Review: Kill Your Boyfriend graphic novel (Vertigo/DC Comics)

Thursday, November 11, 2010

[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.]
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11 comments:

  1. It doesn't come to me as a surprise that this is out of print. Despite Grant being the It boy at DC (atleast one of the) a lot of his excellent work at DC is out of print. VIMANARAMA, SEBASTIAN O, SEAGUY (Whatever happened to the trade collection of the 2nd series and the monthly 3rd series btw?), the SWAMP THING and HELLBLAZER stories, the SECRET ORIGINS stories....actually KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND, SWAMP THING, HELLBLAZER & SECRET ORIGINS backups with SEBASTIAN O & VIMANARAMA are great material for a 2 volume GRANT MORRISON'S MIDNIGHT DAYS kinda collection.....

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  2. I recall this is one of Matt Faction's all time favorite comics. While it is out of print currently, I believe it's been re-printed 2 times over a 13 year span.

    Aalok, I didn't know those other books were out of print. Vinimarama is my favorite of Morrison's modern Vertigo work. I expect we'll see a large collection of the Seaguy trilogy when the third series is completed.

    BTW, great insightful review, especially connecting this book to other GM works!

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  3. Aalok, even though I have most of those trades already, I'd love an "early Morrison" collection for those ultra-rare one-offs. And I'm so with you - Seaguy 2 needs to be collected, though I'm betting on an omnibus once Seaguy 3 gets written/published. I'm sure I'm not alone in preferring a full 9-issue collection over three 3-issue editions, and maybe that's why Vertigo hasn't published a collection yet.

    Hix, thanks for the compliment! One thing I didn't get to mention in the review, though it almost goes without saying (because it's true of EVERYTHING Morrison writes): "Kill Your Boyfriend" does indeed reward multiple readings. On my most recent run-through, I caught something of major significance that might change the whole message of the work. I won't spoil it, but do pay attention to the stamps that The Boy carries with him throughout the work.

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  4. I guess I also forgot FLEX MENTALLO......
    Hey looking this way I find that they had made collections of DARWYN COOKE (BATMAN: EGO & OTHER TAILS) & BRIAN K VAUGHAN (BATMAN: FALSE FACES)too. The very first would have to be DC UNIVERSE: THE STORIES OF ALAN MOORE. The point is to collect one shots, filler & the like....when these people weren't superstars they had to do a lot of filler and if you read Alan Moore even the filler (6-8 page stories) from GREEN LANTERN CORPS & OMEGA MEN is satisfying. As far as I know, Vaughan's filler work is not complete, only a few BATMAN & WONDER WOMAN stories here to go. But almost all of Morrison's work is in 3 issue or 4 issue arcs or so....it wouldn't be that hard combining a few minis to make a trade. SEAGUY I know will come soon but I'm more worried about KILL YOUR BOYFRIEND, FLEX MENTALLO, VIMANARAMA & SEBASTIAN O. As far as I know the only GM shorts available today are THE MYSTERY PLAY and We3.

    I think I have a great germ of an idea.....DC is all over Mark Millar's past work (SUPERMAN: RED SON DELUXE EDITION) and rightly so because he's doing (or did) stunning work right now outside DC (WANTED, 1985, KICK ASS, NEMESIS, AMERICAN JESUS, WOLVERINE, ULTIMATES/ULTIMATE AVENGERS, WAR HEROES, SUPERIOR)....y'all know he did a lot of issues of SWAMP THING 4 of which he co-wrote with Morrison? Or the 3 issue mini JLA: PARADISE LOST....or the SUPERMAN ADVENTURES? When will DC start to have an outlook that is more geared towards printing previously unavailable work than issuing multiple formats of stuff already available in other formats?

    In time we'll see an ABSOLUTE SUPERMAN ADVENTURES by MARK MILLAR......

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  5. I know there's a legal issue with Flex Mentallo, so it may be a while before we see that one (if at all). The trade is so far out of print that Amazon doesn't even list it as available from any seller, and the single issues can run as high as $125. Maybe it's time for DC/Vertigo to sit up, settle the legal dispute, and make a bit of cash on a reprint. (Vimanarama and Sebastian O are a little more affordable as used copies.)

    But I'd be first in line for a "DC Universe: The Stories of Grant Morrison," even if I already have most of the material. Even an Omnibus volume would work for me; it'd be nice to have some of that early GM stuff in a beautiful placeholder. I'm not too keen on the Absolute format, but I understand its appeal for a lot of people.

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  6. Related, I don't know if this is old news or not, but DC's releasing a deluxe-size edition of We3 next summer. I have regrettably never read We3 despite having heard so many good things about it, and we know what a sucker I am for the deluxe format, so this might make it to my shelf ...

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  7. WE3 is well worth the money. It's the comic that initially turned me on to Morrisons work and set me down the path to becoming as huge a fan of his as I am.

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  8. I second WE3, excellent story. While a deluxe edition is nice - and I am a big fan of that format - I do feel that WE3 is a little on the thin side to be given the deluxe format. This is the same for Batman: Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader. Unless they pack it with quite a bit of extras.

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  9. There was an uber lawsuit or something where Jim Shooter was sworn in as an expert witness or something on behalf of the Charles Atlas Co.....I think the outcome of the lawsuit was that DC would forever have to pay some part of the profits generated due to Flex Mentallo's appearances....and DC had to agree never to print Flex on the cover...this was what opened the way to a complete DOOM PATROL collection....he still does appear in at least 2 volumes of Doom Patrol and in 1 volume on the cover itself....I'm guessing that DC thinks that it might have to face another lawsuit full out so it's been quiet.....another suggestion would be to quietly reprint it at the back of the last DP trade....
    This is what I learned from the net. I might be mistaken

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  10. Morrison has alluded that Flex is free and clear, and likely always was (maybe Paul Levitz' was playing things safe?). I expect DC will be working on a HC format to milk eager readers who have long been denied. For those who doubt me, I predicted the Johns Flash reprint a few months ago on this very forum.

    Interestingly, I gave up a kidney and bought Flex Mentallo #1 - 4 off eBay a few years ago, and rather timidly I'll confess that I thought it wasn't all it was cracked up to be. We3 on the other hand is all that and a bag of chips!

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  11. CE: Morrison says here that Quitely's drawing 10 additional new pages for the new version of We3. (He calls it "Absolute We3", but I suspect he misspoke.)

    http://techland.com/2010/07/23/grant-morrison-announces-batman-inc-at-comic-con/

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