Bugged Out!:

Scarab Reconsidered 20 Years On, Part Nine

If you wanted to define the visual aesthetic of Scarab in one word, that word would probably be ugly. Everything from Glenn Fabry and Tony Luke’s covers to the title character’s costume/second skin design to the look of villains like the Sicari to Tim Zack’s logo  for the series are all, well, pretty ugly with a capital “U,” aren’t they?

Which isn’t meant as an insult — quite the contrary, in fact. It all works — it just isn’t pretty. And beginning with issue three, the world Louis Sendak/Scarab inhabits — a world that had come off as more weird than anything else in the first two chapters —  it starts turning pretty ugly as well. Consequently, this is the point at which my own interest in the series ramped up, as well, from “mildly curious” to “downright hooked.”  This is the point where John Smith and Scot Eaton grabbed me and didn’t let go. This is where I , as the saying goes, abandoned all hope — and really started enjoying ride down.

It’s probably worth noting before we go any further that Joe D’Amato’s Anthropophagous and Ruggero Deodato’s Cannibal Holocaust are two of my all-time favorite films, I still re-read Jim and Debbie Goad’s seminal misanthropic masterpiece “Answer Me!,”  and I once took a first date to see Todd Solondz’ Happiness,  so the kind of things that I find compelling, not to mention worth sharing with others, is questionable, at best, and obviously not much shocks me. I can sit down and read a Peter Sotos book from cover-to-cover without fidgeting or getting visibly uncomfortable. I can listen to Sutcliffe Jugend albums with the volume cranked. I can get a chuckle out of Emanuelle In America. I get disappointed when I see Netflix still hasn’t added A Serbian Film or Men Behind The Sun.

So keep all that in mind when I say that Scarab #3 genuinely surprised me. Not so much for its content, but because of its context. It’s well worth remembering, as we delve into the details of this story, entitled “Moveable Feasts,” that this — uhhmmm — “adventure”  takes places within the established confines of the DC Universe itself. Its darker corners, to be sure, but still — it’s pretty goddamn amazing that DC editorial would ever let a script like this one out under any circumstances, much less that they wouldn’t insist that it takes place in a creator-owned world all its own, a la most of today’s Vertigo output. There certainly is no room whatsoever for a “Moveable Feasts” in today’s tightly-controlled, soulless, thoroughly homogenized “New 52″ corporate universe. And for that we’re all the poorer.

Our story begins in the the fictional hamlet of Whitehaven, North Carolina (not that there’s anything all that fictitious about a Southern town being , ya know, a white haven), where all the men are frolicking along the beach (non-sexually frolicking, mind you — Eaton depicts them playing volleyball, grilling burgers, and drinking beer in Polaroid snapshot-style panels)— and then the whole lot of ‘em, en masse (including the infants and toddlers),  walk into the Atlantic ocean and drown themselves. While smiling joyfully from ear to ear.

All but one, that is. A guy named Marty is laid up in hospital bed with a busted leg and can’t believe his bad luck at missing the party. Meanwhile, the women and girls are busy setting up a penis-free paradise now that all the pesky dudes are out of the picture.

After a quick pit-stop back in Long Island to check in on Louis and Eleanor (Louis is traipsing around behind the Labyrinth of Doors, Elanor’s mind is still whizzing around in The Net), we’re off to New York City and the offices of a uniquely-’90s enterprise called “Cut And Thrust Video Magazine,” where we meet Sidney Sometimes, metrosexual cokehead African-American beat writer/videographer for this self-styled “Bible For Contemporary Deviants.” Sidney’s received a hot tip from something called the Speaking Clock that there’s some weird things are going down in Whitehaven, and he decides to push back his planned Charles Manson interview  to next month in order to go south of the Mason-Dixon line (sadly, not always the safest play for a guy of his cultural heritage)  and investigate the situation in hopes of finding something that he can tie into his now-planned “self-mutilation special” that’s also slated to feature a “DIY surgery” piece.

Louis, meanwhile, is back in his Scarab persona, and flying around looking for traces of Eleanor’s spirit in “the world-skin, the astral caul.” He’s following the ebb and flow of life, heading “upstream, upconciousness” and “sniffing out her soul,” when he finds something else instead. Something he can’t quite put a finger on, but that draws him inexorably towards it. That something, of course, is Whitehaven.

Five months after all the men walked into the ocean to die, Marty’s in his trailer down on the beach drinking himself silly and taking target practice when Louis shows up in human form (Scarab having earlier scared a little girl hanging laundry outside) , and we learn through flashback sequences in our lone male survivor’s troubled mind that his father, his brother, even his own sons were among the mass-suiciders who “left him behind” and that, prior to taking their group-drunk, all the guys had gone into the basement of an old haunted-looking mansion high on the hill and encountered some hooved creature that gifted them all with some kind of mystical enlightenment at the sharp end of a blade. It was, in Smith’s words, a “last kiss, a final act of passion.” And Marty missed out on that, too, whatever it was.

He’s done waiting, though. Moments after meeting Louis he tells him that he’s headed for that house on the hill, armed and ready, and he’s gonna confront whatever it is that’s living there — and so off he goes, after opining that “it’s hard to miss with a shotgun.”

Louis, afforded an opportunity to spend a quiet late afternoon/early evening strolling about town, soon discovers that every single post-pubescent female in Whitehaven in now pregnant, which is kinda strange given that there’s nobody around to inseminate them. Things are about to get even weirder, though, fear not.

Louis takes a room at a boarding house run by an elderly woman who is, like everyone else, knocked up (we learn at this point that they’re all exactly four months along, which means they were impregnated after the men all headed for their watery exit), and he awakens at night when he hears some kind of commotion downstairs. The source of that commotion is, as you’d probably guess, Marty, and he’s nearly naked and bleeding profusely. He relates that he found what was living in the old house and that, rather than killing it,  he too has now received the same “gift” his brethren did : screaming “It did it! It did it to me! Look what it did to me!, ” Marty reveals — that he’s been castrated.

To. Be. Continued.

If you’ve got your copy of Apocalypse Culture handy, this would be a good time to look up Adam Parfrey’s essay in there titled “Cut It Off : The Case For Self-Castration,” which provides a rather unsettling look at guys (or former guys, as the case may be) who have, indeed, claimed to have achieved some sort of spiritual rebirth and found themselves privy to some great cosmic secret after whacking their balls off. Fun reading for the whole family.  Then join us back here next time as we take a look at part two of this remarkably cutting-edge (pun definitely intended, sorry) affair wherein lots of questions are answered, even more are raised, and a seriously bizarre non-confrontation caps the whole thing off. Hope to see you then!

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Ryan Carey maintains a B-movie (with occasional comics-related content) blog at trashfilmguru.wordpress.com, and writes about films and comics for sites such as unobtainium13.com, dailygrindhouse.com, geekyuniverse.com, and now Sequart. You can follow him on Twitter @trashfilmguru.

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