By Patrick Larose
Something tells me that when Bonnie Parker and Clyde Barrow were robbing hardware stores in East Texas, they weren’t doing it because it’d make a good story. Likewise, when Charlie Starkweather and Caril Fugate were torturing industrialists in Lincoln, Nebraska, they didn’t do it so in the early ‘90s people would make a couple counter-cultural films about them.
I don’t think anyone can predict what particular points in history embed themselves in our artistic culture. What makes us choose Jack the Ripper over Richard Dadd as a vehicle for our fictional archetypes.
Regardless of the reason, few historical-based archetypes have hung around for as long or as often as the star-crossed lovers on a crime spree. Something about an intense passion turned outwards into a traveling violence—from Bonnie & Clyde to Natural Born Killers or Grant Morrison’s Kill Your Boyfriend, they’re stories that sweep the mediums like a roving pack of killers.
Violent Love is a new comic that tries to tell one of these stories. Another story about two young kids embracing violence and crime as they drive cross-country across the pastoral planes of America. This one follows a girl named Daisy in a faux true crime story set in the 50s. Daisy’s frustrated with her small town existence and frustrated with the forced passivity she has to endure as the men around her harass and decide what’s best.
The second half of the promised crime couple is notably absent in this first issue but what this chapter opts to do instead is introduce us to Daisy’s relationship with violence—perhaps ironically as a thing she outright rejects as her father falls in with the local mob.
Violent Love does something strange with this archetypal narrative. Rather than opt for a fully modern reinvention of the classic crime narrative, it embraces a type of nostalgia. Even the series’ name draws from the pulp romance anthology comics of pre-Comics Code era and you can trace these elements in Violent Love from the period setting to the thick line work and thoughtfully saturated colors.
This is a comic that invokes an era of fiction driven by clumsy coincidentality and thick-clubbed morality—a thing calling back to an era of fear-mongering and moralizing that in retrospect has become a great source of camp.
Typically when modern comic embraces this particular camp era of romance and crime comics, there’s a self-awareness to it—a need to reinvent those moralistic stories of the past that challenge those past societal standards. Violent Love takes a swerve here. Rather than using those past trappings as a cloak to fill with a jabbed attack to those genres, this comic takes them and fills them with balanced and modern characters that stick out from its framing device and style.
The end result is, quite frankly, a little boring. The experience almost like hearing the opening sounds to “Ice, Ice, Baby,” and believing it's really “Under Pressure” only to be greeted with something far less interesting and engaging.
As a single issue experience, this comic was underwhelming but I’m hesitant to say bad. Largely because this issue ends before its two central characters even really meet and before even starting its needed conversation about violence. The issue begins with us already knowing Daisy will be a wanted criminal but by the end here she’s still only a college kid.
I don’t think a slow burning pace weighed by dramatic irony would harm the first issue if it was just a little more different. The story, after all, exists within a realm of reference. Violent Love cannot escape comparisons with Arthur Penn’s Bonnie & Clyde or Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers. With each different presentation of the same underlying narrative through-line, there’s a silence demand of “Well what do you got?”
Natural Born Killers was like a dark Looney Toon’s cartoon of 90s angst, Badlands’ a pastoral and foreboding landscape and Elephant a humanistic if dark modernization. The best of these stories make a case for themselves. These are narratives we enter already knowing the beginning, middle and end and it’s the spaces in-between that need to be mined for valuables. I kept looking at the edges and gutters of Violent Love for something else. I saw nods towards stories like True Romance and Badlands but rather than seeing a story that makes use of this shared cultural knowledge, I find something that I’ve already heard before.
Judging a serialized story by its first chapter, however, is like judging a movie by its first twenty minutes. While those minutes and moments are still valuable to understanding the worth of a piece, I’m at a loss in understanding the conversation it wants to have with me.
When I think about the classic Bonnie and Clyde narrative and why it appeals to us, I know in part it’s a story that stuck out of fear. Fear that these two normal-looking, young kids could pull up in their car into Anywhere, USA and load you full of bullets. No warning signs. Just two kids that look like anyone else and manifest themselves as the result of an unseen moral corruption.
Yet another part of me wants to believe it’s because at their centers is a type of love. They’re horror stories and parables about a love, an emotion we’ve all experienced and chased after, yet here exists as an intense black hole consuming everything in its path.
Love, for all its romanticized invincibility, is often an equally destructive force. Love ties us up and tortures us with a thousand knives, convinces us to do stupid and hurtful things and often traps us in places we should never be. So what happens when we push that live a little harder? How long will a fire last until it burns itself out and at the center of those intense flames, what transcendence will we see?
Violent Love #1
Writer: Frank J. Barbierre
Artist: Victor Santos
Publisher: Image Comics
Format: On-going; Print/Digital