Welcome to Wednesday Whittling! This week I celebrate the short life of The Violent, a book that released its fifth and final print edition last week. It was co-created by Ed Brisson (Secret Avengers, Batman & Robin Eternal) and Adam Gorham (Dead Drop, TMNT/Ghostbusters), and it was published by Image Comics. The Violent leaves us too soon.
It was a Vancouver-based noir that was unforgiving in presenting how hard it can be to simply get by. It featured Mason and Becky, a recovering addict couple. They had a little girl, Kaitlyn. Mason just got out of jail after serving twelve months for Breaking and Entering. Becky waited. They both wanted to set life straight but had different ideas on how: Becky wanted to move on, while Mason wanted to fix what he already had.
Their different paths in the same pursuit highlighted their visceral conflict. My stomach wrenched and my heart ached for them every issue. The Violent was willing to say and do so much. It’s always a numbers game though. No matter how well the heart beat, it just didn’t pump out enough dollars. But it deserves to be lauded for what it was – a beautifully human story that begs you to ask questions about what you see. And I’d like to talk to you about it.
Issue 1: The Violent told us how the world is black and white.
Becky’s working an honest job when her old dealer, Joel, tracks her down. Joel shows us how people will not hesitate to impose if it gets them what they need. His “freebie” and “discount for returning customers” plant his will in the face of Becky’s. And this isn’t a football game; it’s not a matter of “who wanted to win more” or some other half-assed cliche. It’s a person’s life. I want to vomit the more I think about this panel.
Issue 2: The Violent made us feel the space between a rock and a hard place.
Why would anyone in their right mind ever leave their kid in the car to meet a friend at the bar? Well, Mason met his friend Dylan in a bar despite it violating his parole because he would have wanted the same from Dylan if he were in a rough spot. He did what he felt would have kept him from falling back into old, deadly habits.
Mason’s physical surroundings define his mental state, which is why his obligations feel so concrete to him, no matter how twisted they are. Help yourself, help your kid, or help your friend? Everyone needs it and this isn’t the movies; there isn’t a magic brick in the alley to escape the choice. Sure, he might just “have to sign some papers” as he leaves the precinct after getting busted, but that signature is giving away a lot more than his name.
Issue 3: The Violent showed us how light wriggles in the dark.
Mason is back with Dylan, where they’re sitting alone together in a room bereft of light. He tells us how when he first held Kaitlyn that he felt it “right in his fucking heart” how broken he was. And so he’d already sold himself down the river. He felt immeasurable love and paired it with utter despair because his ego was busy defining him by what’s already happened. An honest chance slipped through his fingers like the light did in the room where he sat, because he didn’t know what else to do with it.
Issue 4: The Violent was determined to not let you feel good.
Our brains always want to rationalize a path to goodness. We want to feel happiness. So when Detective Jesse McPherson shows up investigating various events where Mason appears to be involved, we see an archetype to satisfaction, to justice. But instead, Detective McPherson only reminds us how we can be “in a position where [we] need friends.” He only offers help when he can be helped more. He doesn’t let us get to the happy place. He just convinces us we’re not ending up as bad as we could and that we should be thankful for it.
Issue 5: The Violent broke our hearts by keeping it as whole as possible.
What a way to say we don’t get to keep all of what keeps us going.
Becky calling the cops in on Mason is a Kano-type finishing move on our emotions. The match was over. It was the only logical step. But good god, did it still hurt to “face the fact that the thing [we’re] fighting for…is the very thing pulling us down.” Mason couldn’t handle it, either, and because he’s stuck in a material mind he makes it worse. He commits suicide by cop. The final panels of the book scream out how there are no winners if we insist on calling everything a game.
That’s why noir stories are so valuable. They highlight the natural disparity between states of being. Though they end in non-negotiable loss they offer us an opportunity to make sure we don’t go the same way as the stories.
Thank you, The Violent. You’re gone but not forgotten.
And now, your free, original comic!