Wednesday, September 24, 2008

HWY 115 by Matthias Lehmann

HWY 115 seems to belong, with Gilbert Hernandez's Sloth and David Lynch's Lost Highway to a specific, contemporary noir/fantasy sub-genre. Stories in this sub-genre take place in a nightmarish world, they have multiple "realities" or levels of reality, and they also have a circular, ourobosian narrative - like a recursive waking-up-from-a-dream dream.

They are self-consciously artsier elaborations on a certain kind of Twilight Zone-ish, "trick ending" suspense story.

Sometimes, figuring out the puzzle - determining how the different realities all fit together, deciphering the dream symbolism of the nightmare world, and discovering how cause-and-effect works in that world - is part of the appeal for me of these kinds of works. That was definitely the case with Lost Highway and Sloth - a comic that has grown on me a lot since I first read it (although I still don't like it as much as the still criminally underrated Grip).

With HWY 115, though, I wasn't too interested in "figuring it out" (although I presume it's possible): rather, I was content to just drink in the grungy, noir atmosphere.

The story follows a P.I. and a writer who are on the trail of a serial killer, whose M.O. is to kill his victims by forcing them to choke on various random (?) objects. Their investigation leads through a series of interviews with some of the killer's former fellow inmates at the insane asylum he's just escaped from. Each one tells their story - why they got locked up (which is basically: who did they kill and why) - and provides a clue - part of a dream that the killer had recounted to them. The comic moves among all of these levels: the investigation, the stories of the former asylum inmates, the killer's dream, and, at one point, the P.I.'s nightmare.

The strongest part of the comic might be the inmates' stories: these episodes aren't just creepy, they're viscerally, under-your-skin unsettling.

Something else I like: the unrelenting social bleakness. All of these characters seem to be barely hanging on. Everyone is an outsider and the onlything in the comic that comes close to representing of some kind of "social order" is the dingy, rundown insane asylum. (It really fit my mood this week).


matthias said...

Thanks for your mood then.

christopher j.d. said...

I've just read this recently, and while I can't talk about it academically and don't know much about graphic novels, in comparison with the 'marvell/DC' stuff I thought it was bloody brilliant...

But what do I know...