This first issue of Sabotage! was problematic for me. In reading it, I was reminded of a script I recently reviewed for my writing group here in Glasgow. That script involved a bullied teenager developing telekinetic superpowers and using them to wreck terrible revenge on the various tormentors in his life. I had some issues with it, most prominently that the script seemed to present this as a good thing, and allow said teenager to remain in the role of protagonist after his actions had made me emotionally disconnect from him. In reading Sabotage!, I found myself having the same reaction.
Here’s the thing about this story, as written by Jeff Schouten. Our main character is Jack Madrir, a disillusioned high school kids who spends his nights devoted to his alter ego, public nuisance Sabotage (or perhaps Sabotager: someone calls him that, at one point, but the suggestion is that the person has got his name wrong). I can’t really call him a superhero, or a crime-fighter, or a vigilante, and I don’t think he operates on a scale big enough to really call him a supervillain either, so “nuisance” probably fits best. He engages in petty, mean-spirited, ultimately futile acts of vandalism, laughs at the misfortune of others if he deems them as lame or on his “hate list”, and seems quite dismissive and patronising towards his girlfriend, beyond thinking she’s great at sex. Now, if we’re supposed to hate Jack’s guts, and the arc of the series is going to be about watching this punk kid get humbled and have to learn from the ground up how to be a decent human being who thinks about more than just himself and his juvenile revenge fantasies, then Schouten is doing a fantastic job, and I want to read more. But if we’re actually supposed to like Sabotage and think of him as some kind of cool, badass anti-establishment anti-hero, if we’re supposed to admire and support his rebellious tendencies and get behind him as our protagonist… then this is a disaster. And after a couple of readings, I still honestly can’t figure out what way Schouten wants us to interpret this.
Am I bringing my baggage of probably relating more to Lance the class nerd from the opening pages than anyone else in the story to how I respond to the comic? Perhaps. But in a comic that is so reliant on its central character, how that character is presented going forward is going to be crucial to its success. It’s a shame that this insufferable character had me on the threshold of checking out, as Schouten does have some admirable narrative tricks up his sleeve outside of his choice of protagonist. In particular, there’s a skillfully-executed switcheroo in tone near the issue’s conclusion that pulls the rug out from under you and hits like a gut-punch.
I also enjoyed the artwork of Ibal Canales. It’s simple stuff, but there’s an energy to it, the storytelling is clear, and there are some delightful facial expressions – Jack’s “I just had awesome sex” face is a gem. And again, the cartoony vibe helps build up certain expectations for the tone of the book that makes the aforementioned plot reversal all the more jarring.
So, all in all I wasn’t quite sure what to make of Sabotage! It’s either really obnoxious or really clever, maybe a bit of both? The first issue is available to read for free online, so go take a look and judge for yourself. And if, like me, you think you need to see where Schouten and Canales take the story next before coming to a solid conclusion, then there’s an option to donate to the budget to help the second issue get made.
Sabotage! #1 is available to read for free online.