• The Divided States Of Hysteria #1

    Divided States Of Hysteria #1
    Released by: Image Comics
    Released on: June 7th, 2017.
    Written and illustrated by: Howard Chaykin
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    When Howard Chaykin’s The Divided States Of Hysteria begins, we’re told that the elected President Of The United States and most of the cabinet were assassinated a month ago in an aborted coup d’etat. Somewhere in a hotel room a CIA agent named Frank Villa tells his red headed lady friend that he knows a terrorist attack is imminent and that D.C. is the target. He calls home and tells his wife he’ll be back by tomorrow at the latest. Cut to New York City. On the other end of that phone call is Frank’s wife, Ana. She chastises him because ‘the kids barely remember you as it is.’ She apologizes. The kids are driving her nuts because they’re ‘spoiled little shits.’ Back in D.C., Frank gets off the phone and into the shower with the red head. We later learn that her name is Rose.

    A private jet flies through the skies. Inside a venture capitalist named Leo Nicholas, a.k.a. Leonid Nikolyukov, gets a massage. He talks on the phone to a blonde woman who asks when he’ll be home. He says to meet him in Malibu for dinner. They talk of a photo op with the president.

    In Chicago two black snipers talk about how white people fuck everything up as they open fire on some white citizens walking on the sidewalk underneath their highrise window perch. They talk about regrets - getting Jamal killed and getting caught and not making it an even dozen.

    A man named Harry is in the White House talking to Frank about the imminent attack. Nobody believes him, they think he’s ‘crying wolf.’ Harry tells Frank that President Taylor will make her decision based on what the DHS makes of his data.

    In Vegas a transsexual recounts her rap sheet, been in trouble since a statutory rape charge at sixteen. She works as a prostitute, and her latest gig – a three way – was going fine, she’d told them she was ‘on the rag’ so that they wouldn’t expect to get her pants off. Just oral. It was going alright until one of the johns, an Iraqi, decided he didn’t like it anymore and got rough. Rather than get the shit kicked out of her she shoots him, and the other two, and then the cops show up. We later learn that her name is Christopher Michael Silver. Society has decided she isn’t a ‘chick with a dick’ but a ‘boy with tits.’

    In Philadelphia a woman named Erikia is strapped into a chair with her legs up, a man named Aarif between her legs working away. This is Frank’s old turf. At any rate, Aarif says she’ll be fine until the time comes. She’s clearly pregnant, but there’s more to it than that or this wouldn’t be so clandestine and there wouldn’t be talk between the two of them about making history.

    In the Barbados we learn about the schooling and credentials of a con man with a penchant for murdering his older – and very wealthy – female clients. His PhD in chemistry makes it easy and clean. This time, however, he gets caught, the Feds grab him just as he’s about to split. This man’s name is Paul Evan Berg.

    Meanwhile, Frank has got his eyes and ears on Aarif’s lab in Philadelphia. In fact, there’s a drone heading that way.

    In the Bronx, some beat cops investigate a murder scene in Pelham Bay. The man who did it is talking about it in a nearby strip club. He gets away with it because he keeps changing his M.O. and manages to keep it together. This time though? He gets busted. His name is Cesare John Nacamulli.

    Erikia, however, is about to ‘show Jew York City that Allah means business’…

    Never one to shy away from controversy (this is the man who gave us Black Kiss and Satellite Sam, after all), Chaykin is clearly taking aim at modern American politics and of course the terrorist threat that is clearly very real and that, like it or not, affects us all. His sense of sarcasm and twisted humor is on clear display here, as is his penchant for explore perversion in all its many forms and to toy with bloody violence – all the hallmarks of some a lot of his modern, independent work ties into what’s going on here. The issue ends on a cliffhanger, as you’d expect, and it’s kind of clear what’s happening here – but as to why, and where it’ll head? Only Chaykin knows for sure. Regardless of the answer to that question this is compelling stuff, quite twisted but at the same time, in this modern world seemingly not too far removed from the reality we all currently share.

    And then there’s the visual side of things. Alongside Chaykin’s hyper-detailed pencil work and quirk layouts, throughout the sidelines of the book there’s no constant internet, cell phone, texting and radio ‘chatter.’ This is distracting at first, but then, it’s probably meant to be. It does effectively show us how Frank and his ilk must have to obsess over things like this in their jobs but so too does it remind us how obsessed most of us are with tapping into a constant stream of communication, 24/7. Loads of detail here, from the patterns on various clothing to the architecture featured in the book (each featured city looks different from the others, just as it is in the real world). And then of course there are those weird but wholly effective Chaykin style facial features, expressive in their own strange ways and as communicative somehow as the text in the book.

    And if that weren’t enough, there’s a text piece in the back where Chaykin writes about how the ‘liberal center-left narcissism, with a healthy dose of identity politics, lost the game to right wing ignorance and hypocrisy driven rage’ thus inspiring him to create this book in the first place. He then goes on to talk of the cowardice on both sides of the aisle and how this book, conjured up in the spring of 2016, no seems almost cheerful and jovial compared to the reality that we now live in, just a year later. His proposal? Put aside the partisan bullshit and be ‘fucking Americans for fuck’s sake’ because ‘Ignorance and stupidity got us here and we got the government we deserve.’ The guy’s got a point.

    There’s also a text piece called Just One Panel where Ken Bruzenak, Chaykin’s letterer. If you’re familiar with Chaykin’s art you’d probably wager that lettering his stuff is tough work. Here he writes about how and why different word balloon styles are used and how he goes about laying this all out in Photoshop. From there we see Chaykin’s panel as it was presented to him, and then through text and illustration, see how his work shapes the final product we hold in our hands. He also explains how and why he came up with the logo that was chosen and then used on the cover and how it ties into other visual motifs featured throughout the series.