It was difficult to decide which comic to start this review series with—so difficult, in fact, that it took me a whole extra week to do it. But after much deliberation I landed on the perfect book to start with, and while I apologize for the delay between posts, I’m delighted to share with you the joy of Multiple Warheads.
I considered a lot of different comics—Saga, Batwoman, even the movie version of Civil War—and most of those will be written about in future posts. But Multiple Warheads hits on many things that I launched this series in order to discuss, from feminism to literary tropes, making this book a logical jumping-off point. It was one of those books that I likely would not have picked up off the shelves for myself. The complete Multiple Warheads trade paperback is a couple years old, so it doesn’t really come up in current discussions of independent comics, and the cover art is cute, but gives little to hint at the storyline inside. But the book was thrust at me by a friend who is part of my personal comic book lending library, and since his recommendations have yet to steer me wrong, I committed myself to reading it.
MW opens on a petite black-haired girl with a cigarette, trotting through what appears to be a post-apocalyptic wasteland in thigh-highs and a sassy miniskirt. To further this characterization, her name is Sexica. I cringed immediately, because Sexica (Sex for short) visually embodies every Manic Pixie Dream Girl trope that I’ve grown to hate since my first encounters with the concept in high school. Upon her first closeup, we learn what she smells like, with nary a personality trait in sight. But I kept reading, because I knew the friend that had urged me to read MW was not the type to fall for MPDG tricks. And good thing I did.
Sexica certainly plays the part of a MPDG in appearance and name, but that’s effectively where the resemblance stops. When she returns home to her boyfriend—in spite of nearly immediate nudity and a very cute sex scene—it’s revealed that Sexica is the real breadwinner, the hero, and, as it turns out, the only one who gets any real backstory. Nikoli, the boyfriend, is a bespectacled mechanic, who on first impression looks like the unlikely nerd who’s going to have his life changed by Sexica (as in most MPDG tropes). However, Nik also has werewolf powers thanks to a werewolf penis smuggled and sewn onto him by Sex, and this reveal throws him into a sexualized and almost objectified position of his own. His most interesting trait was given to him by Sex—in a literal sense, she gifted him his sexuality.
Although Sex gets more on-page naked time, she also receives more autonomy and is able to do more interesting stuff. It is through Sex as the narrator that we learn they live in a sort of post-apocalyptic Russian wasteland. The car Nik builds is a Lenin, and Sex talks about “Red rules and bread lines,” implying some sort of communism-gone-wrong in their world. A historical war that fucked things up for everyone is hinted at though never discussed in detail. Although Nik stays home and does mechanic stuff, Sex is an organ smuggler who goes out on missions for days at a time, and she’s good enough at her job to stay out of trouble. As the narrator, the entire world is seen through her eyes. We hear her thoughts on everything from brushing her teeth to how the world became the way it is. Nik has his own personality and idiosyncrasies, but this is Sex’s world, seen through Sex’s eyes. And in this way, she breaks the MPDG trope and turns it on its head.
I don’t want to delve too deep into the plot, at the risk of running into spoiler territory. But in addition to the pleasantly feminist role Sexica plays, I want to talk about my other two favorite things in MW: the artwork and the wordplay. This is a very pretty read. Our protagonists are lovable adult cartoons set against a backdrop so lavish and bizarre that some scenes will have you staring at the page for an absurd amount of time just to pick out all the details. Although the book starts in black and white, the best visual moments come later when the pages become drenched in vivid colors. Red is used heavily as an accent against washed-out brights that keep things from looking too grim.
The visuals reflect the fact that Sex and Nik live in a dark and difficult world, but the brightness of their personalities (Sex is obsessed with pastries; both enjoy takeout and long baths), their resourcefulness, and their togetherness keep things from being hopeless. The wordplay is another method of keeping things on the light side of dystopian. MW is oozing with puns, which at times stretch the limits of effectiveness and sanity, but add so much color to the story. Some pages include an absurd amount of detail—like a close-up of a takeout menu Sex and Nik are perusing—seemingly just so they can also include an excessive amount of puns. It’s hard to be mad at such detours though, because they offer the same sort of quirky, innocent-yet-dark humor that gets our protagonists through life.
I will issue a warning that what begins as a dense and fascinating plot devolves by the end of the book into almost impenetrable weirdness. We lose sight of Sex and Nik entirely as we follow a different organ smuggler who, though a potentially interesting character, never gets enough backstory or internal dialogue to fulfill her potential. MW deserves more installments in order to wrap up whatever madness the creator, Brandon Graham, had in mind, but since this complete trade paperback collection is the extent of the material we have, it looks like we’re unlikely to ever see the story finished. Still, the beautifully weird artwork and the crazy wordplay make it worth reading to the end. Even strange characters that only get a few pages, such as dancer Sunshine and his boyfriend Moontoone, offer compelling glimpses into the lives of survivors in this futurescape. So although MW does not give readers the satisfaction of a complete storyline, any lover of feminism, puns, and the occasional gratuitous sex scene (Graham drew porn before drawing MW) will not regret picking up this book.
Go! Read! Share with friends! I’ll be back in two weeks with another review.
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