Portraits In Alienated British Youth Circa 1989-90, Part Five:

Aim For The Head (Of State)

The fourth and final installment—this time un-numbered, as we’re through counting down to the day and find ourselves at it—of St. Swithin’s Day begins with the most painfully obvious line you could imagine: “today’s the day.” Cheer up, though, because from this point on, not much that Grant Morrison and Paul Grist show us proceeds in the way you’d expect.

Okay, yeah, our nameless protagonist griping about “butterflies” and “nerves” isn’t the least bit original, but shit—what would-be assassin isn’t a bit jittery before the “job”? Let’s give him a pass on that score.

But the fashion statement he chooses to make? Writing “Neurotic Boy Outsider” on his forehead in felt-tip pen? Not sure if that’s the look enterprising heirs to the “throne” once occupied by the likes of Lee Harvey Oswald (assuming you think he did it, which I don’t, but that’s another matter for another time), Sirhan Sirhan (damn, another probable patsy, I need to come up with some better examples here) or Mark David Chapman (Hmm—okay, chances are he did do what he’s accused of, even if there’s a lot more to the story) should be going for when they make their big debut on the national stage. Even in 1989. Still, what do I know? I’m no style critic (some would probably argue I’m not much of a comics critic, either), and even if it is a bit OTT, it’s at least an honest sentiment that he’s chosen to emblazon himself with.

Cue rainy weather, of course, as PM Thatcher’s limousine pulls up to the Hay Technical College, where she’s to speak that day on matters unspecified, and while it does seem that she’s far more accessible to the general public than world leaders tend to be when she exits her vehicle, there is, in fact, a phalanx of cops protecting her from the crowd she’s purportedly been elected to “serve.” A phalanx that our ostensible “hero” seems to have no trouble parting as he causally (you might even say dreamily—more on that in a moment)—after being frozen in place by fear for a split second—makes his way towards her, ink streaming down his face, before quietly stating her name before pulling out—

His finger? And saying “bang”? And that’s it?

Time for a little bit of not-so-idle speculation here, methinks. Yes, we saw No Name fidgeting with a gun earlier on, and while some analyses of this story have opined that he got “cold feet” about using it and decided he just wanted to show how close to her he could get in order to prove, to himself if no one else, that an anonymous nobody like him still had the power to change the world, etc., that’s not necessarily a view that I’d agree with, at least not today. Ya’ see, I’m of a mind that he never actually had a gun in the first place.

We know, from earlier vivid daydreams such as the one about the girl visiting him in the café, that our guy has a pretty aggressive imagination. In fact, it may even be fair to state that he’s the flat-out delusional sort. We also know that handguns just aren’t that easy to come by in the UK, particularly for a young, presumably broke, “neurotic boy outsider.” The manner in which he’s able to essentially sidle right up to her probably is a bit too easy to be believed. And in addition to all that, there’s one more possible major flight of fancy yet to come that goes some way to proving my little armchair thesis here.

With that aside, then, back to what remains of our story recap: the police/secret service tackle Nameless to the ground, smash and bloody his head against the wet concrete, and—he wakes up, on a sunny day, riding in a train. He reminds us that he likes trains. He’s smiling. The window is open. And, in his own words, “I don’t care if it rains. I really don’t care at all.”

There are, of course, two possible ways to read this—either the whole thing was some mildly amusing diversionary youthful daydream (look out, Walter Mitty, you’ve got a young up-and-comer snipping at your heels), or else the pleasant train ride is the hallucination, a “safe” memory Nameless’s brain conjures up after the five-0 have knocked his ass unconscious. Take your pick. I’m going with option A, but B is just as legit, I suppose, and Morrison doesn’t tip his hand as to which way the story “should” be read any more than Grist slips in any visual clues to tilt the reader in one direction or the other.

In other words, it’s entirely up to you—so why not start over at the beginning and consciously choose to read the whole thing the other way this time?

I think it’s that sort of deliciously palpable ambiguity that has earned St. Swithin’s Day such a soft spot in my heart. I can’t relate to the angst and self-importance of the lead character anywhere near as well as I could when the strip first came out—probably a good thing, since it would actually suck to remain a mental and emotional 19 or 20 year-old forever (although if I could stay that age in perpetuity physically, shit, that’s a deal I might take)—but its open-endedness earns it a kind of “staying power” that it certainly would never be able to achieve by dint of its nostalgic value alone. Is it a masterpiece? Nah, but it is written in a fairly authentic-for-its-time-and-place “voice,” it’s exceedingly well-drawn (in one of those “deceptively-simple-but-actually-rather-complex” ways), and it can be appreciated on different levels both depending upon one’s interpretation of it, and where one “happens to be in life” when they read it. Simply put, it’s managed to both age well and, paradoxically, to remain forever young. Sure, it’s a “period piece” whose period has longs since passed, but I defy anyone to read it here in 2015 and not find it every bit as compelling (even if it is, admittedly, less immediately topical) as it probably seemed to audiences back when it was new.

Damn, I’m gushing just a bit now, aren’t I? Mustn’t let the “curmudgeon” reputation crack, so I’ll wrap this up now by entreating you, dear reader, to join us again here shortly as we turn our attention to the second story in our “Alienated British Youth Circa 1989-90” smorgasbord, Garth Ennis and Warren Pleece’s rollickingly blasphemous True Faith. Trust me when I say the fun’s just beginning!

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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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