Johnny the Homocidal Maniac
As might be expected from the title of this comic, this is a DISTURBING piece of work. Do not read this if you are freaked out by violence or gore (cartoonish though it is), or cannot deal with a truly villainous (though strangely sympathetic) protagonist. But for those of you who like your humor pitch-black, and who like stories that cross the line of taste back and forth constantly, this very well may be just up your alley.
The comic, written and drawn by Jhonen Vasquez, the creator of the popular cartoon “Invader Zimm” (which I myself have never seen, so I have nothing to compare this too), revolves around the titular Johnny, a mysterious and criminally insane young man, who, indeed, is a homicidal maniac, capturing people and killing them through extravagantly horrible torture. Many of these are themselves people Johnny considers to be horrible individuals (for instance those who make fun of him, or whom he sees mock others), but our “hero’ doesn’t restrict himself only to those who “deserve” it. As to why Johnny (or “Nny,” as he likes to be called) actually needs to kill, he tells some of his victims that he needs their blood to cover a wall in his house, which supposedly keeps at bay something that lives on the other side of the wall that is as dangerous as it is enigmatic.
It is beliefs like this, as well as other things about him (for instance that the body of a rabbit he once nailed to the wall and two Styrofoam Pillsbury Doughboy statues all argue with him as to what to do) really underline that the protagonist of JTHM is not at all well mentally. And yet, as the story goes along, it becomes increasingly clear that Nny’s beliefs about the scary thing on the other side of the wall may not be entirely unfounded…
It may seem impossible to believe, but somehow Vasquez is able to make Nny oddly sympathetic. He is a bizarre mixture of charisma, self-loathing, erudition, and sheer craziness that really makes you want to discover more about him. Nny’s attempts to befriend and assist the little kid who lives next door, referred to as “Squee” by Nny because of the sound he makes when terrified, humorously misguided though they may be, also show a different side of him than the murderous psychopath we are most aware of. His uncomfortable feelings of not-quite guilt, not so much for his killings but for the seeming lack of consequences for his actions (it seems Nny can neither die nor be captured by the police), also serve to make him easier to like. And as the story goes on, it becomes increasingly clearer that, horrific though his actions are, Nny may not be solely responsible for them…
There are some flaws, as always. The story is largely over by its fifth issue, with the sixth providing a sort of denouement. This is great, except that there are seven issues in the series. The seventh feels underused, to set up an ending that promises follow-up stories, but doesn’t really wrap up all the loose ends of thi one. Also, Vasquez writes most (but not all) of Nny’s victims to be utterly unsympathetic assholes who never understand why they have been selected for death. This makes Nny seem more sympathetic in comparison, but it seems both somewhat lazy and rather like cheating.
However, overall I would recommend this story, especially to those who prefer darker tales. If you can’t handle cartoony gore or a story that sympathizes with the villain, however, you probably won’t enjoy this comic very much.