Today, Patrick and Michael are discussing American Monster 6, originally released May 17, 2017. As always, this article containers SPOILERS. Maybe-not-as-always this article contains some NSFW images.
Patrick: Do you remember that day in elementary school when they split the class between boys and girls and tried to teach sex ed? I want to say it was 4th or 5th grade. It was a cursory look at the subject, content to cover some of the basic vocabulary and just get the kids past the point where they would giggle at every mention of the word penis. At the time, I thought it was a worthless exercise, but I’m starting to think it may have been counter-productive. By separating the genders, the teachers were sending the message that all this sex and body talk was somehow secretive. The boys weren’t being taught how to talk to girls about what was happening in their bodies, and whatever was happening in the girls’ bodies remained a total mystery to the boys. And vice versa. Sex is complicated, and it can have huge, everlasting effects on someone’s life, but we insist on a prudish secrecy around it nonetheless. American Monster 6 pushes its characters around on a carousel of sexual ignorance, misunderstanding and shame.
Let’s start with the most graphic example in the issue, which comes — as it usually does — from Mont. As the gigantic red titan, he’s a candidate for least ignorable character in town. Two cops in the diner identify Mont as “the dude impossible not to see,” so it makes sense that writer Brian Azzarello would use him as one of the more spectacular examples of this theme. Poor Mont sustained unthinkable injuries in the war (either Iraq or Afghanistan — the characters are appropriately flippant about the difference between the conflicts), and no longer has his genitals. His quest for physical intimacy has lead him to getting women to peg him with a strap-on, citing “any port in a storm.”
Mont is shockingly open with the diner owner, but only once she’s in his motel room. Artist Juan Doe always draws the character as large and impossibly broad-shouldered, and this scene is no different. In fact, both Azzarello and Doe are demonstrating control and expertise in this scene — check out Doe’s masterful acting and Azzarello’s evocative, yet colloquial, writing.
This might be a secret that Mont saves for the bedroom, but he’s able to maintain a position of strength and control even while opening up. That’s the advantage he has being who he is — a physically strong man. The outside world may have consequences on his sex life, but not the other way ’round.
The contrasting point is Snow. At the end of the previous arc, she had sex with Dante at one of Candy’s parties and now she’s pregnant. That revelation is introduced to the reader wordlessly, as Doe plays on the loaded images of Snow crying alone on the bathroom floor, and an ominous blue plus sign on a pregnancy test. Neither Dante nor Snow get to articulate themselves — their fears, their frustrations, their regrets — as elegantly as Mont talks about his sexual needs. This is the reverse: sex is having consequences on the rest of their lives, and they are not in control of those consequences. Their confrontation is also presented wordlessly, and even Doe appears to be giving up on them.
The size of the panels get smaller and smaller and Doe’s attention to detail shrinks proportionately. By those final panels, any detail and contour have all but vanished. The colors are flat, and shape and lighting effects are essentially turned off. Compare that to Mont’s scene above — where the artistic team demonstrates mastery for Mont, they all but abandon Snow, just like Dante does.
There is one thing that Mont’s scene is missing: the actual sex. That honor is reserved for Reverend Jimmy and Sin.N.N reporter Lucy. Their sex is consequence free — the Reverend’s anti-government rant still plays undisturbed in the background while they’re fucking. Jimmy maintains his dignity, his opportunities and even the moral high ground (at least, as he sees it). Dutifully, Doe shows everything.
It’s all laid out there — dicks and tits and thrusts and grunts. No innuendo, no shame, no consequences.
Oh boy, Michael, there’s so much going on in this issue. In additional to all the sexual baggage these characters are carrying around, there’s a disembodied hand with the fingertips removed buried in a shallow grave! Of course, that arm is discovered by a couple than can’t seem to make their relationship work by conventional means (the dude suggests an open relationship), so maybe this sexual confusion, ignorance and frustration is to blame for everything in American Monster, huh?
Michael: Disposing a body is a tricky business these days, and if pop culture has taught me anything, it’s that you have to bury the body parts in different spots — specifically the identifiers like fingers, toes and heads. We don’t really have a whole lot of context for this fingerless arm, but it’s a safe bet to say that it has to do with Mont and or “Fucking Felix.”
Patrick already illustrated how Azzarello and Doe explore the various nuances of the sex lives depicted in American Monster 6, but for me, it all boils down to control. Let’s take that first couple for instance: Ann and Jerry. Azzarello doesn’t give us specifics of where their relationship went wrong — nor does he need to — we can tell that it’s a relationship that Jerry is trying to keep together while Ann wants to move on.
Jerry is willing to do anything within his power to hold onto their relationship, even change himself. He’s desperately trying to control the situation when it’s clear that Ann is the one who has all of the power. Given the way they talk about Ann pushing Jerry into therapy — and their overall interaction — it’s likely that Ann has always been the dominant one in the relationship.
Expressing dominance and submissiveness isn’t exclusive to S&M, its present in all sexual relationships. Being on top or being on the bottom, giving or receiving, instructing or listening — it’s a give and take/balance of power situation. Later in the issue, Snow walks in on Dante having sex with Bonnie. Dante didn’t intend for Snow to see that, but the fact that she did puts the power in Dante’s court. Snow is emotionally vulnerable and scared of her pregnancy and Dante indirectly negated all of her feelings by sleeping with someone else.
Reverend Jimmy and Lucy’s bone session is practically all about dominance. Jimmy is so full of himself that he has the interview that Lucy taped on in the background. Add to that the fact that he practically refers to himself as Jesus Christ, referring to sex with him as something worthy of singing God’s praises. It’s possible that Lucy enjoyed the sex as much as she’s letting on, but either way she’s totally stroking Jimmy’s ego and letting him be the one in control.
Then we have our gigantic red dickless titan Mont, who has a curious case of sexual dominance and role-reversal. By giving the strap-on to the diner owner he’s giving her the dominant role — she’ll be giving and he’ll be receiving. Then again, she’s still indulging his pleasures so does that make him the dominant one, even though she’s doing the pegging? We don’t have any indication of whether or not Mont is going to return the favor so there’s no way to judge if this is a one-way street scenario.
Finally, I’ll touch on the subject of the two feds in the diner. Are we to believe that these are the two feds who have Hyman wired for sound in a motel room? And did anyone else notice that the rug in the motel room has the exact same mesmerizing pattern as the floors in the hotel in The Shining?
I’m trying to divine some meaning from that, but nothing really overlaps thematically between The Shining and American Monster at the top of my mind.
Regardless, I found the two feds to be an odd, amusing part of the book that stood out. They’re like Jay and Silent Bob or a Greek Chorus — commenting on the plot of the story around them. They have insight into some things such as “Fuckin Felix” but don’t know others such as who Mont is.
There’s a goofy commentary going on in their conversation: talking about protesting “The Pipeline” and whether or not their personal politics interfere with their 24/7 government jobs. It was a strange, yet fun breath of fresh air amidst all of the thrusting in American Monster 6.