Vaughan & Chiang's "Paper Girls" Builds a Familiar Yet Disconcerting World
If there was a definition of “kewl” in the dictionary, our latest entry would be pictured next to it!Â (By the way, if you’re wondering what these posts are about, I added an entry explaining myself.Â Go here and read all about it.)
Untamed #1 (“Wounds of Equal People”) by Neil Hansen.Â Published by Epic Comics (the Marvel imprint), June 1993.
Yes, this has one of those embossed covers that were so big back in 1993.Â Yes, the actual title of the story makes no sense whatsoever.Â In fact, I’m glad this is an issue #1, because I have a feeling if I had picked up issue #2 instead of issue #1, I would be totally lost.Â As it is, I’m still totally lost.
Let’s say you’re a first-time comic book reader who picks this up, thinking that as a first issue, it will be easy to follow.Â If, by the time you finish, your brain has not been reduced to mush, you might never read another comic book, and that’s too bad.Â This comic isn’t just bad, it’s awesomely bad in a complete train wreck kind of way.Â I don’t even know where to begin breaking this thing down.
Let’s start with when this book takes place.Â It’s the future, but Hansen never lets us know when in the future or even that it is the future – the first time we figure it out is on page 6, when a character mentions hovercars.Â Okay, so it’s the future.Â Good.Â We begin with Sergeant Palmer, who is fighting a group of Japanese thugs who belong to a radical new splinter group of Yakuza called Kosansui.Â When the Yakuza aren’t tough enough for your comic book, you know you’re in trouble!Â He’s fighting them with no shirt on and – I would not lie to you – vertically-striped pants.Â It’s only the first of the several odd fashion choices that the characters in this book make!Â Hansen does a decent job telling us what’s going on, as we’re actually seeing a videotape of Palmer while two people discuss the plot while watching it.Â Palmer’s wife is dead (this is important), he is the best fighter in something called the Supreme Attack Corps (S.A.C., naturally), and we’re in San Diego, where the Kosansui have made inroads.Â On the second and thirdÂ pages (it’s a big splash)Â we pass into the surreal zone of the gloriously awful comic (if the vertically-striped pants didn’t warn us), as in the background we see the screen the two people are looking at.Â Palmer is displayed on it, dominating the entire scene, and the entire screen is colored in white and red, with hundreds of drops of blood spattering the scene.Â Palmer has a crazed look on his face and what appear to be fishhooks tied into his beard.Â IÂ shit you not.Â In the foreground stands a man with his back to us, wearing vertically-striped tan-and-orange parachute pants.Â Next to him sits a woman (McMannis, we learn later, but never her first name)Â in bare feet, telling him that he and Palmer are now partners and they’re to clear San Diego of the Japanese gangsters.
Vertically-striped tan-and-orange parachute pants!!!!!!
Okay, I got that out of my system.Â On the next page we learn that the leader of the Kosansui is Madame Zhi-Yuan.Â We won’t see her in this issue, but presumably we see her down the line.Â Then the new agent, whose name is TokudaneÂ Kuchiyama (“Call me Dane,” he tells Palmer) goes to meet his new partner.Â If you thought just seeing Palmer kick Kosansui ass was fun, wait until he speaks.Â His first dialogue is this: “Hoy!Â Nice threads, laddie! (says the man who is wearing, I shit you not, blue pants with red-rimmed white stars on it)Â You’ll be bein’ me new sidekick!Â You came to the right man for action, traction, passion and fashion!”Â I can’t make this stuff up, people!Â It’s right there on the page!Â The reason Tokudane tells him to call him Dane is becauseÂ Palmer says, “Pardon me, laddie, but names slide through me like wild strawberries.”Â Yes, he really does.
So much bad fashion!
Getting back to the story, you might be thinking that Hansen is doing the Irish no great service by introducing a character like this, but Dane addresses that on the very next page!Â It turns out that Palmer is not Irish at all, but he “went there once” and it “kind of stuck with” him.Â I kept waiting for the horrific Irishness of his speech to go away, but here’s the thing: it never does.Â He speaks this way the entire time.Â Banshee speaks better “Irish” than Griffin Palmer!
So they hit the road in Palmer’s car, which he insists on driving because “She’s my baby, after all.Â If I rack her, it’s me own damn fault.Â But it you rack her, me adopted Irish temper’d make me chop you into suey, no doubt.”Â Yes, not only did he pick up the accent, he actually changed his personality to be more “Irish.”Â Palmer finds a pimp who feeds him information occasionally, a pimp who is wearing leather straps over his jeans.Â I don’t want to keep commenting on the fashion, but dear Lord, I must!Â The pimp’s name is Porcupine, because instead of hair and eyebrows, he has short spines.Â Yeah, I don’t know why either.Â He tells Palmer that Madame Zhi-Yuan will be at the old convention center at midnight, and they can get a photograph of her then.Â That’s all the want right now, because they still don’t know what she looks like.Â It’s a simple little scene, but the dialogue is priceless:
Porcupine: “Griff, m’baby, m’man.Â What you be doin’, bringin’ me a Ornamental [he means Dane, in case you’re wondering], when I got some words to say ‘gainst just that ethnic persuasion?”
Palmer: “Smooth it, bucko.Â He’s me new mate, tested and negative.Â He’s N.P.A.”
Porcupine: “Ain’t the man kind of small for basketball?”
Palmer: “National Police Agency, Japan.Â He’s gunning for Kosansui.Â Just talk, he’s square.”
Porcupine: “There’s lead in my head if he ain’t, bro’, that’s the God-lovin’ truth.Â You got a mug shot of Mme. Zhi-Yuan yet?” [Yes, the “Mme.” is in the text.]
Porcupine: “Then you’ll owe me big for this, S.A.C.-man.Â Courtyard of the old convention center.Â 12:15 of the A.M.Â She’ll be there, is all I heard.Â Gotta travel on, hepcats.Â Bring me the coin on Friday, m’man.”
Ah, let the wondrous words wash over you!Â That’s – dare I say it? – National Book Award writing there.
So Palmer and Dane head to the meeting spot, and in the middle of preparing for their surveillance, Dane has a flashback to his youth.Â It’s kind of like Lost, where the flashbacks come at weird inappropriate moments.Â If you think the flashback is as kewl as the rest of the book, you’re paying attention!Â It’s drenched in sepia tones, and shows Dane on a remote island, home to a prestigious school for martial arts.Â The narration is brilliant, too: “Sugar cane, sweet and moist, reached skyward in its strain to escape the secluded island” … “And the only moisture … was the blood and tears of errant students, torn from the warmth of mother’s soft breast and father’s strong hand, in the name of pride and family” … “Then there was nothing for us to do but wipe clean our old grotesque spirits.”Â Unfortunately, Dane’s reverie is interrupted by punks who ambush our heroes – yes, it’s a set-up!Â The fight between Dane and Palmer and the punks is, well, almost indescribable.Â But I’ll try!
First, some dialogue from Palmer: Dane asks him what’s going on, and Palmer shouts, “You got me, bucko!Â We’ll be sortin’ it out later, if ye don’t mind!”Â He hooks one of the hovercars and is dragged along behind it.Â As he climbs the rope toward the bad guy, he shouts, “I’m comin’ for you, laddie-buck!”Â Then we get this panel, as he grabs hold of the hovercar:
You may think this is the most crazed our hero can look, but you would be wrong, as we’ll see below.Â He grapples with the Kosansui, and his thoughts read: “He’s locked up like rigor mortis.Â Too thick for the nerve points to work.Â Neck’s too thick to break.Â An’ he laughs sick insanity when I take his eyes out!”Â That last sentence may be the worst ever written.Â He crashes the hovercar, but before they can question the punks about what’s going on, the bad guys explode.Â You don’t want to fail the Kosansui, apparently!
So of course Palmer has to go find out why Porcupine set them up.Â He doesn’t get anything out of him, so he, well, a picture is worth several thousand words, in this instance:
Yes, that’s Porcupine’s eyeball.Â How it got into Palmer’s mouth is something we needn’t concern ourselves with.Â Just fixate on the hero of our tale holding an eyeball between his teeth.Â Let it haunt your nightmares!!!!!
Palmer kills Porcupine (with a broom handle, mind you), and as he walks away, he mentions something about a secret he’s concealing.Â There’s more to Palmer than we thought, apparently.Â We cut back to Dane, who is meditating and reminiscing again.Â The recollection is mundane, but some of the narration is not: “Who could not look at a butterfly with sharp spines?Â A rose engulfed in mucus?Â A dove whose throat was cut?”Â He’s talking about his master, who is so grotesque that you have to stare at him, but then he might notice you, which is a bad thing.Â But how can you not love his comparisons?Â That’s good stuff, there.Â He’s interrupted by a knock on the door, and when he asks who it is, a woman tells him that she’s Julia Palmer, Griffin’s wife.Â Dane doesn’t seem to find it strange that she’s alive, especially because we’re told in the first narration box of the book that she’s dead.Â Oh well.Â Julia is scared because the safe house where she was staying was stormed that morning, and she doesn’t know who to trust.Â She also tells Dane that Palmer is different than he seems – apparently, he’s even more crazy than we thought, which is difficult, considering the last time we saw him he had an eyeball in between his teeth.Â The phone rings, and when Dane answers it and it’s Palmer, Julia freaks out and tries to leave.Â I say “tries” because when she gets to the front door, it explodes, presumably killing her.Â This is a weird scene (yes, I know using “weird” in conjunction with this book is redundant).Â Dane yells to her not to use the front door, indicating that he knows the door will explode.Â I don’t quite understand why he wouldn’t, I don’t know, disarm any bomb that is wired to the door?Â Julia, poor Julia, is not mentioned again and is unmourned by all.Â As a plot device, all she really does is tell Dane that Palmer is crazy.Â I think Dane could have figured that out by himself.
The next day, Dane lies to Palmer about Julia’s presence in his home at the time of the explosion, but before they can explore who set the bomb, a call comes in that some punks have shot some cops and are fleeing the scene.Â They zip by Palmer’s car, and the chase in on!Â Palmer fires at the car, and Dane yells at him because they need the suspects alive.Â Palmer answers, “%&*$# it all, Bucko!Â After shooting cops, you think they’re going to risk bein’ caught alive?!Â An’ how you going to stop their car, you got a bloody turbine gun?!”Â Dane replies, “I can destroy their rear quarter panel with a hardened C4 shuriken.”Â Well, of course you can, Dane!Â You know, the last time I threw a hardened C4 shuriken, I missed the target badly and ended up blowing my best friend’s ear off.Â It’s best not to talk about it.Â Dane, however, has unerring aim.Â The back of the car explodes, but Palmer is too close to it, and his own car flips over.Â When Dane regains consciousness, there’s a pyre of the cars, and Palmer is nowhere around.Â He asks someone where his partner is, and the guy replies, “Take it easy!Â He’s okay!Â He’s tryin’ to get them kids out of the car!Â You was lucky he was there!”Â Dane starts to ask what they’re talking about, and the guy says, over a black-and-red panel of Dane bleeding from a head wound, “He dragged you from that pile a’ burnin’ cars, man!Â He is one fine dude!Â You owe your life to that mother!”Â That’s the end of the issue.Â Wha …?Â That’s it?Â What a weird place to end the issue.Â It’s so arbitrary.
If you haven’t figured it out yet, this is quite possibly the most gloriously horrible piece of comics trash in recorded history.Â Although, there were a lot of gloriously horrible pieces of comics trash being printed around this time, so perhaps this isn’t even in the Top Ten!Â If this was the first comic book I ever read, I would probably lead a campaign to stop comics from being printed ever again!Â It’s incoherent, ridiculously violent, insulting to the readers, Irish people, black people, and Japanese people.Â The only women in it are Dane’s boss, who doesn’t do much, and Julia Palmer, who gets blown up.Â The art is certainly wildy energetic, but a lot of times the composition of the individual pages is skewed too much to the hyperkinetic, while Hansen deliberately distorts various background (and occasionally foreground) things to add to that sense of “kewlness,” but it’s more annoying than anything.Â I have absolutely no interest in finding out what happens in the next issue, because I’m still not positive what the hell is supposed to be going on in this issue.Â Except for, of course, people gettingÂ stabbed in the head with broom handles.
In his brief text piece at the back of the book, Carl Potts writes that the “Heavy Hitters [the imprint under which these books were published] are designed to hit hard, fast, and leave you screaming for more.”Â Well, I’m screaming, Carl, but not in the way you wanted.Â Luckily, this whole Heavy Hitters concept went under quickly, but not before Marvel unleashed titles like Untamed on an unsuspecting public.Â Oh, the humanity!
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