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

The Human Factor

I think it’s perfectly fair to say that the first two segments of John Smith and Sean Phillips’ Straitagte didn’t exactly present their protagonist, Dave, in anything like a sympathetic (or, for that matter, even approachable) light, but with part three, entitled Leviticus, they attempt to balance the scales a bit by humanizing the monster, as it were — at least to an extent — and showing us that there is a tragic set of circumstances that’s leading him down the path towards the complete mental and emotional breakdown that he so clearly appears to be destined for. First, though, they take a couple of pages to remind us of exactly why we don’t like him very much.

Yesiree, friends, we open this segment with yet another misanthropic- in- the- extreme interior monologue running through Dave’s mind while he finishes up another humdrum shift at work, and by now it’s safe to assume that you know the drill — he insists that “no one’s really happy. Even film stars. Even people who think they’re happy,” compares his customers to “cows on their way to be slaughtered,” says that “what most of them need” is “a bolt in the head,” and then clocks out for the day while wishing that “they’d drop the bomb. Millions of bombs. Let them all off at once.” Utterly charming young fella, isn’t he?

Wait just a minute, though — where’s he headed now that he’s a free man until 9:00 the next morning? Not home to his newspaper clippings and TV chat shows, as you’d expect, but to the hospital to visit his mother, who he matter-of-factly informs us is “dying of cancer.”

No doubt about it — as Phillips’ harrowing splash page above shows, Dave’s mom is in very bad shape, indeed, and the chemo drugs they have her on seem to be doing a number on her mind, as well. She’s lost track of when her son’s birthday is, for one thing, and between coughing fits seems to make statements alluding to the fact that she believes she’s actually going to get better at some point, even though there seems to be no logical basis for that belief. As far-gone as she may be mentally, though, a two-page sequence showing a vivid hallucination Dave’s having involving the woman in the next bed over screaming in agony as her neck is snapped with a cord and her foot is hacked off shows that his psychological state is even worse than dear old mum’s. In fact, he ends up fleeing from the room in abject terror and curling up in a fetal ball in the hallway outside.

All of which gives rise, as you can see, to the closest thing to a genuinely touching moment we get in this comic, as a little boy approaches Dave, asks why he’s crying, and when Dave responds by telling him “I’m lost,” the boy asks him “do you want me to ask my mum if you can come home to us?” while Dave clings to him for dear life — perhaps quite literally. Hmmm —maybe Mr. “I don’t need any of you” really does need some warmth and affection after all, what do you think?

Clearly, chapter three of Straitgate is one raw, open, eight-page emotional wound that leaves readers wondering if perhaps there’s some hope for our beleaguered central character yet. He clearly wants to reach out to somebody for something and seems to sense that he may have one chance left to right the course of his life. In part four, he tries to do just that — but will he steer clear of the rocks, or crash into them headlong? We’ll find out the answer to that particular life-or-death query in our next segment.

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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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