Howard Chaykin has been a polarizing figure in comics for several decades. In the interest of full disclosure, I am a big fan of his work, though not all of it. Some I find not to my personal taste, some of it has the run the gamut from derivative to total rip-off. But I appreciate much of his work, and it has profoundly influenced my own interests.
In Chaykin’s latest comic book series, The Divided States of Hysteria, we are introduced to Frank Villa, a CIA field officer. In the aftermath of a national trauma, he is convinced a major terrorist attack is imminent. But life in the United States goes on. Not just picnics and band concerts, but also mass slayings and ethnic hatred.
These crimes are perpetrated by four people who will undoubtedly play bigger roles in the story, the nature of which is yet to be revealed. Among these murderers is a trans woman who is beaten, and then slays her three attackers. Chaykin’s depiction of the beatdown has led to an online outrage by several people in the trans community.
And that puzzles me. To offer some context, the other three murder sequences include nine shootings by a black sniper harboring resentment toward white people; 11 poisonings by a Jewish con man; and four murders by a serial killer.
Where is the moral outrage for these portrayals? It suggests a certain hypocrisy among the trans community, that such portrayals only matter when it’s your particular tribe. However, I am unaware of any criticism from other socio-ethnic groups.
Many fans who feel marginalized due to their ethnicity, faith or sexual orientation have called for greater representation in comics. Well, here ya go. I can appreciate they prefer not to be portrayed as victims, but given the trans woman shot her three attackers, I have a hard time discerning who the victim actually might be.
Apparently some groups only want diversity when it’s on their terms. But what role this character fills in the overall story is yet to be revealed. So howzabout we let the story play out to the end before we rush to judgment?
Chaykin’s goal is a series of six-issue arcs. “As the book progresses, we'll expand to get at least a glimpse of a world view, which in turn will more deeply inform the second arc,” he says. “In the broadest strokes, it's inspired by the New Yorker piece of a few months back, about the billionaire plutocrats making plans to survive the apocalypse they themselves created.”
Chaykin has a reputation for being curmudgeonly and opinionated. He tends to regard fan boys with disdain, in the belief that his personal fan base is more sophisticated than the nose-picking geeks constantly wondering who would win in a fight between Character A and Character B.
“My work is frequently a reaction to whatever the current political climate might be,” says Chaykin. “But in the case of The Divided States of Hysteria, that reaction is informed as much by the sociology of modern America as it is by the political nightmare in which I find myself. Who knew I'd end up living in a post-apocalyptic science fiction novel I wouldn't read?”
I intend to follow The Divided States of Hysteria. Not only because it’s from a favorite creator of mine, but because I need a comic like it to help reconcile the insanity of the current political climate.