oh well.

[6] Of course for those of you who've read it (and I'm assuming that you've all read it): this is one of the many reasons why Watchmen - with it's zeppelins, electric powered cars and crooked President with the oh-so-distinctive nose [7] - feels so "realistic." A world with superheroes is a world that wouldn't look like ours.

[7] Fun fact: if you google "Nixon's nose" you get this IGN article (Watchmen: What Went Wrong): "That's another of the film's downfalls - it reduces a lot of the material into high camp. And what the f**k was going on with Nixon's nose? That should be a new meme, like jumping the shark or nuking the fridge. 'Oh s**t, it's gone Nixon's nose.'"


Further reading: The Programme, IrredeemableBlack Summer, No HeroSupergod, Supreme Power, The BoysSwamp ThingThe Adventures of Luther Arkwright, Ex MachinaNeil Gaiman's Midnight Days, Watchmen, Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Superman: Red Son.

All comments welcome.

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