The Maniac, 'Maniac of New York,' I Sure Know
| A chilling new comic from AfterShock looks at a world where crises are the new normal. |
According to writer Ellitott Kalan, the original inspiration for the 2021 Maniac of New York was Kalan's
extreme adolescent disappointment with Friday the 13th Part VIII: Jason Takes Manhattan, which promised a citywide metropolitan bloodbath and delivered a couple shots of Jason walking through Times Square in a bad mood [and] the New York movies of the ’70s and ’80s, when the city was gross and ugly and exciting and felt like it was full of real people and not just wealthy hedge fund managers.
Kalan further admits that the first story-line of the series is influenced by the 1974 film Taking of Pelham One Two Three.
But readers of a certain age will doubtlessly make other cultural connections in the opening pages of issue #1, which finds New York City in a state of shock and chaos following a New Year's Eve massacre in Time Square. In the aftermath, pundits presume, politicians promise, and the public prays. As depicted in the Andrea Mutti's artwork, previewed by AfterShock, these reactions are strikingly familiar to those old enough to remember September 11, 2001.
Indeed, Kalan's dialogue is also very 9/11-ish. Maniac's NYC Mayor De Manzio (despite calling to mind the current mayor IRL, Bill de Blasio) declares,
To the maniac who committed this diabolical act, I say the City that Never Sleeps shall not rest until you are rotting behind bars or burning in Hell!
This kind of evangelism was echoed throughout the rhetoric of former President George W. Bush in the hours, days, and weeks following 9/11, beginning with an address to the nation from the Oval Office, in which he promised, "The search is underway for those who were behind these evil acts [...] to bring them to justice."
Maniac's Speaker of the House pledges,
We must come together to heal the wounds at the crossroads of the world. We must ensure this never happens again.
The notion of NYC as a "crossroads" was put forth in a speech to the United Nations after 9/11 by then-NYC Mayor Giuliani. The speech focused heavily on New York City's diversity.
Quickly, though, Maniac of New York turns to more recent socio-politcal allusions, such as Kentucky Senator victim-blaming when four female NYU students fall victim to "Maniac Harry." The Senator questions "what four young women were doing out at that hour in the first place," echoing a pattern of political victim-blaming - especially in the cases of crimes against women - in recent years.
As the book fast-forwards through the first several years of Maniac Harry's reign of terror, readers discover that all the special agencies created to protect the people of New York had quickly become bloated or under-funded paper tigers with no teeth, that the public at large had become immune to the continued reminders of "see something, scream something," and that updates about Maniac Harry's whereabouts and latest attacks were so commonplace that they were simply part of the traffic and weather reports. This last phenomenon seems to be especially reminiscent of daily death counts in the 2020/2021 COVID-19 pandemic.
Issue #1 ended on a cliff-hanger, and the series could shape up in a number of ways depending on how strongly its socio-political and media commentary and allusions are developed in subsequent issues. It is telling, however, that two of AfterShock's newest titles - Maniac of New York (February 2021) and I Breathed a Body (January 2021) are dealing with societies in which unnatural death, and witnessing such death through media, is part of the new normal.
According to I Breathed a Body writer Zac Thompson, the comic is
a supernatural horror book set in Silicon Valley about the voyeurism of violence. Thanks to social media, we’ve become prepared to see death and despair at any moment.
Thompson says the book "is an indictment of the Big Tech companies who engender and profit from this vitriolic environment,” but the idea that social media - and everyone having high-res photographic and video equipment in their pockets now - allows us to witness "death and despair" runs deeper.
The concept has particular poignancy in relation to the #BlackLivesMatter movement, which has gained momentum in part because Black death, such as that of George Floyd, Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, and Daniel Prude, can "go viral." This brings increased awareness to the problem of systemic racism, but it can also exacerbate trauma.
While both Maniac of New York and I Breathed a Body hold a mirror up to a society becoming increasing accustomed to violence and death, I Breathed a Body not only forces us to look at how we handle perpetual crisis, but also how we perceive it. It challenges that we might, if we haven't already, reach a point where we not only become apathetic to the events surrounding us, but also to their reality - that eventually Fact and Truth will lose meaning. Influencers will determine truth and we'll be accept it because there won't be any alternatives.
~Christina M. Knopf
13 February 2021