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Thursday, December 07, 2006

Johnny The Homicidal Maniac: Director's Cut

Book Description
Mayhem and violence rule in this collection of issues one through seven of Jhonen Vasquez's Johnny the Homicidal Maniac, as well as material seen before only in Carpe Noctem magazine. Dark and disturbingly funny, JTHM follows the adventures of Johnny (you can call him Nny), who lives with a pair of styrofoam doughboys that encourage his madness, a wall that constantly needs a fresh coat of blood, and--oh, yeah--his victims in various states of torture. Join Nny as he frightens the little boy next door (Todd, known to fans of Vasquez's work as Squee), thirsts for Cherry Brain Freezies, attempts suicide, draws Happy Noodle Boy, and tries to uncover the meaning of his homicidal existence.

Insanity and Murder are Funn
Well actually, they really aren't, but after reading JTHM you might think they are. Jhonen Vasquez has an amazing talent; he is capable of making the most disturbing things laugh-out-loud hilarious. For this I wish to give JTHM Director's Cut a 5/5, but I cannot. But before I explain why, let me attempt to explain the meaning behind Jhonen's madness. Naturally, this is merely _my_ interpretation of his work.

JTHM is an attack (and a very violent one at that) on normalcy through the use of satire and parody with disturbing, dark themes. Due to the dark themes and disturbing content, this work could be labeled as "gothic" (and often is), but that would be rather insulting. Ironically, "goths" tend to adore the disturbing and the dark simply because it is not "normal," but they end up carving a very specific mold of normalcy out for their own clique. "If you don't fit a certain image, you're not goth and you're not one of US," a goth might say. JTHM is not only an attack on what MOST of us would consider normal, but also an attack on what GOTHS consider normal. It is an attack on all those arrogant people out there who deliberately exclude others because they don't fit in with their own definition of what normal is.

This theme pervades the entire series, from when Johnny is brutally torturing bullies for making fun of him for what he wears, to the little comments JV sometimes scratches in at the corners of his panels. But, it is not JV's attack on normalcy that is the most interesting aspect of JTHM, it is the contradictions. On the one hand, much of this comic book is rather demented and disgusting, but at the same time the book is hilarious--pulling the reader in two different directions at once. Also, sometimes there are comic strips that are completely pointless and filled with excessive (and unnecessary) violence, while there are others that have Johnny going on thought-provoking philosophical ramblings. This tension from pulling the reader back and forth (between violence and humor, and between pointlessness and meaning) is so instense that if you try to read too much at once you'll either sweat excessively, vomit profusely, or pass out from lack of oxygen because you're laughing so hard (or a combination of all three). I suggest reading in small dosages, you've been warned :)

This actually brings me to one of my only complaints. The JTHM series once featured "Meanwhiles" which are mini comic strips whose sole purpose is simply a brief, funny intermission between the JTHM series. The lack of meanwhiles lowers the value of the book (since they are really funny). But, the Meanwhiles also served as a means to break up the tension in the Johnny series. Since JTHM is so intense, the random and so often silly nature of the Meanwhile comic strips served as a pleasant deviation, and the lack of these pleasant little breaks means it's much more difficult to read JTHM in longer bursts.

My only other complaint is in the sturdiness of the actual book itself. I've only read through JTHM a few times, but already pages are falling out all over the place. I feel kind of bad negating a star primarily because of this reason (since it is not Jhonen's fault), but pages falling out really does detract from the overall experience.

Despite the lack of Meanwhiles and the overall flimsyness of the book itself, this is a solid purchase. Unless you're too easily offended or puke all over the place at the sight of blood, this graphic novel should not disappoint. Highly recommended!!!

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