By Patrick Ehlers and Drew Baumgartner
This article contains SPOILERS. If you haven’t read the issue yet, proceed at your own risk!
Patrick: Aleš Kot and Danijel Žeželj’s Days of Hate is the story of a future chillingly extrapolated from our social and political present. It’s an authoritarian hellscape where liberal and conservative are less policy preferences and more tribal banners. Ideologies are buried under the methodologies of success. Our characters are tools of either the regime or the revolution, so it’s tempting to say that their motivations are obvious: do whatever it takes so their side wins. But… that’s incomplete. People are more than just their beliefs — they are also the places and people they love. Days of Hate 4 shows how love anchors our heroes, but it also shows how it puts them in very serious danger of drowning.
It’s a surprisingly domestic issue of Days of Hate, as both Huian and Arvid head home to visit their families. Žeželj’s artwork is usually impressively ugly, perfectly embodying the themes of this series, but this issue finds him in a much more poetic mood. Zezelj frequently drops his camera to the floor and zooms way out in this issue, showing the fullness of the beauty of the twin settings for this issue: Huian’s house in upstate New York and Arvid’s home in Kansas City, Missouri. It’s stunning stuff, evoking a kind of used-urbanity, and drawing beauty from decrepitude.
This may be me responding to some very specific imagery from my own childhood, but the view from the highway of a midwestern town clearly on the wrong side of an economic boom hits me square in the nostalgia centers of my brain. That’s home for me. A place that’s sad, ugly, and beautiful at the same time.
These are the settings that Arvid and Huian have to confront their currently relationships with the people they love. Huian kicks off the issue with a damn charming interaction with her father. He wants to cook for her, and Huian suspects that her mother is “giving [him] a hard time again.” Of course, Huian doesn’t get to rest in this family dynamic — Freeman and his goons are on the scene before she is. Žeželj borrows that same camera trick he uses for these hometown portraits, but tweaks it just enough to warp it into a Vertigo-esque dolly zoom.
The perspective is just wonky enough to really throw the reader off at Freeman’s presence. Whatever comfort of home has been totally fucked by this dude being there.
And of course, Freeman’s got everyone’s number. He knows how to prick at everyone’s insecurities, including Mr. Xing’s work-in-progress novel and the precarious nature of his social media presence. The rhythms of the Xings’ lives are totally thrown out of wack… or… are they? Huian makes a comment later in the issue that her mother never approved of Amanda, not because she was radical, but because she was a woman. All Freeman needed to do was continue asking questions and he’s able to go from attacking the things that Huian loves, to letting those same things attack her on their own.
Kot and Zezelj don’t let us get quite so close to Arvid and his family. In fact, most of that side of the story is told without copy, and with the characters keeping a responsible distance from each other. The final pages of the issue give us all three characters wrestling with their relationships, and deciding which of them they can give up.
Huian, motivated by self-preservation, gives up Amanda’s location. Žeželj returns to a familiar establishing shot of the Xing household, camera once again slung low. But now, instead of the warm light of the late afternoon, the house is bathed in darkness. Home, family and love have been fully perverted to work against her.
Drew! I know it’s not Kot’s job to make me feel good, but goddamn, did he make me sad with this one.
Drew: Sad on every level, no less. You already did a great job at digging into what makes these events so difficult for our characters, so I’m instead going to try to tease out some of the less personal themes this issue is steeped in. I’m particularly interested in the title of this issue, “The Administration of Fear.” That’s actually a reference to an interview with philosopher Paul Virilio by the same name — I haven’t read that interview, but even without catching the reference, the double meaning is clear enough. Freeman is at the Xing household to administer fear; to silently threaten Huian’s family in hopes of getting what he wants out of her.
“Silent” isn’t exactly the right word for it. Freeman makes his threat increasingly clear, though always with just a light enough touch to maintain plausible deniability. His presence at her family home is an obvious one, which he explains away as being in town for a conference. His entourage of goons is another, which he claims to only recognize as intimidating in hindsight, though he articulates it so perfectly, it’s hard to imagine it as anything other than intentional. Kot and Žeželj cleverly smash these explanations together in this menacing soliloquy, accompanied by an ambiguously sincere/threatening sliced up image of Freeman’s face:
That “Have I scared you?” is particularly insidious — he obviously has (very intentionally), but admitting so would grant him the satisfaction of knowing that it worked, and would admit that he has power over them in this situation. So instead, the Xings are forced to play along with Freeman’s lie that he didn’t mean to threaten them at all.
Freeman pulls a similar move when he name-checks Krzysztof Penderecki’s Threnody for the Victims of Hiroshima, hinting that the Xing’s might hold some sympathy for the victims of American military action. He also seems to lump this very obviously Chinese-American family in with the Japanese, offering that obviously shoehorned-in “joke” about internment as an assertion of his power over Asians in general. He’s administering fear in any and every way that he can, and the message is read loud and clear, even if everyone has to pretend like it isn’t.
But “The Administration of Fear” can also refer to the political climate, as well. Or specifically, that those in power form an administration run on fear. Freeman uses that administration as a kind of ghostly bad cop to his good cop when he offers to protect Huian (and her family) in exchange for information. And this is the part that feels most heartbreakingly real to me (that is, above and beyond the decidedly human motivations Patrick already covered): that various government agencies are so feared that the specter of them serves as a bad cop to any individual agent’s good cop. That is, an ICE agent or IRS officer’s greatest tools might lie in offering to protect individuals from the boogeymen of the very organizations they represent. In that way, we’re already living under an administration of fear.
And, of course, those two interpretations of the title aren’t exactly mutually independent. That Freeman can slip into the good cop role after so clearly (however indirectly) threatening Huian’s family could lead to some cognitive dissonance if anyone trusted him in the first place. But of course, nobody does. He and his administration represent a rock and a hard place, respectively, leaving Huian to chose between the freedom of her family and that of her estranged ex-wife.
Though, maybe Huian and Amanda aren’t so estranged, after all? Arvid and Amanda talk about a third person involved in their plan — a person Arvid hasn’t met, but that Amanda trusts implicitly. I’ve suspected for a while that Huian might be collaborating with Amanda, and that her conversations with Freeman might be either an intentional smokescreen, or at least the best she can improvise in the moment. This issue suggests that maybe she was, but only reveals that just in time for Huian to turn Amanda and Arvid in. Or, at least, that’s what it looks like at the moment. Huian could still throw Freeman off the trail, or give him information slightly too late to actually do anything, but this issue goes a long way to demonstrating how Freeman might have gotten her to flip. It’s heartbreaking, for sure, but with Freeman working both angles on the administration of fear, Huian really didn’t have a choice.
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