Wasteland #4 (1988)

Wasteland #4 (March, 1988)
“Sonnet LXVI”
Writers – John Ostrander & Del Close
Art – George Freeman, William Messner-Loebs, & Donald Simpson
Letters – Ron Muns & William Messner-Loebs
Colors – Lovern Kindzierski
Edits – Mike Gold
Cover Price: $1.75

On the Eve of my FIFTEEN-HUNDREDTH DAILY DISCUSSION… we’ve got a Wasteland compilation piece…

Now, reading Wasteland is kinda like playing a slot machine.  Sometimes, we get three cherries… sometimes, just one… or heaven help us, none!  Today, using slot-machine-imagery (and a panel from this very issue), I’d say today we’re in for:

Sound like fun?  Of course it doesn’t… please don’t leave though!  I promise, that second story is pretty darn good!

We open with a writer… I’m assuming he’s a writer, tik’ing away on his typewriter.  He’s a slovenly fellow, even has a tipped over and spilled bottle of booze to his left.  Yeesh, I swear I can smell him from here.  Anyhoo, we pan around his work space to see a bunch of rejections tacked to the wall.  We also see a signed photo of a woman who promises to love him forever.

He gets up from his little desk and draws open the blinds of his window.  He sees a billboard for perfume… which, I dunno… maybe that represents the evils of consumerism or capitalism or the “trappings of wealth” or something?  In a comic book that costs a dollar more than most everything else on the rack in 1988?  Sure, why not?

Back inside, he sees some bad news on the front page of the sports section.  Evidently an NBA All-Star is also a drug-dealer, or some such.  He flips on the TV, and sees some more bad news… this time, about Ronald Reagan taking a vacation.  It’s funny how Presidential vacations are always a huge deal when the party you don’t like is in power, innit?  I’m not much of a political animal, don’t have much use for either American party, but double-standards really get under my skin.

The news report than shifts to its next story… books are being banned in high schools.

More news… and, more Reagan.  Mr. Ostrander, there’s a Mr. Englehart waiting on line-one with a high-five for ya!

Our hero turns off the set, and heads into his bedroom.  There’s a woman already asleep in the bed.  Going to assume it’s the same one from the signed photo.  After sitting on the edge of the bed for awhile, our man pulls a gun from the nightstand drawer, and inserts it into his mouth.

He… doesn’t pull the trigger, however.  Instead, he stands up… cocks it, and points it at the sleeping woman.  Annnnnd… that’s it.

This… suuuuuuuuucked.

I mean, I know what Ostrander was going for… and, if it was doing a parallel to Shakespeare’s actual Sonnet LVII, I suppose he was successful.  There’s always plenty of dishonesty in the world, priorities are often skewed toward procurement of material goods, politics will always be played, and situations where advancement of knowledge or betterment are stifled or devalued are commonplace.  Where this failed, however, was in a) being completely one-sided when drawing attention to the “evils” and corruption of the world, and making our “protagonist” such a friggin’ loser.  Like, did “Billy”… I’m guessing his last name rhymes with Shakespeare, only realize that the world can be a lousy and unfair place on November 4, 1980?

Here’s the Sonnet, by the way:

Sonnet LXVI

Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,
As to behold desert a beggar born,
And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,
And purest faith unhappily forsworn,
And gilded honour shamefully misplaced,
And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,
And right perfection wrongfully disgraced,
And strength by limping sway disabled
And art made tongue-tied by authority,
And folly, doctor-like, controlling skill,
And simple truth miscalled simplicity,
And captive good attending captain ill:
Tired with all these, from these would I be gone,
Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

So… tired of the corruption of the world, our writer yearns for release.  Where the ending of the Sonnet sort of implies that the writer chooses not to kill himself, lest he leave his beloved alone… here, it looks as though “Billy” is planning on taking her with him.  Saving her from this awful, dishonest orb and existence.

Again… I get what we’re going for here… I just thought it was a little too pointed in one direction and way too heavy-handed.  A real “try-hard” outing… which, I’m not accustomed to from an Ostrander-solo strip.  Heck, maybe I’m just missing the point.  Perhaps someone more politically minded would get something more (or less) out of this one.

Our story opens in an airport terminal.  A woman, our protagonist, is bound and gagged… with a gun to her head.  The place has been taken over by terrorists who swear they’ll slaughter all of the “political prisoners” of Flight KL753.  Before this “Comrade-in-Arms” is able to squeeze the trigger, however, the authorities burst in and shoot ’em all down.  Our girl, Mary Elizabeth is un-blindfolded, only to discover that she was the only survivor.  All of the other passengers have been killed.

We next go inside Mary Elizabeth’s psyche… she is laying in the fetal position, while voices assure her that she’s safe… and attempt to prompt her to return to reality.  She ain’t feelin’ it.

Next, still inside Mary Elizabeth, our girl is running down a crooked and crazy hallway… as though she’s being pursued with urgency.  Behind one of the doors… are demons!  Worth noting the demons beating on the door make a “Doom, Doom, Doom” sound… so, they may very well be related to Doomsday… or Calypso from that old Todd McFarlane Spider-Man story.

From here, we join Mary Elizabeth in a Psychologist’s office (or, maybe he’s a Psychiatrist… I didn’t see his degree).  He’s doing most of the talking… which, isn’t the way I learned to counsel… but, whattayagonnado?  He, naturally, suggests that all of her issues stem from sexual problems.  Again, not exactly outta the ol’ Psyche texts… but, that’s all most people think Psychologists say.  Mary Elizabeth opens her maw, and… uh, a great big tentacle-tongue emerges from her gob.  The Doc opens his, as though to, uh… “receive” it?  This is actually quite foul.

Now, we’re back inside Mary Elizabeth… and we get the exact same page as the earlier “fetal position” scene.

In the “real world” (I think), Mary Elizabeth leaves Munoz Hall… going to assume we’re on (or near) a college campus?  So, this likely a flashback.

It’s late in the evening, and Mary Elizabeth heads toward her car.  She begins to panic… feeling as though she’s being chased.  She runs toward the safety of her car… only to be caught by those same Demons.

Our story wraps up back… inside Mary Elizabeth.  Those same voices attempt to, again, assure her that she’s safe… and prompt her to return.  Ol’ M.E. has decided the only way to truly be “safe” is to remain catatonic.  And so, she never comes back.

I… hmm… both liked this a lot, and kinda hated it.  This is very interesting piece.

I think it’s safe to say we’ve got ourselves a PTSD story here… and for the most part, I’d say it was very successful in depicting Mary Elizabeth’s circumstances, plight, and struggle.  Giving her subconscious/psyche a visible and (arguably) physical form allowed us insight as to her emotional state.  In her own mind, she’s in a defensive (fetal) position… and, we learn that it’s the only place she truly feels safe.

The Demon symbolism is quite apt, and I appreciated the (I assume) flashbacks.  Mary Elizabeth survived a terrorist attack… in fact, she appeared to be the sole-survivor.  We also get the impression that this wasn’t the first time she was a victim.  The hallway scene and the Munoz Hall scene imply that she had suffered at least twice before.

I don’t fully understand the need for the “Shrink” scene.  I suppose it got us where we needed to be, if we use our imagination and make a few assumptions regarding the Munoz Hall flashback… but, still… it felt like one of those “weird for the sake of it” scenes.  The tentacle-tongue was borderline obscene, and feels like it was only included because they felt the story wasn’t “weird enough” as-is.  It also gave the writers the opportunity to depict a Mental Health Pro as a sex-focused Freudian… so, there’s that too.

If I make assumptions based on that scene and that exchange, it very much darkens up what just might’ve happened on Mary Elizabeth’s walk to her car.  It might be safe to make that assumption, but, as always… we err on the side of caution.

The ending was pretty sobering.  Rather than rejoin the “real world”, where poor Mary Elizabeth has been victimized time and again, she decides to remain in a catatonic state.  She has mentally “shut down” due to the trauma she’s experienced… and from her internal dialogue, again, it’s clear that this is a choice she is making.  Not to get too far into the weeds, catatonia was (at the time this story was written) sort of it’s own thing… “catatonic depression”.  Nowadays, it’s seen as a sorta-kinda co-morbid ailment, that presents in addition to, among other things, post-traumatic stress disorder.

I think perhaps the most interesting bit of this was the implication that catatonia is a choice.  As mentioned above, it’s really rather sobering a concept, isn’t it?  For all we know, it might be true in some instances.  Even if we dismiss things like malingering, or faking… it’s definitely some weird and wild “food for thought”.  It’s stories like this, that make you think… and make you want to comb through all the information you’re provided, that make Wasteland a pretty special series.  More like this… less like Shakespeare.

Court is in session… the honorable Ubu Wilkinson of the Ubansi Cultural Revival is presiding.  Today’s case, well… I hope you’re ready for this.  We got a fella who was interrupted while gazing into a piece of, uh, poop… who then got up and proceeded to beat the hell out of the woman who interrupted him.  Ya dig?  Cuz I sure don’t.  The lawyer for the Plaintiff (who looks like he’d fit in with the Mutants in Dark Knight Returns) questions our Dookie enthusiast, and we learn that he’s an “artist”… he, well… paints poop.  All sorts of colors, but usually brown… which, I dunno, seems redundant.  He claims to have beaten the woman up because she “invaded his privacy”.

The lawyer suggests that reg’lar guys and gals don’t actually have a Right to Privacy (after all, what do we got to hide?)… and the crowd (of reg’lar guys and gals) goes wild!  We turn things over to the lawyer for the defense… what appears to be a rather heavyset old woman, who is actually a fella named Alfred Lord Mason.  Not sure if that’s a reference to anyone in particular… Perry Mason, perhaps?  I dunno.  I’m sure this is “biting” satire… which isn’t usually the most “evergreen”.

Ol’ Fred stands up, and with a flourish begins pleading the case.  He suggests that we’re living in a stratified democracy, wherein celebrities have certain rights and privileges that poor shlubs like us aren’t privy to (well, can’t exactly argue that)… and, that’s because they’re better than us, ya see?

Alfred then admits that his client, the Poop-Painter, Mr. Pinn… did beat, cripple, and humiliate the woman… and states that was never in question.  Where the problem lay, is, Mr. Pinn… as a celebrity… has every right to “damage” this young lady to the “extent of his pleasure”.  Okay.

Alfred continues… claiming that Mr. Pinn is a “superstar”.  The judge cliks and claks that he’s never heard of him… to which, we learn that this very trial is what made him famous.  In fact, Roy-o-Mania is absolutely running wild!

Well, that’s the sort of logic not even a Judge can argue with… and so, he abides that Roy Pinn, the Poop Painter be raised two whole status notches… to Superstar!  We learn that when one goes up… the other goes down, and so, the Plaintiff drops two whole status notches… to Bum!

When she objects… the Judge decides to lower her yet another status notch… to Pig!  And, those of us who’ve read (or heard of) Lord of the Flies, knows what happens to Pigs.

The story ends with Roy Pinn finding representation… and the promise of fame and fortune.  He’s also advised not to kill anybody, because only Millionaires and Senators can get away with that.

What was it I said about that Shakespeare story the other day?  Oh yeah, this suuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuuucked.

Satire is hard… first, it’s timely, and so… doesn’t usually have a long shelf-life.  Second, it’s really easy for it to overstay its welcome.  This story could have more effectively been told as a four-panel strip.  Hell, all we actually needed was a single word balloon saying: “Celebrities, am I right?”…

Now that, is a tale as old as time.  Celebrities and societal “VIPs” are treated differently than we common rabble.  And yeah, that really sucks.  But, pointing that out in an overlong, and overblown “satirical” comic story… ehh, it just feels petulant (especially when one of our writers has a pretty lengthy IMDb page himself).  There’s a reason why most political and satirical cartoonists work with nothing more than a single image and a caption.

Now, I was just a child back when this came out.  I would’ve been 8-years old… so, I’m not entirely sure what this might be referring to.  If I were to guess, I’d figure that “Roy Pinn” might be a stand-in for Sean Penn?  Didn’t he beat up a photographer (and basically get away with it?) or something in the mid-late 80’s?  Maybe there’s some Ollie North mixed in here too?  A lot of the DC Bullpen seemed to have him in their cross hairs around this time.

Overall… I get the point, you get the point… I think we all got the point about a page and a half in… this was just too much.

Remember… tomorrow, we’ll celebrate our FIFTEEN-HUNDREDTH Daily Discussion… which is sure to knock ya out!

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0 thoughts on “Wasteland #4 (1988)

  • The best thing I can say about this issue is that I really liked the ads for Checkmate and the Phantom.

    • You ain't kiddin'! This was one rough issue. I am glad, however, that I'm not the only one who feels that way. A few places where I've shared these are head-over-heels for it on the basis of it having John Ostrander's name on the cover. I hate to make assumptions, but I'm guessing not many of those folks bothered to actually try reading it!

      Over the next couple of days we'll be looking at much higher-quality stuff that should be a lot of fun!

  • Grant Kitchen

    Unrelated, but have you picked up the Superman: Villains Special? Wasn't much to it as far as what it was supposed to be. The only thing I liked about it was the Kents were revealed to be alive and even that was anticlimactic. Supes just drops on on them like they haven't been dead since 2011 and we're just expected to accept this retcon. It's like when you anticipate something for so long then when it finally happens you've stopped caring. Oh and Batman supposedly set up the same security system on their farm that he uses in the Batcave so they can't be detected. But even that makes no sense. What about people that already knew where their farm was? Like their friends and neighbors? What's to stop an enemy (or the news media) from asking one of them? 🤔 Or maybe I'm just overthinking it.

    • I'm expecting my Superman: Heroes and Superman: Villains one-shots in the mail today, as a matter of fact. One of the inconveniences about using mail-order is the wait… but yeah, I'd heard all about the weird resurrection, and how it's just kind of "there".

      I often, in my own mind, correlate comics and pro-wresting… and this is like when the crowd gets behind a character, and really wants to see them as champion… but the company waits, and drags their feet… and by the time they finally give in, the fandom is already "over it".

      The Bat-Security deal definitely has more holes than Swiss Cheese… and it's probably something we're not supposed to be thinking about all that hard. It's a real sad state of affairs when only a subset of the fandom (not even the creators!) actually CARES about trying to have things make sense (in the context of the fantastical)!

      For all we know this is all just gonna be swept under the rug with 5G… if that's still going down as planned. Actually, so much of this recent Superman stuff feels like CIVIL WAR Spider-Man… with how up in the air everything is, I feel like we could have a dollop of cosmic Wite-Out dumped on us at any second!


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