Shade, The Changing Girl #12 (Vertigo)
I joke a lot in my personal life about weaponized madness. I’ve even got a character (in a series coming soon to this very site~!) who has found a way to do exactly that, and it leads to all sorts of general weirdness. It’s therefore kind of interesting to see a comic wherein madness is a way of life, an energy source and means of living.
This is a difficult comic. It’s not new-reader friendly, it’s not easy to understand, but it is worth the investment of time and thought to get into, because there’s more insight on the madness of day-to-day living in these pages than you’re likely to find anywhere else.
For example, take this issue: an alien bird soul in a human body has come to Earth to meet an old and forgotten celebrity in the modern world who, last issue, tried to kill herself out of sheer loneliness. The alien bird managed to save her by swapping the synthetic young body she was wearing for the old one, and moving the untethered consciousness of the old woman into the synthetic body she’d just abandoned.
The two of them then had a night on the town, wandered to an old film set, discovered the synthetic body was pregnant, and that the old woman in the young synthetic body could go back to being a star again, though there is a chance that it might kill the alien bird currently residing in the old woman’s body.
Now, I grant you that this isn’t the specific sort of problem that most people have to deal with, but there is something to be said for blind and naive idolization, the regret born of not understanding the impact you have on others, the old concept of heroes failing to live up to expectations, and the fear of death that haunts most living souls. This comic tackles all of that and it’s only one of three stories all running parallel to one another.
Yes, there’s alien scientists looking at Earth and harnessing madness as a power source and maybe also a weapon, and there is no preamble here: it is madness and they call it as such. The head scientist, though, has lived a life of regret and wants to enter madness itself to reunite with an old lover that he betrayed and, only having lived without that lover, has come to realize the cost of loss.
Meanwhile, two kids who may-or-may-not also be aliens in human bodies are looking for the alien bird soul for reasons of their own, trapped in their own human bodies and experiences as they try to make sense of the world around them and everything else.
This comic will not talk down to you. It will not explain anything. It will play with your expectations and leave you with strange feelings and an odd sense of satisfied loss, a sensation akin to the name of the publisher.
Cecil Castellucci is at fault for this weird sojourn into the heart of insanity, and you should thank her for it. Do so – she’s got a knack for weird storytelling and getting into heartful insight, as seen in her novels. Ande Parks, Marley Zarcone, and Katie Jones bring word and concept to a weird half-life that feels like a Terry Gilliam film when that man is at his very best, which might be the nicest compliment I’ve paid anyone in weeks.
This comic has affected me. I need to go and lie down and think about what I read.
Read this and you’ll understand. Don’t read this and you never will.