This is from memory.
…So this friend of mine was heavy into Alien Legion, and basically lent me the whole run. This was in the days when I smoked a lot of hash and stayed up all night reading comics in my parents’ weirdly-yellow basement.
He got me just at the right time.
Could it be an Archaia publication today? Hmm, maybe…it certainly rides the knife-edge of randomly ripped-off crap, and awkwardly-involving true-ringing overwrought emotion. It could be an amazing Verhoeven movie. It could be Chris Claremont’s younger brother writing the story in a basement somewhere, in the middle of the night, close to an stove with knives stuck into it that his friends figured out how to plug in without his parents knowing. It may be the most awesome outpouring of pure adolescent emotion onto a comics page I’ve ever witnessed, and I neither say that lightly, nor mean it harshly. Comics for kids? I’ve gotcher comics for kids right here: and it merits the very strange name of not as sophisticated as Dreadstar…
I only read it the one time. But I thought it was quite remarkable, and now it seems to me like such a fabulous thing of its time that even if I hadn’t found myself loving it when I read it, I’d love it now for just how crazily Eighties it was. When the mainstream American comic-book factory had just graduated from high school, but had not yet managed to find the real job its Dad was always bugging it about getting. So it all becomes just a chemical-soaked daisy-chain of bad parties and puking, and you lost that girl’s number, and everything is just so important, and slowly but surely you’re fucking up, you’re losing your hold on the rope, you’re breaking through from the Sixties to the Seventies against your will, you’re moving uncomfortably and perhaps somewhat unwillingly from acid rock to prog-rock because you are the emblem of a generation of slightly-paranoid ex-cliquoids who’ve just figured out that all your old dearly-held fascinations have run out like the sand in the hourglass, like the Days Of Your Lives…
And lucky you, you’re the grains of sand themselves.
And this is the escape from that. We turn from the bad breakup or the shitty family situation or the inability of other people to understand (which is, in other words, our own inability to fit in or figure out), and concoct a marvellously bourgeois dream ornamented with pastiches of Gunga Din, The Magnificent Seven, Have Space Suit Will Travel, Alien, the X-Men, and The Breakfast Club. Oh, how we tend to unconsciously fetishize our own experiences, when we’re young! We don’t even know we’re doing it. We haven’t really learned what the benefit of experience is, yet, because we haven’t had enough of it to experience it as experience. You may recall, as I do, the romantic and anomic days of feeling cut loose from everything, unsupported by anything, the days of working without a net…you may look back on the days when you lived in that trailer or slept in that car or suffered below that window or rooted through garbage cans in that alley…or just, let’s be frank, worked at that crappy photocopy place but it felt the same anyway…and still think of it as a good twenty percent counted towards your total grade of Experience…
But likely it was only six months, an evanescent time, and in fact you’ve forgotten most of it, forgotten the slightly-crazy passion and the rage, the door-busting urgency that drove your weird and wild and inchoate behaviours…
…Even forgotten what that girl looked like: your missed opportunity.
Maybe even forgotten the kind cool strangers who picked you up and set you back on your feet afterwards. And then for two months you live in an abandoned driftwood shack on the mud-flats, collecting oysters and sighing, guzzling somebody else’s whiskey in that fast hot westerly wind. One night you take your watch off your wrist and throw it down on the crappy barnacled planks and stomp on it, and scream…and then the next day you’re mysteriously gone, and they all wonder what the hell happened to you, you just took off, hell they never even knew your real name.
And maybe they’re still back there. Still wondering. Still the same.
But it doesn’t matter, because you’ve long since picked out, unknitted, that piece of memory’s thread. And you don’t remember that’s ever who you were.
Which is normal: because it’s normal (at least in this general time and place) to find yourself relying on strangers, on new people, once in a while…and then when you get yourself back on your feet, you forget all about that essential BREAK.
A good way to remember it again, though: read turgid, romantic, tough, misbegotten and peculiarly loveable Alien Legion. Escapist literature, never has SF book or mainstream comic been so accurately named, unless it was some Lois McMaster Bujold book, look let me tell you: this is where romance and SF and comics first truly crossed over, and it is awful. Awful enough, I hope and pray, that its creators made some good money from it…I couldn’t give them enough money to repay them for the way they brilliantly articulated the concerns of my stupid, adolescent, hash-addled mind…and then comforted it with pretty martial lies. Your group’s deserted you? Hey, man, don’t join the army…
Read this instead.
This is from memory. I remember the art being great, fully anticipating “momentism” and “F@#K YEAH!” and “OH GOD NOW LOOK IT JUST SUDDENLY GOT QUIET AROUND HERE, HO-LEE…!” Primitively consensual reactions, all. Hey, if I’d had a different dislocated-me diary to read, I would’ve read it. Well, and I guess I did; but I read this too. Because there was something guiltily grabby about it, honestly.
Once when I was in school, I stumbled across an excellent citation for a dumbass paper I was writing. This is true. There was a psychologist who prescribed her depressive patients a steady diet of soap operas. Maybe that sounds a bit nuts? And yet the depressed brain very often craves a sinking into thoughtless routine, a chance to rest…this is what many drugs give us, the chance to rest. This is the whole purpose of certain drugs, to relieve tension, and let the brain heal and cool down.
Soap operas, this shrink maintained, do much the same thing, except they’re not physically addictive. And they have other, more sideways benefits: the most important of which is that even a depressed person gets up for their “stories”…and this all by itself provides some structure to a life dangerously lacking in it, or at least dangerously lacking in structure it can comfortably take into itself and accept. Then, also, there is the phenomenon of people talking back to the screen — “Don’t do it, Katy! Can’t you see he’s only after your money…?!”
Why do people do this?
My thesis: because by so doing they heighten the impact of the bogus face-to-face relationship they’re enjoying with the characters onscreen. They don’t think the characters can actually hear them…! They’re not crazy…!
…But instead they are rationally pursuing a need for human contact that they find difficult to manage in the real world. Through no fault of their own, and not for want of trying.
And such should perhaps give us pause, genre fans…
…But we’re not done yet.
Because to enjoy bogus face-to-face relationships with soap opera characters not only expands your circle of social interactions (though the weighting is like Canadian Tire dollars, each seeming bill is worth perhaps a sixth of a penny — but just get enough of them…!), but also adapts you to the idea of winning through to the other side of emotional pain. I mean, just look at what these characters go through: Johnny no sooner finds out that his wife’s really his sister, than he’s struck down by a bolt of lightning, then he gets amnesia, then when they take the bandages off he’s a whole different person, who even looks different! Parents with young children send them off to the daycare one afternoon, get them home at the age of twenty from college that evening, and they’re eyeing you with suspicious sexiness. And maybe there is no boat so pretty that it can’t deny the current of the river? Meanwhile the husband you adored yesterday disappears from the marriage bed…only to show up a week later as an eyepatch-sporting destroyer you must warn your father-in-law about, if he would only listen, just freakin’ listen for one second…!
So Kafka and Philip K. Dick and every Hitchcock movie ever made, they’re all here. Logan’s Run is here. Hell is here.
And yet, more often than not, the most identifiable characters triumph over these mindbending odds…and even if they don’t, they still manage to go down to Tony’s Cafe every day and shoot the breeze with their friends. They don’t get deserted, and they’re never alone. Sometimes they may think they’re alone, but that feeling never lasts. They’re back at Duke’s Club by the end of the week, where he promises them he’ll never let anything happen to them or little Anna…
…And so you see…if you watch these things, if you identify with these characters…
…Then, no: you won’t be able to handle a truly slippy psychologically-nightmarish landscape as cavalierly as they do…
…But if you’re just depressed…if that’s your problem…
…Then maybe you’ll be able to follow their example enough to make it to the store and buy a carton of milk, without solidly freaking ten ways from Har Megiddo. French researchers claim that “happiness” consists in eighteen semi-regular interactions with other human beings that are successful. Wave at the guy walking his dog at the same time you walk yours: that’s successful, and that’s social. Nothing went wrong, and you get to own that. You made that “nothing-went-wrong”.
Well, it beats a narcotic dependency.
Which brings us back to Alien Legion.
A story in which — like all stories that glamourize the Total Institution — all social interactions are successful ones, because the ones that are unsuccessful are the ones you turn the zap-guns on. Willy-nilly. Mind you this glamour is as hard to do here, as it is in The Naked And The Dead…unconscious consequences are everywhere, for every action. Everyone’s blind, or bleeding, and eventually every log on the river gets lifted by a surge, and carried downstream. Actually if you want to know what I think, I think Norman Mailer must’ve been plenty pissed when Catch-22 came out…it’s so much better, so much cleverer. However there are things in The Naked And The Dead which Catch-22, for all its enormous virtues, can’t touch.
And those would be the deaths.
There’s hundreds of them.
Christ, I sound like Christian Slater in “Pump Up The Volume” all of a sudden, I think.
Fast wind blowing tonight. Dust from the Eastern side of the world.
We hardly ever get that.
And so my song is concluded.
Don’t know if I’ve done a good job of convincing you to read Alien Legion, though. Well, hell.
What I mean is, the Eighties…those were a time, like any time, when the future seemed pretty ripe. But as time goes on, it seems, future falls from the tree; is harvested. Turned into pie or cider, or crushed underfoot. There will probably never be another comic as naive as Alien Legion. Those days may be gone for good.
Like sand through the hourglass…