Meet Glory: a young woman raised off the grid in a convoy of truckers, the last men and women fighting for true freedom on the American open road. Now, in order to save her father’s life, Glory has three days to pull off four dangerous cross-country heists with mob killers, crooked cops, and a psycho ex-husband all out to bring her in—or die trying. Time, fuel, and hope may be in short supply, but no one outruns Glory! This oversized prestige hardcover collects the complete runaway smash hit from New York Times bestselling author RICK REMENDER and legendary French artist, BENGAL!Image Comics
Like film directors and writers, comics have their own auteurs. Whether you believe in auteur theory or not, it’s undeniable that comics have similarly strong, authorial voices akin to films. In fact, comic auteurs are purer in a way. Films are massive enterprises that require the input of hundreds if not thousands of other artists — the main reason cited by detractors of auteur theory.
However, when it comes to comics, the teams are much smaller and the writers are usually, especially in the independent sphere, given a ton of freedom. Oftentimes, they can even choose their own editors.
So that leads us to Rick Remender: the brain behind long-running hits like Fear Agent, Deadly Class, Low, Last Days of American Crime, Black Science, Scumbag, and many, many more Image and Marvel series.
He has a distinct style, and Death or Glory exemplifies his authorial traits nicely…for good and bad.
Firstly, Death or Glory is quite similar to Deadly Class. We’ve got an edgy, violent, black haired (too specific?) orphan who spouts a lot of edgy “F%$^k the system” platitudes and is chased by a large conspiracy of caricatured villains. But luckily she’s got a gaggle of diverse caricatures to help her out.
Speaking of caricatures, Death or Glory reduces several groups of people into embarrassing and racist objects of ridicule. While Glory says she loves her redneck circle, Remender does all he can to mock Southern, lower income people, casting them as largely sadomasochistic, crude, sexual dirtbags. Yes, not all of the redneck characters are like this, but the majority of them are portrayed this way and not even in a lovingly amused, sympathetic/empathic way (like the way Paul Thomas Anderson portrays his extremist characters).
If I may, let me quote The Comics Journal’s Marc-Oliver Frisch in his review of the first issue and its unflattering portrayal of Southerners, pointing out the gross misogyny that’s supposed to represent rednecks at large despite being bad writing:
“Death or Glory starts out on a five-page sequence set at a burger joint in “Yuma, Arizona,” populated by two white-trash employees and a lone customer. They’re about to close, and Curtis, mopping the floor, wants to call it a day soon because he’s got a date with Susie who “works down at the HoJos.” Ken, however…proceeds to taunt his colleague about Susie. ‘Wouldn’t dare put my pecker in that,” Ken says, but he does suggest Susie has performed oral sex on him…and he claims ‘Scotty down at Firestone’ can corroborate ‘she’s a butt-licker.'”
“A common defense of this type of material is its ostensible realism, and I’m sure places like this, with stereotypical jerks inside of them, do in fact exist. But so do pits full of cattle s--t, and I haven’t seen too many first pages of genre comics with those on them, not to my recollection. More to the point, it’s a very boring first page with a load of boilerplate dialogue—dummy lines you maybe put down to replace them with something marginally more inspired later.”Marc-Oliver Frisch
Worse yet is Remender’s portrayal of the only Black character in the whole volume. The only African-American fella in this is, unsurprisingly in a Remender book, a misogynist pimp who embarrassingly talks like this: “Half Dem Glory send away get away good. Half dat order to fill. Lot of them got away. Dem folks gotta replace ‘em. Need ‘em alive. All o’ dem. Fresh cut. You got rally Dem troops. Get me dem bodies.”
Yikes. Apart from the dialogue being hindered with the constant “dems” (which any editor worth their salt would say to cut for easier readability)…it’s pretty damn racist. While I wouldn’t doubt Remender likes Black people just fine and doesn’t believe every Black person talks like that, it’s not a good look, it’s annoying, and the stereotypical character ultimately doesn’t do much of anything, so his racist existence is unnecessary to the plot. He could have easily been replaced by anybody less insulting.
As for the story mechanics, a huge problem is Red, Glory’s father. He’s the reason she’s pulling a heist and being chased around, but he doesn’t wake from a coma until much later in the series, leaving us without characterization for a character that kickstarted this whole shebang. Granted, we get a long, boring narrated passage telling us all about Red in #3, but being told why he’s worth our time isn’t a substitute or being shown.
As for our protagonist, Glory, she’s quite boring and all too similar to other Remender heroes. She’s doing a bad thing (robbing), but compared to all the over-the-top villainy of the, well, villains, she’s a saint comparatively. She doesn’t even like to inflict violence upon people. Ironically, she’s supposed to be an underdog, but most of her dialogue is spent in mocking “sheeple” who are too stupid to get out of the system…which comes across as kind of insulting since most comic readers aren’t able to just get into a truck like Glory and head out into a magical desert where they’re protected by a cool trucker family. It’s not like Remender isn’t a part of the system himself that he mocks, making money off his “buck the system” stories which he sells to Syfy or Netflix for even more money. Is he bad for doing that? Of course not. But having edgy characters that put down the system and “sheeple” just trying to get by is pretty ridiculous if you can’t commit to it yourself as the author. At least Chuck Pahlanuik had enough self-awareness to skewer the self-described “rebellious” characters in Fight Club.
More interesting in Death or Glory are an immigrant couple that Glory enlists, Pablo and Isabelle. I’d much prefer the series focus on them or a spinoff rather than these white saviors.
Now for the villains — there are too many of them. There are organ-harvesting surgeons, a white coated main baddie who freezes people, evil lawmen, a scummy ex-husband, thugs with luchador masks, the aforementioned pimp, evil nuns — and the list goes on. Yet the only one of these hombres that’s really delved into is one evil nun and previously mentioned white suited freezer man (who’s revealed to be a germaphobe, which is…something). Granted, the plethora of villains have a story purpose to some degree — Remender wants to illustrate the vast, conspiratorial network required to keep the little man down. But when we only get scant development from, like, two of these villains? Maybe then it’s time to consider trimming the fat.
While we’re talking about overall themes, I should mention that the social commentary is broad…but it’s nicely incorporated into the very fabric of the story. Hardly tacked on, Remender and Bengal are really trying to stick it to Big Pharma and American excess by showing the consequences our heroes are put through just because they want some affordable medical care. Is it absurdly over-the-top in delivery? Of course — it’s from Remender’s Frank Zappa inspired sensibility. But at least the commentary is woven into the DNA of the series and passionately done.
There are a few times when moral themes try to peek their head up, but they’re either dropped or they make little to no sense. Glory is given the opportunity to kill a bad guy in the finale, but she says she can’t. So it seems like Remender is doing something here. Like Batman or Spider-Man, he’s saying: my hero will cross some lines, but she Her father Red grabs the shotgun and kills the goon, but it’s framed not as a bad thing, rather as something beautiful. Glory describes the kill like this: “Then Red came out like the sun. Cast a light on everything. I’m suddenly four years old again. And it’s all going to be okay. Red’ll keep us safe. He’ll fix things.” So…murder, especially by a parent, is…comforting?
Here’s another weird moment: Pablo leaves his daughter with Glory, asking her to keep “beauty” safe, citing something his father said, while he kills a goon that captured and tortured them for revenge. But he fails to kill the goon on his own, getting unexpected help from a turncoat nun. Rushing back to his daughter, Pablo hugs her, saying: “My Papa got it wrong. It was beauty that saved me,” as if to say he shouldn’t have tried to kill the bad guy and stayed with his daughter instead. But the bad guy was still murdered and justice was served…so…what is being said here? Remender tires to indict Pablo’s lust for death, but then acts like revenge is a positive thing so long as a side character primarily does it. Perhaps he’s trying to say, like The Revenent, that vengeance should be left to God, or fate…but that’s not expressly said here and Remender often expresses a disdain for God in his stories, so it’s unlikely that he’d affirm cosmic justice.
When Red wakes up, he’s dismayed by Glory’s actions to save him. He makes the case that he wasn’t, as one man, worth all he death and destruction caused by Glory’s actions — which is a striking thematic point that directly challenges Glory’s core motives and the entire purpose of the plot. Yet, this point is immediately dropped and the series continues unabated in its mayhem and destruction. Glory and Red don’t wrestle with their beliefs beyond this one scene.
Let’s get more specific. An overarching problem is the leering sexism on display. It’s hard to pin it just to Bengal or Remender, but there are so many gratuitous T&A shots that would make Michael Bay blush. Did I mention how many times women are unnecessarily abused in this that it seems like Remender and Bengal are genuinely amused by it and think you should be laughing too?
As for the art, uh, I know Bengal is a big deal…but his art is lacking for the rigors this series requires on an artist. His compositions are standard and mostly nothing to write home about. Occasionally there are some decent worm’s eye view shots, but they’re soured by mostly being used to ogle the voluptuous butts of female characters. Panels are oftentimes too small to convey the level of dynamism the action requires. However, to be fair, the more the action increases, the better Bengal becomes at delivering the bombast. While car chases are surprisingly claustrophobic at first, they grow bolder and easier to understand geographically as the series trucks along.
Subtler artistic choices are the most impressive. For instance, in #7, there’s a moment where Red says a crucial lin, and the dialogue bubble is given its own panel, without any characters in the frame; just an impressionistic color blend of blue and orange evoking a meager campfire against the night sky. Such simplicity makes for the most poignant, beautiful moment of the series, artistically and story wise.
Unfortunately, overall, I was more impressed by the art in the back where the variant covers were. But on the plus side, the colors are breathtaking. Emotions are brilliantly conveyed in neon, punchy flourishes, whether it be a sickly green for operating rooms of organ harvester lairs or a burnt orange palette to evoke the setting sun over a rustic trucker dive bar. If anything, read Death or Glory for the colors. They make this series.
While there’s plenty of action, it’s all quite repetitive and ends up as a big slog of interchangeable Mad Max ripoff chases. While there are themes about how bad America is, ultimately, Death or Glory is what it appears to be on the surface. There’s little deep or intriguing psychology or emotions at play, or themes that you as the reader will have to wrestle with after reading. This is trashy, empty action and it aspires to little other than that.
Overall, the concept is an ambitious one that evokes the complex morality and Southern noir grunge of Breaking Bad, but on redneck steroids: what if, to save a loved one, you robbed from the forces in America that put down the everyman every day? Sadly, the themes are jumbled, the characters are lacking, and the art doesn’t quite do the adrenaline junkie plot the scale and dynamism it deserves. There are many other Image series that are more entertaining and coherent than this.
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