The gruesome details, cultural ramifications, and conspiratorial pitfalls surrounding the assassination of John F. Kennedy in November of 1963 are extensively documented. Few other events in the nation’s history have been so diligently documented and scrutinized, nor have they become so overburdened with the implication of large-scale corruption and secrecy.
It’s such a historic moment that it’s spawned its own subgenre of genre fiction, a proliferation of cheap thrillers or deeply researched novels that pose an endless litany of questions. It’s an endless parade more than a little toxic with obsession.
Regarding the Matter of Oswald’s Body isn’t that. Sure, the comic presupposes that there was, indeed, a hidden agenda behind Kennedy’s murder and that Lee Harvey Oswald may not have been the shooter at all. Sure, the narrative revolves around the falsification of evidence. . . that evidence being Oswald’s own body. All of those things bring it well into the fold of this particular subgenre.
Where Regarding deviates from the rest is telling. The book isn’t so much interested in the main event—as of the second issue of the series, both Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination itself exist only off-panel, separate from our action.
Instead, our narrative deals with an ensemble of characters whose actions and experiences run alongside the larger drama of history. This group made up of outcasts, criminals, and failed military men is thrown together for the purpose of finding a lookalike for Oswald—using the famous photograph of the man standing outside his Texas home, holding the murder weapon.
What writer Christopher Cantwell and artist Luca Casalanguida do right is to instantly endear these characters with the reader by way of culturally significant shorthand. We have a Black woman who continues to get arrested for trying to order a sandwich during segregation; we have a gay man who is forced to live deeply in the closet by 1963’s standards.
These telling societal traps boom in the reader’s mind as the huge injustices they are, and therefore the reader is instantly pulled into familiarity with the characters—and as they were slowly pressured (read: blackmailed) into the party last issue, the reader is pulled into that trap, as well.
In this second issue, that final trap begins to feel immense. The crew, ignorant as to the purpose of their hunt, find their lookalike, and as they’re working to abduct him, violence escalates—both with their abductee and in the larger events of history. While the first issue presented the snares that brought them all into this shadowy behavior, the second firmly establishes how perilously poised they are beneath the crushing jaws of history.
Regarding the Matter of Oswald’s Body is, therefore, a book that sidesteps all the pitfalls of a JFK assassination story, with its faceless conspirators, looming government agencies, and secrets. Instead, it’s a book about earnest people forcefully engaged in criminal activity—and being overwhelmed, like the rest of the country, by tragedies both their own and national.
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