by Ryan Desaulniers and Patrick Ehlers
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Fom ancient grudge break to new mutiny,
Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.
William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet
Ryan D: The Capulets and Montagues. The Hatfields and the McCoys. The Shiite and the Sunni. These famous rivalries span generations, with their common point being that the reason which the fighting began has long since ceased to matter. The conflict now revolves around the most recent slight or atrocity perpetrated by the other side. In the aptly named Days of Hate, writer Ales Kot and artist Danijel Zezelj bring us a speculative world where our current political divide is seen played out to one natural conclusion in which the catalyst has been lost in four long years of partisan turmoil and war.
The creative team accomplishes the world-building swiftly and deftly, starting by opening in the burnt-out husk of a building, a victim of a fire-bombing at the hands of a group which leaves the calling sign of the swastika. In what seems like a very procedural opening of two detectives surveying the scene of a crime, we learn of the state of America by the very fact that the two investigators on scene can’t narrow down this atrocity to one hate group easily. They casually mention a pattern cropping up: a Jewish site of worship attacked, a fire at Skid Row, and this attack on a queer shindig. Now the audience has an idea of what’s going on.
But it isn’t until the interrogation scene that things slide into clear view. Huian Xing, a Chinese-American with a penchant for falconry, finds herself detained by the government, isolated in an austere white room that carries with it the threat of every interrogation scene in pop culture. I confess to be intrigued by Peter Freeman, the man in charge of her interrogation. A white man in a nice suit, sporting white teeth and a glint in his eye, Freeman comes across as self-satisfied, grating, intelligent, and — as the Head Investigator of the Special National Police Unit for the Matters of Domestic Terrorism (really rolls off the tongue) — quite dangerous. Zezelj carries these scenes between Freeman and Xing away from boring talking heads by utilizing a cadre of techniques: silhouette to establish the physical relationship between the two when the scene begins, methodical panel composition as Freeman dominates the discussion, then a mix of point of view shots and extreme close-ups with layered, staccato panels as the expectations become subverted and Xing willingly sides with her captor, dominating the page and the encounter.
I found these scenes to be gripping, and Kot and Zezelj established an incredible amount of tone and world here.
It’s in the interrogation scene that a crucial concept of this issue becomes plain: that of “radicalization.” On one side, we see the Alt-Right (some might say “Nazi”) group at their favorite eatery/bar, toasting by saying “America First” under an emblem of a bald eagle carrying assault rifles in its claws, shrouded in the Stars and Stripes. The other side comes with the far-Left using familiar tactics of domestic terrorism. Even though my gut wants to scream “Dead Nazi!” like I’m playing the Indiana Jones drinking game, Kot makes sure that none of the deaths in this first issue feel gratifying, no matter which side is suffering it.
Because its all skewed. That’s what radicalization does; it distorts someone’s world view so much that they are posessed to commit inhuman acts against whatever they deem as “other”. The cities that Zezelj depicts mirror this distortion. When we first see Los Angeles, it looks vagrant, burdened, and limping. Zezelj achieves this using his thick, charcoal-esque lines and heavy shading, and employing some sort of rectilinear or perspective visual bias. When a bomb is set off towards the end of the issue, Zezelj gives us this:
Here’s where colorist Jordie Bellaire comes in crucially. While the city-scape provided by Zezelj already tells us something, it’s Bellaire’s use of cool blues to accentuate the whites and reds which reminds us that the explosion is just one of many lights shining in this city, with each holding as much potential to be a beacon of simmering or explosive hate as the last.
That’s the landscape in the first issue of Days of Hate 1, and it’s a complicated one. Patrick, there’s a lot going on in here. Do you have any thoughts on how the issue opened, or insight on how the creative team took so many large concepts and wove them all into one issue?
Patrick: I think the most impressive thing about Days of Hate 1 is just how profoundly ugly it is. I had mentioned to Drew after reading the first couple pages that I had a really hard time with Aditya Bidikar’s lettering. The text itself is small, and the truncated space between letters gives every speech balloon and overly crowded feeling. Bidikar’s balloons are also clearly hand-drawn, giving them a lumpy uneven shape. This is occasionally an extremely talky script from Kot, meaning these balloons sometimes take up huge amounts of page real estate.
There’s also something about the way the hand-drawn balloons play against Bellaire’s dynamic use of color that makes these noxious clouds of hateful words seem all the more intrusive. Lest it sound like I’m ragging on Bidikar’s choices, this is maybe the most effective way to underline what Kot and Zezelj are expressing in this issue. Ryan sorta mentioned it above, but it’s not even like we see anyone acting in expressly political or ideological ways in this issue. Sure, there are acts of violence against the opposing group, but it seems like any real consideration for how either side believes society or the government is muted in favor of expressing dominance over the other group. That calls back directly to the name of the series — this is about strong ideological differences between groups, it’s about the hate that spews out of the rhetoric these groups use against each other.
I think the issue itself reveals one of the problems that creates this sort of distorted non-communication. While the investigators are wrapping up their walkthrough of the crime scene in Los Angeles, Amanda catches a glimpse of Xing’s falcon out of the corner of her eye. The bird takes flight and then literally flies across the country.
The falcon finds purchase in upstate New York, having flown over the “fly-over states.” Days of Hate sees its drama playing out in coastal states, so even the more rural or suburban settings are somewhere in New York or the San Fernando Valley. The desolate image I posted above is the only look we get at the 3000 miles of America between Los Angeles and New York City. One scarecrow standing impotently at the edge of a pond, ominous black clouds swallow an otherwise empty sky. This takes the idea of the forgotten middle of the country and make it literal. I’m not sure what the implication is — if there is any — for the actual reality of the series. Has everyone abandoned the messy middle of the country for the expressly aligned coastal cities? Did something happen to the people that lived out here. And DEAR GOD, what happened to the Mars Cheese Castle in Kenosha, Wisconsin? Or are Kot and Zezelj simply illustrating how easily entire swaths of the country are left out of the national dialogue.
Like I said, it’s all very ugly. But, y’know, that’s the point.
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