RANDOM ACTS OF VIOLENCE
Random Acts of Violence, a square-spined comic book/graphic novel of novelette length by Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray collaborating with Giancarlo Caracuzzo for visuals, came out last spring (over a year ago, I confess; but it’s a graphic novel so it’s forever for sale, somewhere). Despite its age, it resonates a giddy topicality. The central contention is that violent comic books seduce readers into behaving violently. Echoes of Tucson.
Two comic book creators, Ezra the writer and Todd the drawer, have produced what they insist on calling a “horror comic book” about an inhuman, ghoulish serial murderer called the Slasher. To increase sales, they introduce an interactive element in the second issue, inviting readers to imagine a Slasher scene and send it in; the best one will be published in the comic book.
Before that issue comes out, though, the first issue of The Slasher is such a success that it transforms Ezra and Todd into comic book rock stars, and they go forth on book signing trips amongst the fans. This gives Palmiotti and Gray opportunities to portray the wild nights of group sex and booze that we all know comic-cons and comic shop signings are devoted to. Then, in the midst of all the gaiety, grisly dismembering murders begin to happen.
In the final shocker, Ezra’s girlfriend is murdered and dismembered by a crazed personage who imagines himself the Slasher. In the penultimate sequence in the book, Ezra and Todd settle the murderer’s hash, but the book closes on another scene: in the Epilogue, a seemingly simple-minded farm boy is slaughtering people like cattle, hanging their bodies upside down to drain out the blood, believing, still, that he can send in photographs and win The Slasher comic book contest.
It is nearly impossible to read this book without arriving at the conclusion that Palmiotti and Gray believe violent comic books induce readers to commit imitative acts. I wonder if they would come to the same conclusion post-Tucson.
They may, however, believe something quite the opposite of the apparent message of the book: they may believe that the extremity of the proposition as enacted in the book constitutes, in effect, a satire, saying: “C’mon, you don’t really believe that comic book violence produces violence in real life, do you? If you believe that, then here, in this story, is what might happen.”
For us to come to that conclusion, though, we must bring to our reading of the book the belief that Palmiotti and Gray pooh-pooh the Werthamic notion that comic book violence breeds similar violence in real life. I concur in pooh-poohing, but nothing in the book supports that notion; everything in the book trumpets the opposite—namely, that witnessing fictional violence promotes acts of actual violence.
The satire of the book (and I strenuously suspect that it is, indeed, satire) is, in effect, a parody of the proposition that fictional violence begets actual violence. And as it often happens with parodies, it’s difficult to ascertain the author’s actual attitude: the parody, to be a parody, so exactly imitates its target that we can’t easily tell one from the other.
Caracuzzo’s drawings are superb: chunky and linear with flecks of shadow and an almost cartoony ambiance occasionally, the pictures amble easily across the page. It’s a pleasure to watch. I’ll keep this book for the artwork, not for the bloody sermon.