Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Trade Secrets: Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron

Because I just can't bring myself to review Teen Titans #47, here's a look at one of my favorite books, Daniel Clowes' Like a Velvet Glove Cast in Iron. People I've met who've read this book seem to either love it or write it off as pretentious bullshit. And it is pretentious and it is bullshitty, but read on to discover why I have so much fun reading my copy over and over again that the pages are falling out.




I should make clear before I start talking about the plot that Velvet Glove is very much a dream narrative. Or maybe more precisely, a nightmare. Much like Sam Keith's The Maxx, the book requires a loosening of one's concept of plot progression and an embrace of dream logic. Meaning that what might at first appear to be lazy storytelling or a gross leap of logic may actually be an attempt to recreate the way a subconscious mind sometimes twists and distorts idle thoughts into a grotesque experience that only superficially resembles a story. Granted, the use of dream logic was much more user friendly in Keith's work. In The Maxx Sam Keith usually told you when he was applying a little dream logic. Velvet Glove doesn't afford you that courtesy.

The story begins with our hero, Clay, sitting down in a porno theater to watch a dirty movie. We don't know how he got here, and he seems out of place in the seedy surroundings. Something Clowes establishes in this first scene is the role of strangers in the world of his story. Almost everyone Clay meets accosts him, demanding something from him that he can't provide. He is continually emasculated and made to feel insufficient as he passes through his dark dreamy world.


As Clay sits in the theater, a new film starts and it is so hypnotic, so bizarre, so perverse that he becomes obsessed with tracking down the creators. Oh, and he may or may not recognize one of the actresses as a past love--identity and memory are hard to pin down in dreams. Things move pretty quickly from here: He gets answers from The Oracle in the Men's Room, borrows a car from a friend who's having his eye sockets cleaned out by Asiatic sea crustaceans and doesn't get far on the open road before he's picked up by a couple of hyper-masculine cops who rape a three-eyed woman (or is it the woman from the film/his lost love?) in the front seat of the squad car while Clay sits cuffed and helpless (re: impotent) in the back.

His quest turns into something of an epic, and every page of it is dense with conspiracy, paranoia, perversion, men who ridicule Clay, women who want him but look like potatoes, and apocalyptic dread. Each turn the story takes heightens the feeling of hopeless inevitability, and each character Clay encounters exploits his inadequacies. And there is often the familiar sense of a great, life-changing Answer right around the corner if only you/Clay could just reach it. But the corner has more twists than you thought it would, and somehow you've taken the wrong turn and attempts at backtracking lead you somewhere else entirely, without a clue as to what you were just doing. Were you looking for something?

NOW who's reading pretentious bullshit?

Yeah, it may be ridiculous. And it may ultimately be pointless. But it sure is fun while it lasts.
In that unsettling, apocalyptic dread kind of way.



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