About a year and a half ago I saw Keith Gessen read from All the Sad Young Literary Men. During the annoying Q&A that followed, he was asked something about characterizing the current literary moment, or something like that, and described a split in contemporary fiction between people reacting to dead realism by writing about “guys flying around and stuff” and people (like him) who were trying to explore the bizarre side of reality in the Internet age. As someone who writes about “guys flying around and stuff,” I can say that one reason I usually shy away from writing about Internet realities is that they’re incredibly ephemeral. When it can take a matter of several years for a fascination to pass from your brain to paper to a reader’s hands, and Internet culture is moving far faster than that, it’s difficult to write anything that doesn’t feel dated before it’s published.
I was reminded of this a little while reading Peter Bagge’s new graphic novel Other Lives. We haven’t seen anything at all from Peter Bagge in almost three years (and I wonder how many people even noticed that Apocalypse Nerd existed), and nothing really significant since Hate ended its legendary run in 1998. But let’s say that he’s been working on the Second Life–focused Other Lives since 2007, when Apocalypse Nerd wrapped up. I feel like about 2007 is when fascination with Second Life was at its peak; since then I’ve heard about nothing but World of Warcraft and Facebook. (Granted, I don’t travel in these circles, really. But World of Warcraft has 11.5 million paying monthly subscribers and Facebook has around 68.5 million unique visitors while last year Second Life had a record 769,000 repeat users.) So already, on its date of publication, Other Lives feels a bit like it’s fallen out of a time capsule.
That’s all beside the point, I guess. The book itself is mostly pretty good. The primary main character Vader Ryderbeck (the pen name of journalist Vladimir Rostov) feels like a recognizably Baggeish creature, full of self-loathing and insecurity, and self-aware enough to spell all of it out in thought bubbles and dialogue. He used to be fat and unpopular, but has pulled his act together enough and lost enough weight to get himself a hot girlfriend, though unbeknownst to him she’s carrying on a virtual romance with a creepy college friend of his on “Second World.” Through that creepy college friend he reconnects with a possibly insane college acquaintance who may or may not work for the CIA tracking terrorist conspiracies in Second World.
For the most part all this is likable and easygoing. The major problem with it is the ending, which is why the remainder of this review gets a major SPOILER ALERT and goes after the jump.
The creepy college friend Woodrow becomes obsessed with Vader’s fiancee and concocts this plan whereby they’re going to get a virtual bomb from the possibly insane friend Javy to blow up all of Second World. She’s going to marry Vader and then divorce him and take half his trust fund to support Woodrow’s gambling addiction. This is all fine up until the point when Woodrow shows up at Javy’s house and shoots both Vader and Javy in the head. That comes completely out of left field and makes absolutely no sense for the character or the tone.
It’s not like Bagge doesn’t know how to handle violence. There was a notable moment in Hate when Buddy’s best friend Stinky and his brother Butch are out shooting bottles on the beach, and Stinky, playing around, puts the gun to his head and shoots himself. It was a shocking moment, but it worked because we’d had several pages of bottle-shooting, so we were aware of and concerned about the intersection of the presence of a gun with Quaaludes and Stinky’s ranting about how Buddy hated him now. So while it was a big shock, it had been foreshadowed at least a little. The gun had been hung over the mantel. Here the gun first appears in the very same panel where it’s used to shoot someone. No foreshadowing at all! No inkling that Woodrow could go from self-destructive and delusional to homicidal. Complete misfire.
Anyway, this review is quite long enough now. Here are some previews.