Wasteland #3 (February, 1988)
Writers – John Ostrander & Del Close
Art – Don Simpson, David Lloyd, & George Freeman
Letters – Steve Craddock & Ron Muns
Colors – Lovern Kindzierski
Edits – Mike Gold
Cover Price: $1.75
Business really picked up with this issue! Rather than relying on navel-gazing, attempts at “satire”, and weird open-ended storytelling… Wasteland #3 (mostly) rocked my socks. Feels like the Ostrander (and Ostrander-heavy) stories are shouldering the burden on dragging this series to an adequate level of quality!
Nothing against Del Close, but… his stories (at least so far) have been rather meandering, way too “ya had to be there”… and, as you’ll see in a bit, don’t so much have “endings”… but instead “stopping points”. Hopefully they’ll get better as we go through!
Before hopping into the hyphens… our cover, which has zippo to do with anything inside the book, comes to us from William Messner-Loebs, and it’s, ya know, not bad.
We open with our Harvey Pekar-alike, Henry Pequod fresh off an appearance on the David Letter
maning Show. He tells the story of how he’s had to leave work a bit early of late… because, for whatever reason, he’s had this overwhelming feeling that his bed was on fire. Okay then. This one time, it’s around 4:15, and he tells a friendly janitor, named Mr. Boot about his fears… to which, he is told that ever since he’s been making these TV appearances, he’s been acting way-out weird.
Anyhoo, Henry heads home to check on his bed… and, unsurprisingly (?), it’s not on-fire.
The story continues… the next time he’d gotten this feeling, it came a little bit earlier in the day. The clock reads 2:45 Once again, Henry runs into Mr. Boot… who tells him that he really likes his comic book “American Squalor”, but feels as though every time he goes on TV, “David Lettering” makes him look like a trained monkey. We’re getting deep here, folks.
Henry, once again, heads home. This time, he finds that his bed… well, it isn’t exactly “on-fire”, but damned if it isn’t smoldering.
The next day, Henry tells Mr. Boot about his smoking bed… to which, the Janitor’s all “what does that prove?” All it proves is that he’s paranoid. At this point, the clock on the wall reads 12:10… and that feeling has hit our man again. He heads home, and well hot-damn, the bed is blazin’!
Another day, another conversation with Mr. Boot. Henry tells him that the bed was full-blown in-flames. Boot asks what might be behind it. Henry suggests spontaneous combustion. Mr. Boot corrects him, claiming that it’s Henry’s own fears manifesting as the inferno.
He then asks what Henry’s greatest fear is… to which, we learn it’s making a fool out of himself on television. Well, how ’bout dat? Boot tells him that he’d already done that… and suggests that he figure out how to not be afraid anymore.
And so, Henry Pequod learned a valuable lesson about fear… and his burning bed. He tells us (or Letter
maning) that he doesn’t go home early anymore… and, in fact, many nights he doesn’t go home at all.
Last time we started a Wasteland, I mentioned the concept of the “No Occasion”. Those personal or secondhand stories and anecdotes you might think you have a reason to share, but at the end of the day, you really don’t. Because, with so many of them, it’s a “you had to be there” situation, ya know what I mean? I took “no occasion” from a line in the song, Tempted by Squeeze: “I said it’s no occasion (it’s no story I could tell)”.
And yeah, this is another one of those. Perhaps not as “inside baseball” as last issue’s opener, since Harvey Pekar/Henry Pequod was a public figure, and many comics enthusiasts know of his life, times, and quirks… and yet, still kind of a disappointment. I feel like we get a lot of build… and the dialogue’s really on-point… but then, it just ends. Actually, it doesn’t even really “end”… it just stops. That’s the problem with anecdotes… very seldom do they have “endings” or resolutions. They just kinda sputter out and stop.
Worth noting, the art here was pretty spot on for an American Splendor riff. We’re going to be seeing plenty of really strong work from Donald Simpson. If you’re familiar with his work, you know it’s pretty great stuff. If not, well, hopefully after our Wasteland journey, you will be.
It’s after-dark in the city… just before 8 PM. A pair of officers prepare for all the “crazies” to come out… and, wouldn’tcha know it, they just happen to run into one of their regulars. This is a (mostly harmless) pickpocket. They do the thing, where they rattle his cage… only this time, dude’s packin’! He pulls a gun on the officers, and gets perforated pretty good.
Before the fella dies, he gurgles something or another about something of a second coming. He claims that, after midnight, only the damned will remain on Earth… and so, he thanks the officers for “saving” him. Ya dig?
Lieutenant (I hate spelling that word!) D’Amano turns to his partner, Stu and asks about all this rapture stuff. Ya see, Stu’s kind of religious… or at the very least, more so than D’Amano. Stu tells him of the second coming… and how there are supposed to be “clear signs” of such a thing coming to pass. Just then… he is struck by a massive coronary. He is pronounced dead at 9:10 PM.
D’Amano is sent home by the doctors, and told to get himself some rest. He declines a ride home, and proceeds to walk… through a rather seedy portion of the city. He happens across a pair of muggers beating the hell out of a fella. D’Amano doesn’t even think about it… he just squeezes off a few rounds down the alley.
He stands over one of the muggers… and asks why they attacked (killed, actually) that man. The mugger says he wanted the dude’s hat… and so, D’Amano blows his brains out!
D’Amano’s walk continues… and, it only gets more depraved from here. We’re about to crank up the “Mature Meter” here… so, here’s your warning.
In the subway, he comes across a man forcing a woman at knife-point to, well, service him… orally. She notices D’Amano and begs him to help her. What he does is… blows her brains out. Ya see, she’s not one of the damned… she deserves to pass before the clock strikes midnight.
Moments later, the clock does strike midnight… and so, Lieutenant D’Amano throws himself in front of a car!
He wakes up hours later… surrounded by Doctors who tell him they saved him! Here’s the thing though… a) he has no arms or legs, and b) the Police Department wants to know all about that dead woman in the subway. Welcome to Hell, pal!
Now this… this, is more like it!
This one kept me riveted throughout…. and actually didn’t fumble the ball with its ending! So many of these Wasteland Chapters have been “almost good”, before getting tackled on the one yard-line.
Let’s take a look at this. We’ve got a pair of officers working the night shift… in a really unpleasant part of the city. You gotta figure this is “old hat”… these two have done this every night for the past many nights. So, what’s so different about this night?
Well, besides the fact that one of ’em dies of a heart attack early in the evening… this night was jump-started via the “power of suggestion”. Lt. D’Amano is hyper-keen on all of the depravity around him. But, why? You gotta assume that this night, on the face of it, is no different from any other night on the beat. There are always going to be bad people… ne’er do wells, creeps, killers, predators, perverts. But tonight… with the slightest possibility of a “second coming” looming, D’Amano seems to be viewing the world through a different sort of prism.
He doesn’t bother arresting anybody… he just kills ’em. Is he just hopeless? Or is he trying to make himself into a “good person” so he doesn’t wind up “left behind” in the post-midnight Hell on Earth? It’s a pretty interesting dichotomy, innit? His “mercy-killing” of the assaulted woman was particularly striking… I actually had to look it over twice to make sure I was seeing it right! I really wasn’t expecting that!
Poor D’Amano winds up, for all his trouble, limbless… and likely about to be incarcerated. I guess no good deed goes unpunished… orrrr, he just overreacted to the passing of his partner, and let the ramblings of a lunatic skew his view… and now he’s paying for it. A wonderfully creepy story. More like this, please!
We open on a… murder scene? For a moment, I was positive this was going to be revealed as being a scene in a play or some sort of new age performance, but… nope! It’s an actual moider! Our “star”, a blonde man in glasses, sits nude among the quartet of corpses he just “facilitated”, and he’s feeling a bit philosophical. He talks about the feeling that comes with committing such an act… the feeling, of love? He cradles and thanks his latest victim, before closing her eyes one final time.
He proceeds to get up and wash some of the death off of him. He takes a shower in his victims’ home. When finished, he pretties himself up before the bathroom mirror… and takes note of the now-dead family’s toothbrushes. He picks up the one belonging to the little boy, and admires it. He reveals that he knew these people… which makes the scene all the more creepily intimate.
He gets dressed, and bids his victims adieu. On the front stoop, he is greeted by the family cat… and thinks to himself, had the family owned a dog instead, he would have had to kill it too.
We follow our killer to the train station. There, on the platform, a woman in a fur coat catches his attention.
On the train, he watches her… he thinks about everything that might be going on in her life. He is absolutely lost in his thoughts about this woman. She eventually exits the train… and so, our man does too.
He follows her through the terminal, thinking to himself that… one day, he’ll be caught. The Police will catch up with him. He just can’t help himself though. He continues on his way, taking note of many of the familiar faces he sees. He wonders about them. He sees these people all the time, but feels no connection to anybody. His thoughts come back to the connectedness one might feel when they take the life of another. Quoting the criminal/writer, (Jack) Henry Abbott, from his book In the Belly of the Beast, he compares the “union” a killer has with his victim as more intimate than sex. Our man buys a single rose at a flower stand.
His thoughts roll on. He wants this intimate union… with another warm body, but first… he wants to know everything about her. He compares this “relationship” to the lotus blossom… and we close out with him handing that rose over to a woman (possibly the same one from the train, if she’s ditched her fur coat), who happily takes it.
Here we go! This issue sure picked up with it’s second and third stories! This is the kind of envelope-pushing I was hoping for with Wasteland… the kind of stories I could’ve sworn I liked so much my first time through the series! This brought the exact level of discomfort that I assumed would be with us throughout this little journey.
Now, in a post-Dexter world, a story like this might feel a bit contrived. Though, I feel like back in ye old 1988, attempts at romanticizing serial murder were probably a bit more novel. This story hits only a couple of years after Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer (1986), which drew its inspiration (in part) from the killing spree of Henry Lee Lucas of the late-70’s/early-80’s.
Here, our unnamed assailant shares his skewed views on murder with us. Whereas normal people might view things like love-making and committing as the “peak” of a relationship… our man feels quite a bit differently. The act of committing murder is fetishized, it’s the absolute closest he can be with another human. In the most twisted of ways, I mean, I’m not equipped or qualified to argue that. He’s literally ending people. In the open, we see the weird euphoria the act brings him… he actually thanks his victims. It’s very weird… very uncomfortable. You feel kinda dirty even just analyzing it.
His methodical stalking and plotting is very hard to watch. He’s also portrayed as something of a charming fellow. Things like this might make you question just about anyone who crosses your path… and that might just be the point of it all. Really… can’t say enough good about this one. It’s not often I feel “creeped out” in reading, but this one brought all the cringes (the good kind of cringes).
Our man quotes a noted prisoner-author, Jack Abbott. Now, Abbott might not be the sort of fella you wanna adopt your sensibilities from. He was a real person… and, a real interesting case. He’d been arrested for something or another, and while in prison, he killed a fellow inmate. He began a correspondence with, of all people, Norman Mailer… and In the Belly of the Beast was born out of these missives. Mailer even wrote the foreword to the book!
Check this out though, Abbott was eventually paroled (due, in part, to a whole lot of lobbying). One month later, he killed again! Abbott wrote another book in the clink before eventually committed suicide. So yeah, probably not a dude to model one’s life after.
Overall… I feel like Wasteland #3 knocked it out of the park with it’s latter two chapters. This one’s worth a look!