Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Blogathon 42: I'm Coming Down Fast but Don't Let Me Break You Part One

[Beginning my discussion of The Programme.]

When I read The Programme, I'm reminded of Thomas Pynchon's writing. I had that feeling ever since the second issue where Michael Hinks recalls what turned him from a cog in the American military industrial complex to a liberal peaceloving anti-American. He was at a party and met a woman that changed his whole perspective on everything. She introduced him to drugs, free love, and opened his eyes to the facist state he lived in. So, in his duties as a member of the project to build an American superhuman, he reprogrammed Max to be just like him, effectively ruining the program. While not really like Pynchon's story "Entropy" in content, the feel of the two struck me as similar. There was something about the mixing of '60s counterculture, the military, black humour, and a myriad of plots that all weave together in the past and present that seemed to connect the two.

Stylistically, CP Smith draws The Programme the way I imagine Pynchon's novels would be illustrated. They reflect the sometimes obtuse nature of his writing. You can see what's happening, but it's not entirely clear. Some things are obscured. Things don't exist in realist terms. Colours are skewed to match the mood and tone of the scene. A panel in the first issue where Max, our failed superman who doesn't know he's superman, is telling his therapist about his failure to get an erection and his girlfriend's reaction is absolutely how I'd picture something in Pynchon's work: a shot of her coloured in a pinkish red with pale green cucumbers on her eyes as she says, "MAX, YOU ARE ONE WASHED-UP IMPOTENT OLD FART! BOY, YOU MIGHT JUST AS WELL BE A EUNICH ALL THE GOOD YOU ARE TO ME!"

It makes sense that, if there was an influence on The Programme it would be Pynchon. Of all the writers to look to if you were doing a comic book about the consequences of superhumans created during the Cold War now active and looking to live out the reason they were created, and the various bits of black humour that come out of a complicated plot like that, Pynchon is your man. The absurd comedy of Gravity's Rainbow is set against the backdrop of World War 2, offering a mixture of reality and surreality that's both remarkably touching and slightly offputting.

The Programme isn't as grand as Pynchon's work. It isn't as big or as deep or as funny, but the influence is there. After all, where else would you expect to find a hippie superman, a black superman who thinks he's Joe McCarthy, and a group of four Russian superhumans whose existence causes a race war in America?

To be continued in 30 minutes...

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