Other Lives

Other Lives  by Peter Bagge.
Today I'm going to follow my review of The Guild by looking into another book that ostensibly examines the World Wide Web from a different perspective.

Peter Bagge isn't a creator I've had a lot of exposure to in the past, as his landmark series Hate was already winding down when I became aware of it. Finding copies of back issues was impossible. And to be honest, at the time I wasn't very interested in following a series set in Buddy Bradley's particular milieu. Bagge's latest effort published by DC was thus an opportunity to read more long-form work from him.

What's always been fascinating to me about Bagge is a visual style that sets him apart from other comics creators. His characters grotesque faces and elastic bodies suggest a world populated by buffoons behaving in ways that can only lead to an inevitable reckoning. It's Pieter Bruegel meets Bob Clampett via Robert Crumb. In a world of print that perpetuates slick, interchangeable, art styles, a Bagge cartoon or illustration bears a strong individual mark and moral world view.

Other Lives is the kind of comic story that compliments Bagge's art. It's about a quartet of people who lead double lives. There's Javy, a successful computer programmer bought low by his obsession with conspiracies. He makes dubious claims about being a government secret agent. His onetime college acquaintance Vlad, preferring to go by the name Vader, is a journalist paralyzed by self-recrimination while in denial about his family/ethnic background. Their mutual friend Woodrow is constantly lying about his marital state and addiction to gambling. Then there's Vader's otherwise devoted fiancee Ivy who indulges in virtual sex within the comic's stand-in for - the obviously named Second World (The story takes place in 2003 - the year of the launch of Second Life).

None of the characters are very likable. But they are oddly compelling. Their less than honest behavior and private obsessions push them on a downward spiral that's bound to end not so well. But all the same, they are imbued with a lot of personality and portrayed with just enough self-awareness to earn some sympathy. The dialogue sparkles when they inevitably clash: Vader's skepticism leans against Javy's paranoia; Ivy's frustrated loyalty responds to Vader's dithering. And then there's the way in which Ivy and Woodrow communicate when online while still failing to understand each other.

Other Lives  by Peter Bagge.

Where the book stumbles is in the treatment of its theme. The denouement suggests that the web facilitates the creation of fluid multiple identities that confuse the boundaries between the physical and the virtual. It's an idea that's been stated before in science fiction. But Bagge doesn't nurture it sufficiently within the confines of Other Lives. It doesn't help that the story's violent climax falls flat and is incongruent with the satirical content of the rest of the book.

It also doesn't help that the book's version of the internet is already outdated. On one hand it views the internet as just a more convenient way to indulge in human vices such as fear, hate, lust and greed (To quote the lines from the Broadway musical: "The internet is for porn"). And on the other hand it simply rehashes old ideas about the internet as a metaverse populated by avatars representing actual individuals - hence the emphasis on Second World as the ultimate expression of inappropriate online behavior. Otherwise, it's a facsimile devoid of any significant social component. As such, Other Lives feels a decade out of step and written by a visible outsider looking in.

Other Lives  by Peter Bagge.

For all these quibbles, Other Lives demonstrates that Bagge is a formidable talent that can't be ignored by the comics enthusiast. Maybe I should look into his back catalog.