Portraits in Alienated British Youth Circa 1989-90, Part Twenty:

“Movement Of Ja People”

Okay, I admit it:  chapter two of John Smith and Sean Phillips’ Straitgate is entitled “Exodus,” and I couldn’t come up with anything like a decent “headline” for this segment, so I went with the obvious. Apologies to any and all Bob Marley fans out there. Let’s get on with our recap of events before I embarrass myself any further.

The two pages this time out are devoted to showing us Dave’s photo-collage obsession. He walks around town snapping Polaroids of (remember those?) people, places, things, and any other nouns there might be, and then cuts and pastes ‘em into some kind of — I don’t know if “order” is the right word, but it’s what we’ll go with it — that he finds appealing. His interior monologue as this is going on serves to introduce us to a couple of concepts that will continue to play out over the course of this short series, the first being that “There’s a slow bullet in my head.  The slow hitman put it there,” which I take to be a none-too-subtle inference that our protagonist knows his days are numbered, and the other being that he’s not just a closet-case, he’s also a paranoid closet-case, given that he can’t just admit that he finds a guy he photographs attractive, he has to layer on the Alex Jones-style bullshit, saying that “I saw him once (a “before” here would have been a good thing for Smith to stick in his script) disguised as a woman going into Chelsea Girl. He was wearing a green suede jacket and a blonde wig. He even had tits, grafted on by the CIA of MI5 or ICI.”

Dave’s not done with his gender-bending fantasies, though, next going the “WTMI” route by saying that “I think about that a lot — tits and hairy legs and strong brown hands, like a bricklayer’s. I imagine him kneeling down and opening his mouth and” — that’s all the indulgence he allows himself, still obviously beyond conflicted about what the hell it is he really wants.

A disarmingly “normal” daydream about rubbing oil all over a bunch of girls is next on Dave’s agenda, with the interesting wrinkle added that “sometimes Phil (a friend we’re about to meet on the next page) is there” in his fantasies, as well, “but not this time.” Poor Phil.

Still, he’s there at the pub that evening, along with his other friends from university, who Dave flatly states are “wankers.” There’s perhaps a bit of envy clouding his judgment here since they’re all off at school while he has to work for a living, but that’s quickly brushed aside in favor of another hard break with reality that sees Dave imagining slashing the throat of a girl seated at the next table over who’s making out with a guy. An imaginary old woman spills the beans about what a “slut” the young lady is to our lead character, while calling him “Norman,” (a reference to Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho, methinks) and Dave in turn relates these “home truths” about the girl to his friends, which nearly gets him a much-deserved ass-whipping and ends the evening on, to say the least, an awkward note.

For Dave, though, the magical mystery tour is just beginning, given that when he gets home, he falls asleep without too much trouble and has one heck of a dream, deliciously and deliriously delineated (take that, Stan Lee!) by Phillips that features his main character naked in a crucifixion pose while various cuts and bite marks bleed all over his body. Some borrowed Joy Division lyrics  (“Love will tear us apart again,” if you must know) make their way into the lushly-watercolored proceedings despite the fact that Dave, eternally morose bastard that he is, strikes me as more of an early-period Death in June fan, and then, after his “I’m the bitten Christ” indulgence, the chapter closes with a solid dose of Cronenberg-style “body horror” that sees him ripping his own chest open and allowing a horde of hungry demonic (by all appearances, at any rate) creatures inside his newly-minted cavity and imploring them to “make love to me. Do it to me.” Then it all goes pitch black for the final panel as Dave confides “Oh shit. I think I’ve had a wet dream.”

And you thought you were one sick puppy.

Obviously, Dave’s precarious-at-best mental state is deteriorating pretty rapidly here, and I don’t think it’s any secret that’s going to continue. Still, a cry for help isn’t entirely out of the question at this point, and we’ll see the confused form that takes soon enough — things are going to get worse for him before he tries (and — spoiler alert! — fails) to make them better, though.

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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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