Friday, March 23, 2007

Book Review: "Wild Palms"

Wild Palms (1993) is a fever dream of a graphic novel: a chimera comprised of Bruce Wagner’s words and Julian Allen’s art. Cyberpunk is the obvious pigeonhole, but that might give the wrong impression. The 1990s saw a proliferation of cyberkaka by hack writers who didn’t get it. This graphic novel is up there with the best of Gibson, Shirley, Rucker, Cadigan, Sterling, et al. It’s like the best because it’s not like them. It’s sui generis, not an imitation cashing in. (If anything, the closest comparisons are the pre-CP nightmares of William Burroughs and J.G. Ballard.) Wagner’s text is a broken mirror of fractured observations; Allen’s illustrations have the razor-sharp crystal clarity induced by certain central nervous system stimulants, or so I am told. The story unfolds (or folds into itself) in a near-future L.A., just as star-humping, name-dropping, image-obsessed and materialist as ever, but now the battleground of a shadow war between the Fathers (aka Scientology clones) and the Friends (non-ideological hipsters just like you!). As fever dreams go, it’s right up there with the best. Wagner’s TV series had some killer moments, but lost some of the bright/dark magic—with a phony/happy resolution imposed by fearful TV execs. (Twin Peaks had taught them a new commandment: “Thou shalt not piss off hordes of viewers with an ambiguous ending.”) Wagner and Allen’s take-no-prisoners nightmare was born as a one-page serial comic in Details magazine, was briefly compiled and published as a graphic novel, and sank like a stone. It’s been out of print for ages; an old copy costs a serious chunk of change. Damn shame.

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