They look just like us. They eat with us, sleep next to us, wear the same clothes and watch the same movies. They live just beneath our notice, masters of infiltration and secrecy. If we are the sheep, they are the wolves in wooly clothing. We see them, but we know not who or what they are.
And behind their masks, they thrive.
They are lawyers, politicians, law enforcement, journalists, stock brokers, business tycoons, porn kings, drug dealers and weapons manufacturers. They smile and laugh like we do, but behind their eyes is a darkness we don’t share, a callous disregard for their fellow man that is as antithetic to us as our empathy and affection is to them.
We have a word for them now. We call them psychopaths, and as far as the world would have us believe, they are a fairly new phenomenon – but truthfully, they have been with us since the beginning. Warlords, inquisitors, conquerors and slavers have traded their swords and whips for power suits, batons and smartphones, but their urges are no less sadistic. They see themselves as the heroes of their own story, and we, the weak, are merely expendable extras.
The truly sad part of it all is that they are not to blame. If modern psychology can be trusted, the existence of psychopaths is as much a result of nature as it is of nurture. In fact, the difference between the two – genetic predisposition as opposed to environmental and social influence – now have their own definitions. Those considered to be “natural” are called psychopaths, while those created through traumatic life experience are known as sociopaths.
In essence, the two terms are deviations of the same subject. Whether psycho or socio, both are manifestations of that which we call evil.
You remember evil. I mentioned it once or twice in my last piece, mostly in regards to how it has become such a frequent theme in recent years. I won’t deny that it has always been a theme – perhaps the theme – of our art and literature, but until now it has been largely portrayed in a fashion that leaves us out of the equation. Evil has been personified in a myriad of forms, from Shelley’s Frankenstein monster to Stoker’s Dracula to Conan Doyle‘s Mr. Hyde.
And there is, of course, Shiva, Loki, and Satan of ancient lore, embodiments of those things which we fear or hate within us – but within us they remain, regardless of our constant externalization.
But when we talk about psychopathy, we are not strictly talking about esoteric topics such as morality. We are talking about the human mind; in particular, a small percentage of men and women who have a difficulty interpreting emotion.
Current research suggests that the difference between a psychopath and a so-called “normal” person is that a psychopath does not feel. They act, they comprehend, they observe our mannerisms and study our habits, they can even mimic us so perfectly that we are unaware of them; but they do not understand us – any more than we understand them.
It’s more like Jekyll and Hyde than Doyle even realized.
But can we say definitively that either we or the psychopaths are “correct”, or “healthy”?
Can it be as simple as black and white? Is it ever that simple?
I understand that this is likely not going to be a well-received idea, but I believe that historically, we are very proficient at pointing at things we don’t understand and calling them evil – race, gender, belief systems, sexual orientation, the list goes on. Most of these moral arguments are still going on today, even in the societies that we consider the most progressive and open-minded.
If this says anything to me, it’s that we have a long way to go before we’ve redeemed ourselves for our transgressions.
And it’s this idea of redemption, the concept that we must atone for our sins, that makes my question all the more poignant. I don’t think any of us can argue that murder is evil, and mass murder more so, but does that only pertain to human life? What of the millions of animals slaughtered every day to feed us? What of the terrible conditions they’re forced to live in – conditions that, if the creatures stuck in them could speak our language and use our mannerisms, we would call criminal. Is this sort of daily massacre that we all tolerate something that deserves redemption, or is it simply “normal”?
This isn’t a vegetarian rant, don’t worry. I’m simply using this as a comparison. We look at Hannibal Lecter, Norman Bates, and John Wayne Gacy with disgust and revulsion, but the simple fact is that they don’t relate to us any more than we relate to the goat or the sheep. What we find disgusting is that they do it to us, not that they do it at all.
Face it: as much as it may be hard to admit, if Gacy had relegated his sadistic urges to birds and insects, we might not have hung out with the guy, but he’d still be in society. And for me, that says something very important about the so-called “healthy” members of our species.
The great thinker J. Krishnamurta once said: “It is no measure of health to be well-adjusted to a profoundly sick society.”
Take a look around folks. Do we look that healthy to you?
Now, with all that said, I’m not defending serial killers, and I’m definitely not suggesting that they’re blameless. What I’m saying is that by separating ourselves from them, by treating them as aberrations and monsters, we’re only fueling the dark flame that burns within them. I’m not a psychologist by any stretch of the imagination, but I do know people (it’s kinda my thing), and I don’t think anyone does anything unless they either want to or they feel that they have to. And when people with the need to fill an emotional void with progressively more dangerous and terrible acts feel like they have to hide who they are, it simply makes it harder to find them – and easier for them to justify their sickness. Their isolation feeds the beast, and all of us suffer as a result.
If we want to truly call ourselves open-minded, we have to try and do what these psychopaths can’t seem to do themselves. We have to try to understand them, because by doing that, we will also understand ourselves. As previously stated, this evil is not outside our doors — it’s right there inside us.
Always has been, always will be.
But how do we reach out to this evil without somehow inviting ourselves to become a part of it? How can we have a conversation with the darkness – and more importantly, what would it have to say?
Well, folks, there is now A Voice In The Dark, and it is more authentic, eloquent, and self-reflective than I could have imagined.
The author of this brilliant, if a little less visually-stimulating, comic is Larime Taylor – and let me tell you, this guy is probably the most remarkable comic creator I’ve ever had the pleasure to write about.
No offense … umm, everyone else.
Seriously, though, this man’s story is almost as good as his comic – and that’s saying a fair amount.
Larime was born with a very rare congenital disease called arthrogryposis, and it’s no picnic: basically, Mr. Taylor is bound to a wheelchair, unable to properly (if at all) use his limbs. He lives on social security (which is a pittance if you’ve ever looked it up) and spends his time writing and drawing.
“Wait a tick,” I know you’re asking. “How does a dude with no use of his arms write and draw a comic?”
That’s the trick, folks – the entire comic is written, drawn, and lettered with his mouth.
Yes, that same thing that’s hanging open right now on your face is the primary tool used in Larime’s work.
So what does this mean for the art? It means that considering the guy draws with his cake hole, it’s a fucking masterpiece. It’s definitely not Jim Lee, but damned if Lee could do a better job with no hands. Frankly, there are some comics I’ve discussed before that rely on the art to make them worth reading – Prophet, Manhattan Projects, and Fatale to name a few. This, however, is not one of them. In this case, the pictures are nothing more than a visual aid – it’s the story that makes this book stand out.
So what is A Voice In The Dark all about?
Teenager Zoey Aarons tells us right away that she’s just a normal kid – good parents, nice school, solid upbringing, no serious trauma. But there has always been this darkness inside her, a part of her that is simultaneously thrilling and frightening.
She has already indulged it once in recent months, but the feeling persists. Even though she counts the days since her last kill, she knows it’s only a matter of time before she loses control again.
But she believes she’s found a way to cope – now in the first few months of college, she has spearheaded a radio show on a local college station: it’s a show where the troubled, sexually-frustrated teenagers of the town can call in and talk about their darkest fears and urges. For the town’s youthful residents, it becomes a place of refuge, where they can go to be heard and given some strong, helpful advice from a peer.
For Zoey, it’s a confessional; a place where she can be reminded that she’s not alone. And for a few hours a week in the dark silence of the sound booth , she can let her dark side out, give it a chance to connect with kindred spirits without it resulting in a body count.
But all is not as it seems in her new town, a place appropriately known as Cutter’s Circle. It appears that the bustling, somewhat gentrified community has a tumultuous past – and a daunting present. Even as Zoey takes steps to keep her urges at bay, another is indulging them on the wealthy, pretty girls of Zoey’s college campus. And when one killer is on the loose, others invariably get pulled into their orbit, as our protagonist quickly discovers.
That, for all intents and purposes, is the pared-down story thus far. There’s a lot I’m leaving for you to discover, but let me just say that the hole goes deeper and I’m sure we haven’t seen the bottom yet – after all, it’s only six issues in.
However, there is a small problem. You see, there’s a reason why every article I’ve written has been about comics that no one talks about. Honestly, independent creators like Larime Taylor are not wealthy. In fact, this comic is in serious danger of being scrapped if it doesn’t get more attention.
The issue here isn’t a lack of praise or limited availability – it’s that no one talks about comics like A Voice In The Dark. And we should, because as much as I hate to admit it, we don’t need any more Wolverines or Supermen. What we need is fresh, new stories without six decades worth of convoluted story dragging along behind it.
It’s easy to make a beautiful, colourful and ultraviolent comic book with millions of dollars to back it up like the big dogs do it. Guys like Larime are doing it on $750 a month. Just think what he could do with a little more cash in his pocket — I mean, the guy creates a brilliant, well-developed comic book every month, and he does it without PR teams, syndicated television shows, and business deals with Disney.
Shit, he does it without hands.
So if you really love comics – not characters or superhero teams, but comics as a literary art form – then please, tell your friends, tweet this review, and buy an issue or two. If your local comic store doesn’t have any copies, you can purchase them online from the Image website.
For the future of independent comics, leave DC and Marvel on the shelf and put your money where Larime’s mouth is.
Until next time.