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The Filth #8 By Roshan Abraham
Vertigo (DC Comics) – Grant Morrison (w); Chris Weston and Gary Erskine (a)
**%$ The Police
Actually, the first asterisk in the issue's subtitle above should be a heart-sign, but my keyboard doesn’t do those.
First off: The Filth is intentionally offensive to those of us with fashion-sense and somewhat assaulting to the senses. One look at the clothing design of the protagonists can tell us this; garish, mawkish, mis-matched hues that are too uber-kitschy to be “ironic” or “playful.” One of the characters, Venus, sports a chia-pet afro-puff that is every bit 70’s blaxploitation porno as it is “Sesame Street Punk.” The costumes are not only garish and clumsy looking; beetle-like tanks that look like super-soakers husked on the backs of The Hand members, with goofy, edematous tubes linked to the future-pop collars, but they have a desperate, pathetic kind of sexiness to them. I know I never thought I’d see the day when Grant Morrison wrote a slightly portly protagonist with a comb-over, but here it is.
In a way, The Filth feels more like a requiem, a funeral march for the idealism of future-pop, the thrift store nihilism of punk rock sifting through the trash and co-opting the violently mismatching debris of Star Treks and science-fantasies the world over.
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Second Off: In regards to narrative, The Filth isn’t the easiest series to get a hold on. Morrison has morphed into one of those writers more concerned with the big picture of a narrative he’s conceived than micro-managing individual issues into palatable portions. For The Filth, he’s turned to small self-contained storylines, the first few issues standing alone, and issues 5-8 containing two mini-stories. Weaving through this is the fractured, dreamlike story of the book’s main protagonist, Greg Feely/Ned Slade, the former being the persona of hapless schmuck who lives alone with his cat and the latter being a secret operative for an other-dimensional organization that “wipes the ass of the world.” See,“Greg Feely” is just a “para-persona” created for Ned Slade, a fake personality conceived by The Hand for their own purposes. The thing is, there’s no plausible distinction between a “fake” persona and a “real” persona, save the designation of such by outside powers, and the ensuing identity-politics driving Greg out of his mind is both an important theme of the main narrative and the sub-narratives contained here-in. Got it?
Issue 8 is the second part of a story about an enormous cruise vessel called The Libertana that functions as an autonomous state. The mini-social system of The Libertania mimics a real democracy, with the privileged sitting lushly on top of the vessel sipping cosmopolitans, and the minorities being shat on way down below. Spartacus Hughes, a creepy mustached 70’s sitcom dad looking motherfucker with an equally horrifying fashion sense, uses the vessel for an experiment in cultural engineering, namely, introducing a random element into a self-sustaining system to create anarchy. It’s about as overtly political as Morrison is going to get - the President (who snorts coke) is a throwaway every-man (“They haven’t trusted the president to have a mind of his own since Nixon, Ned,” Hughes says) whose interchangeability is being exploited by a manipulative cultural terrorist.
The Filth fills the void of belligerent, unhinged, over-opinionated and mad British writing left on the shelves after Transmetropolitan ended, and as such, is victim to the vices and indulgences inherent in books of their ilk. Characters seem to be created to fill the requisite “wacky-death” quotient and self-consciously “out-there” situations sometimes defer back to the obnoxious flavor of the book rather than the plot or over-all story. If you’re used to all of this, and you don’t find it distracting, the book will be easier to digest, and the experience will wash pleasantly over you like a radioactive fog melting your epidermis into tar and gene-juice on an acrid, dust-heavy Sunday morning. It’s a psychedelic kind of grunge that Weston’s art evokes- a nasty neon-drenched shit-fest for dilettante perverts and sexy loners.
This issue in particular deals with the main thematic chords of the title; the mutability of identity, immortality, invisible worlds we chose to disassociate rather than recognize as part of our natural continuum. It’s a good time to pick the book up, as the main story of Greg Feely is becoming more distinct and priming to build to a crescendo. With 5 issues left, you may be tempted to sit this book out and wait for the TPB, but you should at least be buying it for those propagandist survival-manual covers, which is consistently making this the coolest looking book on the stands, hands down.