When I was fourteen years old I wrote a story about a serial killer who targeted children and dismembered them, and the child that pulled herself back together and went and killed him at the behest of the Angel of Death. It was alternating first person perspective, so, you know, kind of horrible. I remember my teacher back then failed me for the year because of it. His defense of this was that the story was objectively bad, but it wasn’t – the mechanics were, for my age group, sound. It was an okay story, just a very disturbing one and I’m not attempting to defend that.
This week, a comic called Rover Red Charlie #3 features a dog who has chained up a young child of undetermined gender by the neck and is raping said child. Our three canine heroes rescue the child and deal with the rapist dog, though they do not kill it. The child, however, commits suicide shortly thereafter. Our hero dogs react to this with horror, as the reader should, but this is still a thing that happens. The writer has chosen to give us a full page of the dog forcing the child to go down on it.
A lot of people think that the writer of this title has a tendency to rely on shock in his writing – Crossed and Wanted come immediately to mind as comics he picks up flak for. But he’s also the guy that gave us Punisher Max and Preacher and Hellblazer. He’s a good writer. His fundamentals are sound, his character development great, and his dialogue excellent. Even here, the horror is used to illustrate a greater point about self-determination and free will and the terror of self responsibility.
I want to recoil from this like my long ago teacher. I’m told he retired after me, and cited me as a reason why. I don’t want to be him. I can recognize the merit of this story and what’s being expressed here, even if I don’t much care for the method of expression. I ended up walking away from this comic after reading it, walking away from the rest of the comics that I read on a weekly basis, considered not reading them.
There’s a school of thought that seems to think that shock sells. Shock is, in and of itself, a commodity. It’s a literary device that can be used effectively. The torture-porn genre of film making thrives on this idea, albeit to ever decreasing returns. This is because shock is best used to illustrate something else, some other theme that was hidden within the story.
Before the advent of internet, a shocking scene could only be witnessed through the purchase of the media in which the shocking scene was born in. Thanks to internet, the shocking scene can be seen and then dismissed. And with greater amounts of shocking scenes in that genre, the envelop must be pushed ever farther to the detriment of story, theme, and depth. It becomes shock for shock’s sake. It becomes boring, distasteful, empty. Adolescent screaming without understanding, noise without signal. It’s dull and boring and played, not evocative or thought-provoking so much as annoying.
For all these reasons, we won’t be reading this comic again.
We’re not prudes. Gregory and I compete for collection of schlocky b-movies, and Ray isn’t far behind. Hell, I’ve got the Story of O on my shelf, and 120 Days of Sodom, and The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. I’ve got the Mission Earth books lying around somewhere, given to me by a relative that had never heard of Scientology. All of those books use shock and step over the line to illustrate complex themes of corruption within ruling societal structures, or the depravity that can exist behind civilized facades. Hell, Dracula was originally about syphilis, for fuck’s sake, and it crossed many social boundaries in its day and age.
All those stories, though, crossed boundaries to drive a point home. Shock wasn’t the point of the thing, nor did those stories ever go for any more shock than they absolutely had to in order to drive their point home. By the admission of the story itself, the writer did not have to go this far. This was a conscious choice based on the idea of shocking the audience, used with all the subtlety and sense of a Vince Russo swerve – a writer whose devotion to shocking swerves is a cause many blame for driving a company that made eighty million in profit one year towards bankruptcy the next. There were better ways to tell this story, ones that didn’t involve bestiality, rape, and child abuse.
Let us be clear: shock without moral, story, or message behind it often has the opposite effect of what might be intended by the author, in that it adversely affects the integrity of the story and can drive readers away. In a pre-internet society shock could drive people to a thing in order to see that thing, but in a post-internet society it does exactly the opposite. That’s what this has done for us. If this comic is your thing, hey, that’s cool. Pax, no hits. We think this has crossed every possible line and has done it for no reason, and that sort of laziness is something we can’t really get behind.
The art does not sexualize what’s in this comic, and new information is revealed and the world expanded upon. The mechanics are there, and I wouldn’t censor this at all – it makes its point. I would, however, recommend discretion before reading. Massive, massive amounts of discretion. This will not be something we look at again.