August 2010

Martyn Pedler

fiction

Revolver by Matt Kindt

How does a gimmick become something more? I’m thinking of the near-inexplicable dread generated by printing the word “house” in blue text in Mark Z. Danielewski's House of Leaves. Or how the page numbers printed in reverse order in Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor force you to count down to the narrator's impending death with every page-turn. Matt Kindt's new graphic novel Revolver manages to pull off its own neat trick. 

Here's how it begins: Sam walks home, seemingly drunk, climbs a Hitchcockian staircase and collapses into bed. He sees the clock tick from 11:10 to 11:11. When he wakes, the pages of the book are tinted red instead of blue, and the world outside has gone to hell. Sam’s not surprised. While the news shrieks about millions dead, he’s just thinking about how he hates his job. He gets to work just in time to witness a bloody crisis and rescues his boss by beating a man to death. 

Then Sam wakes up again -- back in blue-tint -- and lives the same day over again, this time without the impending apocalypse. He’s fine. Maybe it was all a dream. “I can still feel that guy’s head caving under my knuckles,” he thinks while his boss belittles him like nothing happened. Most would’ve played this the other way around, showing Sam’s insulting treatment at the hands of his boss, and only then the fantasy of how he rescues her. How Revolver deflates that possible pleasure is the first example of Kindt’s cleverness. 

In fact, one of the most appealing things about the book is how it glides through the moments you expect and twists them to odd angles. It keeps a heartbeat ahead even when it comes to potential criticisms of its own story. After fighting for survival in one reality, Sam’s ordinary blue-world life with his girlfriend, Maria, is suddenly dull and unfulfilling. But as Kindt seems like he’s about to play out the usual, creepy crisis-breeds-real-men clichés that provide so many of these stories with disquieting silver linings, Sam realizes that in the alternative red-world maybe nothing matters at all: 

“It's hard to feel invested in this. Knowing that tomorrow I'm probably going to wake up back in a nice warm bed with Maria. But then, what does it hurt? If I just embrace the crazy, it's a free pass. To do whatever I want.”

Kindt’s art is moody, cinematic, and pretty much note-perfect. He lets memories creep between panels and saves splash pages for the aftereffects of blockbuster catastrophe. While the insertion of quick glimpses of other kinds of stories (a torn vigilante comic book, Godzilla trashing a city on TV) are stylistically jarring, they do point to the sort of generic fantasies that fuel Revolver’s more violent half.

The tick-tock precision of the book can almost be off-putting. It’s too calculated to “embrace the crazy,” and even Sam’s choice between worlds is maybe-too-perfectly paralleled by choice of two women. (If catastrophe can’t make you a better man, of course, the love of a woman might.) Kindt certainly puts concept above character, but Revolver packs in so many permutations on that concept that it’s impossible to complain.  

And oh, yeah, the gimmick: Revolver has a facsimile of a news ticker running along the bottom of each page, and the page number is worked into whatever sentence fragment we can see. “HIT FAMILY COMEDY ‘MY FREAKING PARENTS’ SCORED A RECORD $63 MILLION…” or “MORE THAN 64 BODIES HAVE WASHED ASHORE…” It’s a simple idea that’s astonishingly effective. It’s not only a compass, locating you in whichever world you’re currently watching, but a bass line that’s pulsing underneath each page.  

Kindt’s Revolver is like an epic pop single: as it goes round, you’ll admire it as much for its production as its melody. 

Martyn Pedler is a writer and critic in Melbourne, Australia, and Bookslut’s regular comic book columnist. Find him at www.martynpedler.com