[This guest review comes from Zach King, who blogs about movies as The Cinema King]
I was ecstatic when I took a trip out west and by serendipty found a copy of Grant Morrison's out-of-print Kill Your Boyfriend on the dusty shelves of an LCS that looked halfway toward going out of business. The shelves were full of old hard-to-find books that Amazon users sell for upwards of $90, but Kill Your Boyfriend jumped out as one of the last Morrison books I needed to complete my collection (all I need at this point is for The New Adventures of Hitler to be reprinted).After reading Kill Your Boyfriend, I was surprised that it's been allowed to go out of print, especially now that Morrison's an undeniable A-lister in the comic world. It's not that Kill Your Boyfriend is touted as one of Morrison's greatest works -- it's that, as a simultaneous distillation and reexamination of all his major early themes, it very well ought to be.
In Kill Your Boyfriend, we're introduced to our unnamed protagonists, commonly referred to as (simply) The Girl and The Boy. The Girl, bored with the rote mundane life she's been given, runs away from home and joins up with The Boy, a local hooligang with an anarchist bent. After learning of The Girl's disappointing relationship with her dorky boyfriend Paul, The Boy takes it upon himself to kill Paul, an act which sparks a wild rampage of sex, drugs, and countercultural violence -- in other words, exactly what one would expect from Grant Morrison.
Even without reading the 1995 copyright date, one can tell that Kill Your Boyfriend is very clearly early Morrison; its emphasis on anarchy and a subterranean countercultural movement sets it apart from Morrison's recent emphasis on mythos and superhero deconstructionism in Final Crisis and Batman. The Boy is a classic distillation of Morrison's "last angry man" figure, with a chip on his shoulder and a loaded gun in his jacket pocket; despite his violent nature, there's something so disarmingly charming about The Boy that it's a wonder Johnny Depp hasn't played him in a movie yet. In all honesty, Kill Your Boyfriend is as close to a screenplay as Morrison's written; gleeful smash cuts and fourth-wall shattering monologues from The Girl seem ready for the silver screen -- which, hopefully, might spark the book back into print circulation. (Seriously, DC: option this property next.)
Morrison's script is tight as always, but any comic book literati knows that a good script isn't entirely good if it's not backed up by a decent illustrator. Philip Bond -- not a name that gets tossed around a lot, unless you're reading Tank Girl (who gets a visual shout-out here in the character of Billy) or other similarly eclectic reads -- creates a perfectly off-kilter atmosphere throughout, his style a blend between the cartoonish realism of Chaz Truog and the sketchy edges of Frank Quitely. Everything feels normal, but the art has a nice tilt to it that puts just the right amount of unrealism on top of the derailing outlandishness of the story. It's a credit to Bond that The Girl's in-panel narration to the audience feels perfectly natural, like a moment out of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, without losing the subconscious surprise of a similar moment in Morrison's first-rate Animal Man series.
There's a fun parallel invoked with the Dionysian myth, but what's more interesting about Kill Your Boyfriend is that Morrison groupies won't help but read the book as an odd kind of interrogation of The Invisibles, Morrison's seven-volume magnum opus. Like The Invisibles, Kill Your Boyfriend follows a ragtag group in their fight against the establishment, but here the establishment is less markedly evil. Sure, Paul is more interested in sci-fi/fantasy porn than in The Girl, and policemen steal crematory urns for use as ashtrays -- but we don't have any time-bending chaos lords or beetle-women pulling the strings. Consequently, it's a little more difficult to slap down a "good guys/bad guys" label on any of it.
Compounding the connection to The Invisibles, the bus full of anarchic artists (or are they artistic anarchists?) is filled with characters who seem straight out Morrison's other work; white-haired Cleverly visually recalls the renegade Invisible John-A-Dreams, and the portly homosexual Fudge might as well be the Marquis de Sade (I'd have to reread The Invisibles to see if it's possible that Fudge is the Marquis; knowing Morrison, I wouldn't be surprised if he is, and I'd be disappointed if he weren't). What's more, The Girl dolls herself up like Lord Fanny, remarking of her red dress and blonde wig, "I feel like a transvestite."
But appearances can be deceiving. Kill Your Boyfriend is filled with people who are not what they pretend to be: The Girl's demure schoolgirl image conceals a hungry sexual appetite, while Paul's sexual prudery masks his own perverse addiction to pornography; policemen steal human remains, high-ranking political officials wear feminine undergarments beneath their trenchcoats, and the bus full of anarchists turns out to be little more than self-indulgent aspirants who are more interested in a government grant for the arts than in real acts of destruction, an act that turns The Boy's stomach. The climax at the Blackpool Tower explodes off the page (quite literally, at one moment) with a stunning apex reached when The Girl aims a gun directly at the reader. It's a climax that ultimately asks, "Is there really anything to fight against? Is it worth it to fight for fighting's sake?"
And the answer comes back, resoundingly, "Yes, of course it's bloody well worth it!" (Hey, it's still a Morrison comic, after all.) There's a one-page epilogue which explains the fate of The Girl with Morrison's classic tongue-in-cheek nature, and while she never tells us directly what's become of her, she remarks (with what I can't believe Bond didn't pencil as a wink), "You know the rest." Bond's paneling and deft depiction of facial expression (never more prominent here and in the Blackpool scene) tells us all we need to know; sometimes, all it takes to shake up the system is something as simple as killing your boyfriend. The rest, they say, is easy.
Worth far more than the $5.99 cover charge, Kill Your Boyfriend feels a lot longer than the scant 56 pages it runs. It's a work that you'll want to reread as soon as you've concluded -- not for fear that you've missed something or might pick up on a new theme, but because it's such a fun ride that it's worth reliving -- provided you can find a copy. Just don't do anything rash to get it.
Or maybe, do.
[Contains an afterword by Morrison and a fold-it-yourself origami fortune teller. Printed on semi-glossy paper.]