Committed: “Reset”, “Seconds”, and Peter Bagge’s New Optimism
Reset is the story of out-of-work, B-movie comedy actor Guy Krause, whose life has become a series of tabloid story jokes. He’s penniless and out of work when he’s approached to be a guinea pig for a mysterious, virtual reality project which allows the subject to relive and change events from their past. The only control that the subject has over his virtual experience is a “reset” button, which allows him to return to the beginning of his story (his high school graduation) and start all over again. Initially it seems like some kind of dumb game or potential psychotherapy tool, but as the weeks progress the behind-the-scenes workings become increasingly disturbing and we begin to wonder if our heroes sanity is safe…
Not to spoil the story (and maybe you can stop reading here if you want to be completely surprised), but unlike Other Lives, the man actually chooses to go through some difficult things, confront some real people in a very blunt way, and finally grows from his experiences. It’s beautiful in a very basic way, he struggles to find his own redemption, despite the massive forces of government scientists trying their inept best to break their own system. The book
Peter Bagge’s Reset came out ages ago, and while I bought all 7 issues as they came out I kept putting off reading it, which is a bit stupid, in retrospect, because I could have just bought a nice hardcover compilation of it for less money, (which incidentally I recommend you do). Obviously I didn’t intentionally put off reading it, but it didn’t really beckon to me in the way I expected it, I think perhaps I was a little burned out on what I thought would be Bagge’s attitude to humanity. You see, based on some of his previous books, I’d grown a little wary of Bagge’s unrelenting realism (or perhaps his pessimism, it depends what day you ask me on), but anyway, I couldn’t face another comic about pathetic losers throwing their lives away. It turns out that my fears were completely unfounded and I totally misjudged Bagge. With the aptly named Reset, Bagge seems to have taken another approach to life and it is exactly the little nudge his work needed for me.
Peter Bagge’s Hate used to crack me up. From the first issue he was right there explaining and mocking everything that I found completely surreal about America. He had this fantastic way of laughing at his characters,while simultaneously expressing great affection for them. He gave us a cast of hilariously fucked up characters and watching them drive their lives into a ditch. Over the years I’ve been following his other books, but I’ve never found him to have the same level of affection for his other characters that he did for those in Hate. Messed up lives just wind up seeming pathetic and insane when there is no redemption or hope for happiness, and maybe it got a bit much for Bagge too, because Reset moves into a very different space quite seamlessly.
When I was growing up in the UK, there were only three choices on TV on a Sunday; televised church services, football (or soccer for you Americans), or old, black and white movies. None of them were particularly interesting to me, so I chose the old movies. This means that I watched a lot of very odd old movies which may or may not have made sense to me at the time, and definitely had a huge impact on my outlook on life. One of these key films was called Seconds, which was directed by John Frankenheimer in 1966, starring Rock Hudson, and featuring titles by Saul Bass.
Even as a little kid, I knew that I was seeing something completely different from anything I’d seen before, and for the first time in my life I carefully read those titles to find out who had directed this, acted in it, and designed those strange and disturbing titles. Later on, as I grew up and learned about Rock Hudson’s usual roles (ie. a lot lighter than this type of film) I began to research how this film came to be what it was, and how Hudson came to be in it. Slowly I came to understand that what I’d seen was a metaphor for the kind of questions that adults ask themselves as they grow up, the kind of personal moment of revelation that was still a world away for me. This film probably set the foundations for my future interest in design and the importance I now place on consciously choosing my path.
Like Reset, Seconds is the story of a man who has given up on true happiness in his life, and worse than that, he doesn’t even understand that he could be happy. While external forces are conspiring to compound this misery there is plenty our hero has done to let things get this bad. The compromises he has made have made his life a gray and joyless thing and while he has regrets, he doesn’t think to look for an alternative. Suddenly he finds himself in a situation where he is being offered a second chance at life and he takes it. The process is confusing, invasive, the scientists don’t allow him time to think about the choices he is making and he finds himself as lost and confused as ever. Without a chance to confront his demons, he cannot move on.
While Peter Bagge uses Reset to confront similarly heady concepts, the inevitable chaotic dysfunction of conspiracies creates a situation which pushes his protagonist into areas of discomfort and potential horror. Krause is forced to truly see himself and accept the man he is. At times it can be a wild and silly ride of a comic book, (it wouldn’t be a Bagge book if it wasn’t), and he uses this ride to is show us a brave man on a journey to find himself. It makes for a very enjoyable, rewarding read.