I think everyone eventually reaches a point where they begin to feel the weight of the years that they have lived start to pile upon them. While I’m only just getting into my 40’s, I can already feel the impulse to start complaining about how the younger generations don’t know how good they have it, or to whine about how “Back in my day, we were allowed to be traumatized and we liked it!”
That impulse leads many of us to resist change because that change threatens our stability, our way of looking at the world and understanding our place in it. The older I get, the more I find I have to actively fight against impulses ingrained by decades of past practice. I work hard to respect people for who they are, and who they want to be, and I legitimately try to listen to all sides of the political spectrum, whether they agree with me or not.
In today’s political and social climate, that is increasingly becoming harder to do. Points of view are becoming further and further separated, and rather than accepting that some people will never change their minds no matter what they are confronted with, we instead attempt to force the world to change to try to make them see things our way. It’s a dangerous path to head down, and it is one that all sides of the political and social spectrum are guilty of. I’m not taking a side here, but I know in my personal life it has been hard to deal with friends and family members whose beliefs I find morally distasteful, and sadly I have lost touch or cut out some people who I now miss, but struggled to deal with.
Pretty morose start for a comic about a universal translator stuck to a crack pipe, huh?
What I’m getting at with all this is that it often feels like we are no longer allowed to enjoy things we once did. I’m not coming out against “cancel culture,” nor am I supporting it. Personally I feel like that term has become too broad to have any meaning anymore. There is a big difference between removing a racist statue glorifying slavery and moving it to a museum or other place of more appropriate context, and refusing to employ an actor or actress who engages in reprehensible behavior behavior online and by do so threatens the financial future of a company and their fellow actors.
We do not have the right to not be offended, but we also do not have a right to deliberately offend others for our own, personal enjoyment. I believe that you can say and believe whatever you want, but I also believe that others don’t have to listen to you or provide you with a platform on which to share your message. It’s a fine line to draw, and I certainly am no expert on sociology or psychology, I’m just a man writing a column about a scumbag named Ernie, a vile, reprehensible man whose story may just be the thing to bring us all together.
How’s that for a segue?
This week I’m looking at the comic The Scumbag from Image Comics. It’s a book that is designed to offend, well, just about everyone in every way, and yet it’s in that action that it actually succeeds in bringing everyone together. The first story arc just wrapped up, and the first issue of the second arc, number six, hits the shelf this week. So let’s get into it and see just how offended, and possibly enlighten, we can get!
Here’s the blurb: “MOONFLOWER,” Part One
An army of deadly know-it-all devil hippies known as Moonflower plans to brainwash all of humanity with hyper piety! Ernie Ray doesn’t care until a hot cult escapee convinces him to help. Can he stop them and earn her love? Will he join the 238,000-mile-high club? Is hepatitis transmittable in space? All will be explored!
If you missed out on the first arc of this series, well, I’m sorry, but you missed out on one of the most interesting and unique concepts in comics today. The series follows Ernie Ray Clementine, a burnt-out scumbag who spends his days getting high, bothering women, stealing from charities, and generally making a complete and total nuisance of himself to the handful of people who even consider tolerating him.
He’s an asshole, a liar, a thief, and, like the title says, a complete and total scumbag. He makes airs about being a free spirit, but it’s all just a story that he tells himself to justify the terrible things he does in life, to both himself and others.
And then one day, thinking he is injecting himself with a heroin needle he chased through an alley, Ernie accidentally injects himself with a super-soldier serum that gives him amazing superpowers, but only when he is acting with noble intentions.
Ernie quickly gets himself involved in a high-stakes spy world that is choked full of flying cars, robot sex dolls, billionaire mansion orgies, and, of course, straight-up Nazis. Ernie is constantly forced to overcome his worse nature in order to help save the day, and while he is victorious in the end, he also still sells out everyone he can just to make his own life easier along the way.
Like we said, he’s a scumbag, not a hero.
Issue six dives right into the action with Ernie, now being controlled and manipulated from multiple sides, is forced to lead a team to the moon to defeat an evil known as Moonflower, a group of ultra woke hippies that want to brainwash the world to prevent anyone from ever being offended again, and also bow to the power of the cult, of course.
Rick Remender is doing something special with The Scumbag. Ernie Ray is a fascinating study of human morality, and in a lot of ways, he reminds me of Shakespearian clowns. He’s rude, offensive, and downright awful sometimes, but he is also capable of some amazing moments of pathos that can stop you in your tracks. He’s a liar and a hypocrite, but because of this he can also see through the lies and hypocrisy of others (when it suits him to do so, of course), and that gives this book a level of social critique that is sadly missing in so many other “satirical” stories.
You see, in a lot of stories that are marketed as satire, it’s obvious what the personal biases of the author are, and so those who disagree with them tend to take the brunt of the criticism. In The Scumbag, no one is safe from their time under the lens, and while Ernie is a complete and total piece of human garbage, the rest of the cast gets their fair share of the criticism as well. Ernie is a scumbag, but what about the people who enable him because it serves their own purposes? If there are no limits on what the “heroes” will do to stop the villains, can they really be said to be any different from those they attack?
On the surface, The Scumbag is a funny book about terrible people, but if you’re willing to dig a little deeper, you might just find that it’s also one of the most accurate and astute criticisms of the world we live in, and maybe, just maybe, it’s exactly the kind of book we need right now.
One thing that some people might find a bit jarring is the fact that Remender brings in a constantly rotating assortment of fellow creatives for each issue. This keeps The Sumbag coming out on time, but might make reading each issue in trade a bit confusing. So far, though, I will say that each individual issue is beautiful and well crafted, so if you read issue to issue as I do, that shouldn’t be a problem.
So check out issue six and if you like it grab the first trade and let me know.
Until next time, stay safe!