Each week, Donald Starr reviews a selection of comics and graphic novels. In this instalment, Donald critiques Darth Maul and Sheriff of Babylon.
The Sheriff of Babylon: Volume 1 & 2
by Tom King and Mitch Gerads
Just when you’re about to dismiss Tom King’s debut for Vertigo as yet another Isn’t-The-United-States-Of-America’s-Hegemony-Just-Absoultely-Wonderful-For-All-Life-On-Planet-Earth morality tale, he apprises you of this little apothegmatic baby: nobody is innocent and everybody’s shit stinks. And King has a resumé to make it sound less like an armchair harangue, too. An erstwhile CIA counterterrorism official, King takes us back to post-invasion Iraq c.2003 (and the fierce sectarian warfare that erupted in the wake of Bush Jr’s premature declaration that the ‘mission’ had been accomplished), and into the extra-legal minefield that seemed to mire the new millennium’s White House Administration in ‘round-the-clock damage control. Fuck.
With the United States’ imprimatur, the Republic of Iraq had become a veritable mafia state under the rule of Hussein and his extended family. Elevated to the country’s presidency via a bloody CIA-backed coup, and very quickly becoming the kind of guy Uncle Sam was more than willing to do big business with, it was Hussein’s indefatigable political psychology — grounded in an Arabic interpretation of fascist ideology — that ultimately ran the Ba’athist ideologue’s dreams of uniting the entirety of the Middle East under his imperium into trouble with the Washington-Wall Street complex, and cost a bone fide cipher nothing less than the privilege of being a US proxy’s head of state in one of the world’s richest oil regions. This is a story about Ford/Nixon/Reagan-era bureaucrats who rather cosily trucked with an oil-producing dictatorship, and how the smartest of all of ‘em — Rumsfeld, Wolfowitz, Cheney, et al. — ended up getting way more than they bargained for.
The Sheriff of Babylon is a small — and yet, important — study that belongs to a much larger matrix of US foreign policy criticism, and one which tends to automatically attune to the predicate that the War On Terror not only ushered in a new era of machtpolitik; it promoted, as if by way of logic, the kind of legal and ethical exceptionalism that make today’s foreign oil-dependent, nuclear-armed hegemons the scariest fucking entities in contemporary international relations. It’s a revenge tragedy after the manner of Shakespeare: by the conclusion of the final act, the stage is strewn with bloodied corpses and some poor fuck is left weeping and soliloquising on the theme of Pointless Waste.
Darth Maul #1
by Cullen Bunn and Luke Ross
Tinseltown seer George Lucas’ The Phantom Menace had a hell of a lot of shite levelled at it upon its release, predominantly by males — who were also, predominantly, adults; and as the criticism steadily mounted against one of the most highly anticipated movie events in Hollywood history (the first teaser trailer for The Phantom Menace was actually advertised at cinemas — session by session — as though it were a feature in and of itself), Lucas surely must have felt that all of the children’s lives he’d changed back in the 70s and 80s was for the worst if the best they could do was still behave like children. I’m kidding, of course. You douche. The consensus was such that Lucas fucked up categorically; and although the passage of time hasn’t really been any kinder to his vision of a Darth Vader origin story, the film and the film’s (largely successful) ‘remodelling’ at the hands of exclusively licensed extended-universe committees — which would’ve been enough for Sir Alec Guinness to justify cutting his own fucking throat — gave us, at the very least, that incomparable badass of the Sith, Darth Maul.
But Lucas himself was necessarily apathetic vis-a-vis Maul’s characterisation — a piss-weak, throw-away, one-dimensional antagonist sans any semblance to being realistically motivated, whose double-bladed lightsaber seemed to have the larger theatrical role. Let’s not forget that The Phantom Menace was a new exercise in CGI aesthetics — in a fucking maximal way. Maul’s villainy was — like so much else about The Phantom Menace – almost purely cosmetic; and thus, the enigma of this dude’s genealogy needed explaining more or less straight away. Like Marvel’s Han Solo, Lando and Chewbacca, Bunn’s Darth Maul is more of an excursionary footnote than a tale with historical repercussions. And that seems to be the editorial purview at The Bullpen. No real new ideas, folks. Leave all the big statements for Disney’s movies. And yet, with Lucasfilm’s executive’s aggressive focus on making Star Wars a truly transnational enterprise unlike anything else, the promise of a surfeit of new Star Wars media can only mean one thing for jaded fanboys who fail to feel The Force move through them anymore: sooner or later, and whether you like it or not, there’ll be more Star Wars movies and Star Wars comics and Star Wars prose novels and Star Wars CGI cartoons and Star Wars video games than you’ll be able to whip up shit to pitch at.
By the way, I jest thee not in the matter of the stuff about the The Phantom Menace’s first trailer. It was the first and — thus far — only time in my life as a cineaste that I’d bought a movie ticket primarily to see a movie trailer. Unlike some who — it’d been reported — quietly rose from their seats and slowly made their way to the theatre’s exits once the trailer had finished, I (like most of those who remained seated [I guess]) reluctantly, and very disinterestedly, sat through the main feature of which I have no reliable recall. I think it was an action movie starring Bruce fucking Willis or something. I don’t really know. My mind was elsewhere. I’d just seen a preview of the first episode to something that everyone had — for a long, long time — kind of fallen into thinking Lucas would never go near again.