November 25, 2013

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Raw Power 2

[Note: This is a comic for mature folks and will be discussed accordingly. You've been warned! -Rob]

Written and Illustrated by Josh Bayer
Retrofit Comics

It's time for Catman to return to life on the outside after his murderous rampages, but it won't be easy as the confused ideologue tries to come to terms with his life. Meanwhile, G. Gordon Liddy is as insane as ever. When the two meet, the results are explosive and prove that changing your life may be the most difficult thing anyone tries to do.

Plus, Josh Bayer re-creates a Marvel Two-In-One comic as only he can, starring Mister Incompleto as The Thing in adventure that's both an homage and a deconstruction of the original.

It's all together in this oversize mini-comic from a creator who's willing to go out to the edge, but for a very good reason--to make a strong and solid comic.

So I need to start this one off by being completely honest: As a general rule, I've not been a person to read books like Raw Power. And had Josh not sent this one for me to take a look at (thanks man!), I probably still would have written them off.

That's a mistake driven by a casual flip-through, which, in my defense, is all you can really do at a show without being rude. I hate when I see some jerk read an entire mini, tell the creator "thanks dude" and move on. "This ain't a library, bub!" as the Wolverine poster at my local comic shop used to say. And when you flip through something like Raw Power and hit the brutal pages, if that's usually not your thing, you're probably moving on.

The lesson I've learned here is that maybe I'll try lingering a bit longer next time I run into a comic like this one, even at the risk of still not enjoying it at the end. Because while this comic is raw, it's raw for a purpose, not just to show how extreme the creator can be (my biggest problem with similar things I've look at or found in anthologies). Josh Bayer has a story to tell here, one that's dark and features a man that we don't want to see win. Catman and his ilk belong in a place where they can't hurt others, just because they don't like their lifestyle.

Featuring a tight plot that takes Terry (the real name of Catman) out of prison and into society, Bayer shows him doing his best to be a different man. He tries to go straight, but you can tell from the start that it's not going to work. When Terry moves out into the world, old instincts kick in, and let's be honest here--who doesn't want to beat up shits who go to Billy Idol concerts? As Terry falls apart, Bayer really lays the hammer down--his perception of reality isn't even accurate in a world where folks with money dress like bums and people don't follow established norms.

It's a perfect character arc for the confused Terry, and just when you think things might work out, in comes the insane version of G. Gordon Liddy that's created the Catman persona in the first place. His role starts off slow, then builds, just like Terry's rage and confusion. In the end, Liddy can't stand that Terry may no longer agree with his world view, and the results give this comic a perfect ending.

Bayer's plotting and scripting chops are extremely good. From the opening page, with its Suspect Device-like riff on Peanuts to the mock news reports that build up Terry's backstory to the way Liddy abuses the reporter who tries to get his viewpoint, Bayer is able to link these elements together into a cohesive whole that reads like a bit like a Shakespearean tragedy--if that included prison rape.

For some people, that's a deal breaker, and I understand it. Raw Power 2 is a brutal comic, showing humanity at its worst, even as one man tries to become its best. Bayer's illustrative style, with its blocky figures who flow as needed to meet the demands of the story, doesn't shy away from showing disturbing images. Nothing is tastefully concealed here, and I don't know that the story would work as well if it was.

When you look deeper into Bayer's work, you find a depth that's obscured when all you notice is the violence. Terry's physical transformation when he's wearing a suit and trying to live a normal life, for example. The page layout of Terry trying to cope, even as his thoughts turn to his perceived evils, which surround his prone form at the center of the page. The almost Herriman-like look when someone throws a brick at Terry. You can tell that Bayer is a true fan of comics (if nothing else than by the loving tribute to Benn Grimm in the form of Mr. Incognito), looking at his layouts, which show deep knowledge of panel and page construction. Despite the wavy lines and periodic abstractions, this is a man who understands how to tell his story in a way that matters visually. There's more careful construction in Raw Power 2 than in damn near every book DC is publishing right now.

It's unfortunate that Bayer might get overlooked. Right now, I feel like a total shit for doing it myself. So if you are okay with extreme violence and want to see what happens when a person with a knowledge of plot and form works within the realm of the edge of the comics creation, give Raw Power 2 a try. I think, like me, you'll become a fan, and start to think twice about your assumptions when it comes to other books.