Taking place in a universe where super-villains have killed all the heroes and divvied up the world amongst themselves, Mark Millar’s Wanted is a problematic power fantasy, even if one ignores the seemingly sanitized Hollywood adaptation starring Angelina Jolie’s tattoos and blimp lips. Violent and prurient in increasingly dull ways, Wanted‘s problems are largely in the lack of meaningful details. The main character Wesley Gibson feels emasculated, hates his boring office job, attempts to express his unique identity through bourgeois consumer choices, and is paralyzed by confrontation. He’s a mess because his father left his mother while he was still an infant– the sort of cliché that is supposed to neatly explain the miseries of Wesley’s clichéd life, but does so only in the most unsatisfactory way. Wanted wants you to identify with the “quiet desperation” of Wesley’s life, and concludes with mixed messages about those whose desires resonate with Wesley’s rise to infamy.
Other than the dropping of brand names and off-hand references to food that he likes, the first real sense of Wesley we get is that he’s “more than a little afraid of the scary fucking bitch,” that is his “African-American boss.” This is also the first place where I started to realize that I might have some serious problems with this book. Wesley, in his internal monologue continually refers to his “African-American boss,” a figure never given a name, but who torments him as a cipher threatening in both her blackness and lack of femininity (she’s butch in both physical appearance and character).
But before we’re able to absorb the latent racism and Wesley’s white-man-as-victim-complex, the Fox, a tarted-up stand-in for Hally Barry (in an outfit that echoes both the fiasco of Catwoman and the promise of nudity in Swordfish) crashes into Wesley’s life. The Fox reveals that Wesley’s father was, “The Killer,” essentially the baddest ass hitman slash super-villain that ever was and that Wesley’s just inherited his fortune. Soon, the Fox promises that she’ll be whisking Wesley away to Hogwarts where he can finally achieve his magical destiny and confront his father’s killer “He-who-must-not-be-named” in a climactic duel to the death! Sarcasm aside any similarity to Harry Potter are only those which manifest in all adolescent power fantasies of inheritance and destiny. But Wanted‘s manifestation of that fantasy is particularly ugly and I’m still wondering how much of it is by design and how much of its repugnance is inherent.
After a training montage where once ineffectual Wesley actualizes his hidden super-human ability to shoot a gaping hole into any target he sets his eyes on, the character is transformed into an Eminem look-alike in a ninja-ish black leather combat suit. JG Jones’ art is sharp throughout, but in utilizing Eminem as a reference point we get more indicators that Wanted is a white boy’s fantasy world. A white boy’s fantasy wherein he gets to work out all the racism and misogyny (we’re thankfully spared homophobia for the most part) that is his birthright, otherwise denied by political correctness and whatever other leveling forces have impacted white entitlement. It’s much like Falling Down for the iPod generation, or rather the Columbine generation where power fantasy has mixed interminably with real life violence.
Some might say I’m not getting the point of Wanted. It’s not supposed to reflect the good but the bad in a world where the villains have claimed victory. And if Millar gets to pepper that villainous world with his stock references and reinterpolations of classic comic book characters, then all the violence and hate is really pointing towards a post-modern critique of our own popular culture. Brian K. Vaughn, an author whom I admire and respect greatly writes in the book’s introduction that Millar,
“perfectly [subverts] the classic hero’s journey familiar to every comic fan… [challenging] us to think about the mundane world we’re all a part of, and the hidden price of entering the hidden special world we all one day dream of joining… Those of you who refuse to see what the conclusion is really saying will probably want to burn this beautiful collection the second you put it down… I think Wanted has the bravest, most interesting finale to a comic ever.”
And I can almost see where one might be convinced that Wanted‘s bile has targets and intentions much different from those that I am reading– but I can also flatly disagree with Vaughn’s assessment of its ending. It’s not a life-shattering plot spoiler to tell you that after all the bullets, boobs, and wah-wah-white-boy-who-never-knew-his-dad, that the final two pages are a metatextual indictment of consumerism and passivity pointed directly at the reader.
Comic collectors obsessed with gadgets and collecting artifacts of their youth being particularly guilty of ignoring the political reality that surrounds them; where real villains rig elections, ignore and inflict suffering upon the poor, and generally get away with murder. A worthy message that deserves greater exploration in most media. But ending the story like this is telling not showing, and it’s two pages in almost two-hundred pages of ugliness in which consequences only effect those with the slowest drawn gun.
p.s. Why the fuck does “The Killer” look like Tommy Lee Jones?