I’ll be honest: I’m really leery of this one, Faithful Spoilerites. Your Major Spoilers review of Divided States Of Hysteria #1 awaits!
Writer: Howard Chaykin
Artist: Howard Chaykin
Colorist: Jesus Aburtov
Letterer: Ken Bruzenak
Editor: Thomas K.
Publisher: Image Comics
Cover Price: $3.99
Previously in Divided States Of Hysteria: “An America sundered. An America enraged. An America terrified. An America shattered by greed and racism, violence and fear, nihilism and tragedy…
…and that’s when everything really goes to hell.”
INTENTIONALLY DESIGNED TO MAKE PEOPLE ANGRY
From the very first page, it’s clear that this book is a frustrated scream at the world as much as it is a story, with incessant noise from drones on each page, the backgrounds littered with tweets, sound effects and strings of random letters, seemingly meant to simulate the noise. We meet a number of characters in rapid-fire succession in these pages, all inhabiting the world of 2020, right after the President and his cabinet were killed in a coup d’etat. First up is CIA agent Frank Villa, shacking up with his girlfriend while talking to his wife, all the while convinced that a major terror attack is on the horizon. There’s John Henry Noone, who wants to kill as many white people as possible; there’s Chris, a trans sex worker, who kills several johns in self-defense after they discover her secret; there’s serial killer John Nacamulli; there’s con man Paul Berg, who murders a herd of rich people and embodies the worst stereotypes of “evil, money-grubbing Jew.” The issue ends with that much-worried-about terror attack, pulled off by a group of apparently pregnant, apparently Muslim women, and the final page caption: “BOOM.”
ART AND COLORING NOT QUITE MESHING
This book is a really tough read, partly because of the army of characters introduced, partly because of the intentional signal-to-noise ratio on each page, and partly because it is an angry response to the current political climate. Chaykin’s essay at the back excoriates the hypocrisy of both the left and the right wings of American politics, and while it’s not really a story about the former Secretary of State or the man from Mar-A-Lago, it is fueled by and in reponse to both of them, the parties they fronted and the social situations that created them. This is, after all, Howard Chaykin we’re dealing with, whose answer to both sides is to call them oversensitive and stupid, using the same kind of sledgehammer characterization that made him famous back in the era of Reagan and Thatcher and ‘American Flagg.’ The art is, as always, phenomenal, but there’s a real mismatch for me between Chaykin’s stark pencil and ink work and the coloring that’s been painted over them. While the decision to fill each page with distractions, social media profiles and literal droning was intentional, the coloring adds another layer of confusion and detachment to a story that wants to slap me, as a reader, right inna face.
THE BOTTOM LINE: A BOOK THAT’S NOT FOR ME
As much as I enjoy Howard’s work, I feel like there’s a lot here that’s included just to anger people. Chris’ story is especially crude (not that previous Chaykin takes on transgender characters have been any more positive or sympathetic), but the issue shows us hate crimes, murders, inflammatory stereotypes of all stripes as well as the spectre of and a seeming justification for terror/Islamophobia in one big tableau. The intent seems to be to draw a line between all of it as the work of stupid, evil, wrong-headed people, but the effect for me as a reader feels so flippant as to be meaningless. Divided States Of Hysteria #1 is a work that I think I understand on some level, processing an anger that I find all too familiar, but doing so in a way that doesn’t seem to have a through-line or message (other than “everyone is an @$$hole”) earning 2 out of 5 stars overall. There’s clearly craft here, and the art is excellent, but I’m just not on the wavelength of what Chaykin wants to say with this story, and the overall effect ends up being nothing but noise…