Bugged Out!:

Scarab Reconsidered 20 Years On, Part Ten

Welcome back to the nominally fictitious town of Whitehaven, North Carolina and the most delightfully repulsive story to ever go out under the Vertigo imprint — if you thought that the opening installment of Scarab’s first multi-part story was a queasy, stomach-churning affair, trust me when I say it was only a warm-up to the conclusion. Seriously, folks, issue number four is not for the faint of heart — or stomach — so if you’ve got either or both, do yourself a favor and skip this article, because things are about to get really messed up.

How messed up, you ask? Let’s just put it this way — if Jorg Buttgereit or Buddy Giovinazzo ever got out of film and decided to go into making comics, this is probably pretty close to what they’d come up with. Conventionally-defined “good” taste doesn’t even enter into the equation here, because it’s so far back in the dust. Two decades down the road, I’m frankly still shocked that anyone in DC editorial “green-lit” this thing. But I’m sure glad they did — further proof that, as I confessed last time around, I’m rather a messed-up individual myself, I suppose — and aren’t you, too, dear reader? Of course you are.

Now, I don’t know John Smith (or , as we established early on in this series, any John Smith), but I kinda wish I did because anybody who could come up with a story like this one has gotta be someone worth sitting down and having a beer (or, better yet, a couple of tabs of acid) with. No disrespect intended to Grant Morrison and Chris Weston’s The Filth, but Scarab #4 went a lot further in terms of pushing the envelope of what could (or even should) be done in a “mainstream” comic nearly a decade before that book hit the store shelves, and while The Filth clearly shows a strong Robert Anton Wilson influence, another Wilson entirely seems to have been the primary aesthetic “father figure” to Smith and Scot Eaton’s two-parter here : S. Clay Wilson.

So, to pick things back up where we left off: newly-de-balled Marty was the cause of the ruckus downstairs at the boarding house where Louis Sendak/Scarab was renting a room, and when our ostensible “hero” investigates the commotion, he finds that his understandably angst-ridden new friend has accidentally killed the old lady who runs the place, triggering a miscarriage of the unseen creature she was carrying in her womb. Louis, in Smith’s words, is left to “clean up the mess,” and after a far-less-than-subtle panel showing him tossing a leaking plastic trash bag away, we finally get some answers to what’s been going on in this crazy town (Marty’s apparently in such a talkative mood that he doesn’t let little things like castration, murder and miscarriage stop him from spilling his guts). Ready for an info-dump? Okay, here goes:

That mysterious “house on the hill” where all the shit’s going down is owned by one Laura Ballantyre, a wealthy elderly woman who was never able to have children (the offensive old term “barren” is trotted out by Marty) and ,nearing the end of her life,  became obsessed with the fact that her family line was about to hit a dead end. Her hunger to reproduce apparently awoke something known as the Rathrorach, a furry, cloven-hoofed , Great God Pan-type with an insatiable sex drive who promised her not only a baby for herself, but for every other woman in town. First, though, she needed to get all the men together in her basement.

Now, I don’t know about you, but invitations out of the blue to go hang out in some rich old lady’s basement have always seemed a little bit forward to me, so the Rathorach had to charm the fellas into coming over by giving them all powerful erotically-charged dreams that would lead them, Pied Piper-like, over to the Ballantyre mansion, at which point they all got served with a quadruple-whammy : our resident hairy horned monster urinated in all their faces, told them some “wonderful, terrible secret,” whacked all their balls off, then told them to go drown themselves in the ocean. Which, as we saw last issue, they dutifully proceeded to do. I’m thinking I might require a bit more convincing to commit suicide than a face full of demon piss, but who knows — maybe it stings really bad.

The castration thing was apparently a new wrinkle in the Rathorach’s playbook introduced by Ms. Ballantyre herself, as she’s one of the last surviving members of a weird (and , for the record, real — at least at one time) Balkan cult called the Skpotski that’s been ritually emasculating menfolk for centuries now (don’t ask me where they find volunteers). The “great and terrible secret” thing vis a vis castration is nothing I’ve been able to find any sort of corroboration for in what little info there is to be gleaned about the Skoptski online, but hey, it is pretty well in line with some of the info related by Adam Parfrey in his “Cut It Off!” essay in Apocalypse Culture, so again, the influence of that seminal underground text makes its presence felt in Smith’s script for this issue.

Clumsy and ill-timed exposition out of the way, Louis decides , once Marty’s finally shut up and passed out, to go put an end to the all-female orgy that’s held Whitehaven in its grip for the past few months (what a square!) by confronting this Rathorach fella head-on. He makes for the Ballantyre spread, takes the staircase down to the fruit cellar, and then tracks the beast down by, in Smith’s words, “following the Rathorach’s spoor. Its droppings are rankly sexual, boiling with tape-worms, piled in corners as if marking out its territory.” And fear not, Scot Eaton and Mike Barreiro provide us with a panel depicting Scarab’s four-toed foot standing in a puddle of monster piss right next to a pile of monster dung just in case the words alone don’t get the message across.

A brief, go-nowhere fist-fight ensues, with the Rathorach threatening to “shag the arse” off Scarab and giddily proclaiming himself to be “the beast with two backs!,” but as it turns out, this guy’s going to be even easier to beat than the Sicari was back in issue one — namely because he’s not interested in a tussle at all. The Rathorach came to Whitehaven, you see, to have one big Bacchanalian send-off and then die. It seems that centuries of fucking, pissing, and shitting (not necessarily in that order) have left ol’ horned, horny, and hairy bored to tears, and it’s time to make like a used condom (not that he’s terribly familiar with those) and flush his existence down the toilet.

A couple of pages later and the deed is done with the Rathorach, in succession, puking his guts out, dropping a few tantalizing hints about what the hell is going on with Eleanor inside The Net (she’s evidently “ringing and rhyming and burning with change”), summoning a “blitzkrieg of bees” to sting him all over (“give me your pricks!” he exclaims wildly), and finally expiring — though not without having some fun on his way out the door, given that “the Rathorach orgasms in its death throes, a gallon of freezing semen splashing on the floor.”

Needless to say, though, it’s not just Laura Ballantyre’s basement floor that he’s made a mess of. All the women in town are still carrying his offspring, and exactly what the hell is to become of all that is anyone’s guess : one poor girl is shown screaming to herself “inside me, it’s inside me, it’s foraging inside me, it’s foraging for food!” (Smith uses this partial-repetition trick a lot and it’s an easy one it’s an easy one to try it’s an easy one to try for yourself at home!), but apart from a quick debrief with our resident chronicler of all things perverse, Sidney Sometimes — who oh-so-tactfully opines that his orgy with the women of Whitehaven was the “best sex since Jonestown” before even more tactfully closing the conversation with “well, people have abortions all the time these days, don’t they?” — we’re left, once again, with way more questions than answers here (even though this issue was heavy as hell on filling in the blanks) — as is poor old Marty, who’s facing a new life as a testicle-free (former, I guess, technically speaking) male in a town full of women. Talk about some cruel-ass irony there.

That’s not the damndest thing of all, though — the damndest thing of all is that, as he strolls the beach at the end, bottle in hand, he feels “something growing in his belly.” Yup, friends — apparently he’s knocked up, too. Don’t you just love a happy ending?

So that’s Scarab #4. I told you I wasn’t kidding when I said this was one twisted book. And it’s not like its shock value really diminishes over time — it’s just as “out there” on its second, 10th, or 100th reading. As the kids would say today, it’s a hot mess. And while I give DC/Vertigo credit for publishing material this far “outside the box,” it’s also easy to see why the idea of a regular monthly from a creative team this willing — hell, eager — to not just push the boundaries, but obliterate them entirely, probably scared the powers that be in the house that Siegel and Shuster’s creation built. Again, it was a good number of years before The Filth — which was the product of a much more established creative team — was willing to go even a fraction of this distance in its depiction of, to put it kindly, unconventional sexual psychosis, and it’s a pretty safe bet that any 10-or 12-year-old kid who accidentally stumbled across this book is probably still in therapy.

But hey — that’s what we (or at least me, at any rate) like in our comics, literature, films, music, etc., isn’t it? Creators who aren’t afraid to shock us for no reason other than shocking us (another thing that sets Scarab apart from The Filth, given that the latter series clearly had a more thought-through, definite philosophical agenda) are what keeps life from being dull, right? And it’s all part of healthy youthful exuberance and rebellion, in my book. Sometimes it’s good to offend people just because, well, we’re a tired and complacent lot and we need some strong medicine to shake us out of our lethargy. This issue definitely does that, plus interest. Smith, Eaton, and Barreiro were far from finished, though, so join us here next time as Scarab #5 introduces us to the most depraved and gluttonous fallen angel you’re ever likely to meet, and gives us a peek into the world of perfection though surgery!

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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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