She Has No Head! – Matt Kindt’s Revolver
Revolver. Matt Kindt (writer/artist/creator). Steve Wands (letters). Vertigo. 192 pages, Color, Hardcover. $24.99
Revolver feels extraordinarily tight. Purposeful. Driven. And important, in subtle and wonderful ways.
Revolver’s protagonist, Sam, is literally torn between two realities. In the first reality (which I’ll refer to here as the “original” reality) Sam has a boring totally average existence in which he himself is boring and totally average. He has a job he loathes, a boss he hates and fears, co-workers that are not friends and are barely co-workers, and a cute girlfriend obsessed with material things and whose job it is to make sure that others are equally obsessed with material things. Here Sam is miserable and seems intent on doing nothing to change things. He is almost literally sleepwalking through his life having been lulled to sleep by the consistency of that life and unable or unwilling (or both) to save himself from the meaninglessness.
In Sam’s other reality (which I’ll refer to as his “alternate” reality) there is nothing BUT meaning. And there’s no need to search for it because it is thrust upon him daily and he has no choice about embracing it or not. The alternate reality is a world being torn apart by disasters both natural and man-made. It’s a fairly typical apocalyptic scene as civilization falls to pieces and it’s every man and woman for themselves. There is only choice about whether or not to try to survive and in the midst of that survival Sam finds himself connecting intensely to people he barely knew and even openly despised and discovering a lust for life. Sam’s life in the alternate reality is fraught with the struggle to survive and to live meaningfully, something he all but gave up on in his original reality.
I think a lot of people can probably relate to this no so wild idea that Kindt floats that there’s actually something nice about the end of civilization as we know it, at least on the surface, as it clarifies a lot. It gets rid of all the unnecessary noise that we fill our lives with. Of course this isn’t a revolutionary concept, we all saw (or read) the narrator in Palahniuk’s Fight Club reject his IKEA/Pottery Barn apartment and cornflower blue ties existence in favor of a decrepit house and anarchy and LIFE (ALL CAPS!) years ago, but Kindt’s execution is excellent and explores similar beats in interesting ways here. Kindt unravels the story and develops Sam as a character wonderfully and uses great visual cues to separate one reality from the other, even as they seem to bleed together more and more.
In Sam’s original reality – where he’s a miserable photo jockey at a newspaper the art is starker and sharper in style and more controlled not unlike that world. The pages are filled with bright whites, deep dark blues, and some lighter blues and browns. Sam’s alternate reality however is a bit softer and sketchier, less white, and is heavy on the soft blue and brown. It’s messier, not unlike the reality itself, but intense and almost more realistic and layered.
For the most part Kindt keeps his storytelling very simple and clean, with equally simple panel layouts which is wise as it allows the reader to easily distinguish these two realities and to focus on more important aspects of the story. However, he uses several nice devices beyond his strong figure work, composition, and expressive line quality. I was particularly fond of his occasional but effective use of creative word balloons; a running tape of “news” that cleverly included the book’s page numbers at the bottom of each page; and the chapter images, which reversed to reflect our two realities.
Here’s an excerpt, apologies in advance for any blurring, it remains a huge challenge to scan hardback book pages on my scanner:
Though Sam doesn’t have any real confusion about which reality he’s in (how could he when they are so vastly different) he does experience a lot of bleed as the story progresses. Sam finds himself emotionally confused and exhausted by the variations in each reality and his concern (and even guilt) over the fact that he may just be happier in the reality where the world is a disaster. He also finds interesting ways to use knowledge from both realities to effect change in the other, to both good and bad effect. And as the story progresses he finds more and more ways to do this as apparently the only man unstuck and living in two realities. Kindt illustrates the conflict Sam finds himself in beautifully, and in a way that you cannot help but relate to his situation. Ultimately, Sam realizes he cannot exist in both these realities forever, and so he must find the common link between the two to help solve his way out of the problem. I won’t give away more than that, but I will say that Kindt resolves the book nicely, leaving just enough dangling ends to keep you guessing, but without it feeling unsatisfying.
This book is female positive simply because it presents women quite realistically and without any terrible cliched stereotypical trappings. It’s free of any kind of visual objectification and the two female leads are wonderfully explored, realistic, and layered just like our male lead. Revolver has something I’ve mentioned a few times in this column before, which is that it doesn’t feel wildly female focused or feminist or anything, but it treats its female characters with the same respect with which it treats its male characters, and most of the time, that’s all you need.
I did find the book in some ways to be a bit unrealistic in that the locations Sam spends most of his time in appear largely deserted, which seems inaccurate given the kinds of disasters that are occurring. Additionally, the characters don’t seem overly concerned with food, water, and other necessities, which feels a bit off to me as well. However, I can see how the choice to not focus on those things does serve the story’s larger purpose, that of Sam and his boss and co-workers returning to their passion and starting a small paper to get what news they can to “the people”. They are excited and motivated by the thought of true news, news that will impact people’s lives, and news that isn’t about the latest teen movie sensation and her love life, virginity, drinking problem et al. It works, and an obsession with stockpiling supplies would likely get in the way of that, effecting the story negatively even if I do think it’s a little unrealistic under a microscope. There is quite a bit of realistic violence, although I’m inclined to think that additional violence would be even more accurate, but again, it’s likely it would overrun the story if there was any more focus on that, so I think the balance Kindt struck is right on overall.
I read Revolver on the cusp of returning to the “working world” after a year hiatus. A return to filling my days with things that I’m good at but struggle to value in the broader scheme of things. Working long days and long weeks, all to further other peoples’ businesses, careers, and ambitions, but nothing that really helps the world or personally creatively fulfills me…and all of that simply to provide a roof, food, excessively expensive health insurance, and lots of pointless pretty things. So yeah, I was primed to “get” this book. I could relate to Sam in some huge ways. The truth is I would be terrible in any kind of apocalyptic situation…I’m in many ways I’m a typical pampered American that wouldn’t know “hard” work if I tripped over it, plus I’ve finally come to accept that I’m probably “an indoor girl” and I would have little to no valuable skills in a world without the comforts of civilization, so I certainly don’t yearn for such a thing, selfishly or otherwise. I do however, appreciate the simplicity. The clarity. The razor focus that you would suddenly be forced to learn in such circumstances about priorities and what really matters, and how well Kindt illustrates that through his characters’ experiences.
Regardless of your personal feelings on such matters, or current life situation, it’s an exceptional piece of work, one of the best graphic novels I’ve read in a long time and it’s finally spurned me to give Super Spy – which has long been sitting on my shelf unread for some reason – another go. In fact, I started it yesterday.
You can discover all things Matt Kindt at his website: www.mattkindt.com. Revolver is available in comic book shops and bookstores everywhere and is available online at Amazon, Barnes & Noble and other online retailers.