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JTHM [Johnny the Homicidal Maniac], the Director's Cut . By Jhonen Vasquez. San Jose, CA: Slave Labor Graphics, 1997. 1v. (unpaged). $19.95. ISBN 0-943151-16-3.

Absurdist fiction (I guess)

Adults, teens; gore, ultraviolence, profanity.

In my long quest to read and evaluate every graphic novel ever written, I have developed a very strong stomach. Still, there have been four graphic novels to date that I simply could not finish: The Story of O ("classic" bondage story adapted by Guido Crepax), Ed the Happy Clown by Chester Brown (chaotic, pointless toilet humor), Thick Black Kiss by Howard Chaykin (combination of incoherent story and gag-reflex-triggering sex) and this lovely critter. I dutifully plowtered my way through until I realized that I was about to put it down for these reasons:

  • Distasteful subject matter. Two years ago this wouldn't even have been a factor... but I live in Colorado, and murderous rampages have stopped being funny.
  • Revenge fantasy. I have yet to read a revenge fantasy that isn't self-indulgent and juvenile. God knows I have revenge fantasies (particularly when driving), but they indicate MY childishness, not the "deservedness" of my would-be targets.
  • Hard-to-read lettering. Boy, could I do without the backwards E's and no-leading word balloons.
  • Meaningless satire. Yeah, so we all hate poll-takers. It sure is annoying when the 7-11 man turns off the Frostee machine. The solution is to blow them away? Wow, that'll sure teach 'em that what they were doing was evil. Violence is the first refuge of the incompetent satirist. Also, a lot of the targets are so obvious or overblown that they're self-parodies without any help from a homicidal maniac; their destruction is anti-climactic.
  • Pretentious speechifying. JTHM is given to long monologues about violence etc. Yawn. I presume these are meant to be funny, deep, wise, or ironic. They aren't.
  • Same joke repeated over and over. This is what bugged me the most. This is an extremely one-note comic. The same damn things happen in each episode.

Curious, I checked Amazon for reviews of this title and found 29 wildly enthusiastic ones, many proclaiming Vasquez a "genius." Sorry, folks, but drawing comics in which a character kills people and then speechifies (or vice-versa) does not qualify as genius. (I'm now thinking of Lout Rampage, a far superior set of parodies and satires, in which Dan Clowes predicts that "Everybody who ever recorded anything will at some point be called a 'genius' by somebody...." So true, so true.)

I suppose this book appeals to ultra-alienated teens or adults who constantly imagine horrible deaths for persons perpetuating real and imagined slights. The rest of us can safely pass.


Copyright 2000, D. Aviva Rothschild

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