Thursday, March 09, 2006

American Virgin #1

Vertigo's been launching quite a few new series lately, perhaps in an attempt to capture that Preacher magic again. Though Fables, 100 Bullets, and Y: The Last Man are strong titles, none are the phenomenon that Preacher, Sandman, and Transmetropolitan were. It's hard to capture lightning in a bottle, and the didactic nature of some of these new books makes it next to impossible: DMZ and Testament wear their message on their sleeve, and never seem to move past a one-note preaching to the choir.

Approaching American Virgin, I feared for more of the same. It's about sex and the bible belt, and seemed ripe for the same sort of agitprop that's been turning me away from Vertigo as of late. It was the strength of the creators - Steven T. Seagle and Becky Cloonan - that got me to give it a try. Though there are stereotypes at work, they don't dominate the book. The stereotyping is spread to all sides of the compass - there are right-wing money-grubbing religious hucksters, but it's balanced by the idiotic stoner youth. Everyone in American Virgin is a bit of a cartoon, and it's an integral part of the story. American Virgin is a book about extremes on all sides, and one decent kid caught in the middle.

I use the word "kid" on purpose, as Adam Chamberlin is not a man. Not yet. He's a youthful pop minister who preaches a gospel of abstinence until marriage: "... I will wait for her. Forever if I have to. And I will never be with any other woman because that's what the lord expects of me ... so how can I not expect that of myself?" I expected to find Adam insufferable, and was prepared to dislike the character and the series from the get-go. He seemed a straw man, destined to be shown the empty hypocrisy of his Red State ways. That's not the case at all: Adam is a rich character who I couldn't help but like and respect, even if I think he's wrong. That's due in large part to Cloonan's endearing rendition of him with a winning, open smile that always seems earnest and open. Seagle also takes pains to put the character in extreme circumstances early, so that we can see the depth of his commitment to his ideal. Adam is no huckster, no glib sellout: he deeply believes with a fervor that will make his journey all the more compelling.

Cynicism is easy but it often makes for poor characterization. By embracing Adam Chamberlain instead of undercutting him or mocking him, Seagle and Cloonan have created the kind of character that can carry a series on his back. Like Jesse Custer or Spider Jerusalem, he's engaging and likeable and flawed and rich. One issue is too early to tell anything about a series, but American Virgin is going on my pull list, and that's rare for the current Vertigo.



Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

I was on the fence about this one, but I caught this post right before I headed up to Midtown this afternoon and added it to the haul. As much as I disliked DEMO, it did make me a fan of Cloonan's work, so I'm hoping I like it.

Mark Fossen said...

I may still be on the fence - it'll depend on the next few isues. I was just so taken with the character of Adam, how complex he is and how well written.

I hope you enjoy it ... I hate it whaen I think I've convinced someone to waste their money :)

Guy LeCharles Gonzalez said...

So...not bad. Certainly interesting enough for me to pick up the next issue, at least. Also reminded me that I've had Seagle's It's a Bird sitting on the bookshelf for nearly a year now and still haven't read it!