Sunday, July 18, 2010

HeroesCon Booty:
Teenagers from Mars

We do a lot of wretched things just to get through the day. Civilization is a prison without bars, but its abstract (and often stupid) nature is no less confining because it lacks physical form. Try living for a week without money, law or the most basic of social etiquette and see what happens. The results are frequently fatal.

One of those "wretched things" we do to survive in our invisible prison is to participate in the lie that it doesn't exist. This is the land of the free and the home of the brave, even though freedom and courage almost always fly in the face of domestic law. By its definition "civilization" demands  limits to all aspects of life. Those who ignore these rules are branded perverts, outlaws and terrorists - and treated accordingly.

I picked up Teenagers from Mars a few months back at the Charlotte, N.C., HeroesCon, from writer Rick Spears. I try to buy at least three indy books each year at the HeroesCon and stopped to talk to Spears after the title of this book caught my eye. I'm a big Misfits fan and asked him point-blank if the title was inspired by the band (he responded in the affirmative.) Flipping through the book I saw more punk iconography, zombie references and other imagery that hit me where I live. It occurred to me that a reader's relationship to comics is a lot different than our relationship to other media. You don't pick a novel up and flip randomly through it, and you don't start a movie at some arbitrary point to see if it catches your interest. But that's what I was doing with Spears' book ... and right in front of him, no less. It seemed a little rude of me.

But the title of the book had me hooked, so I bought it without knowing anything about it. Halfway through the trade I realized I STILL didn't know what it was about. In retrospect, Spears' signature on the inside of my book (seen to your left) was a big, big clue.

That's not to say that it's without plot, but Teenagers from Mars is one of those rare comics that lacks a high-concept narrative. There's no simple way to talk about the story of the book without dealing with its ending. It's a character-driven piece that inhabits a fairly real world (and if you miss the inspiration for the story's setting, just Google some of the names on the tombstones in the opening segment ... such as Armin Tamzarian.)
I'm going to skip the usual story summary (everything you need to know can be found at its Amazon listing or click here to watch a trailer.) Teenagers from Mars is a rich story, but I did take a few exceptions to the way its themes were expressed through occasionally thin characters. It's funny that the villains of Teenagers from Mars are presented like James Bond baddies (complete with eye patches and prosthetic limbs) but they seem a bit obvious in their J. Jonah Jameson-level hatred of youth, comics and individuality. And Madison - the story's uber-goth heroine - falls firmly into the category of manic pixie dream girl.

Still, so much of this story is archetypal to the experiences of comic fans. Anyone who's been reading comics for more than a year has heard tales of angry parents raising hell about comics bought by their kids (for me, it was the removal of Marvel's Hellstorm comics from the shelves at Homefield Advantage in Greenwood, S.C., after a parent complained.) It was also interesting to see that my experiences with punk rock, comics and vandalism weren't especially unique.

At its heart, Teenagers from Mars is about that struggle against society's invisible prison and its interchangeable collection of wardens - parents, supervisors, cops, government - and how their needs rarely ever align with your own. It's a love letter to comics fans and, in its own way, a pep talk for a segment of society that takes a disproportionate amount of shit. If you love comics you really need to check this book out.

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