Monday, January 19, 2009

A (Philosophical) Critical Analysis of "Johnny the Homicidal Maniac"

In my junior year of high school, I took Philosophy as my IB Sixth Subject. For the grade from IB headquarters, we had to write a couple of things as well as take a test. One of the things I wrote was a "critical analysis" of a quaint little comic book from some years back called Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. Good book.

Now, seeing as how I haven't posted anything for a while, and a blog with the word "Comics" in the title has been lacking any postings about any comics, I've decided to re-hash that old piece of writing of mine.

Since then, I've learned a few more things about philosophy and such, but I'm just gonna let you read something a younger version of me wrote.


Johnen Vasquez’s “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” is Vasquez’s way of being both entertaining and thoughtful. While the reader can find joy in the gore, violence, and foul language, he can also find within the dialogue examples of different philosophies.
In Part 4 of “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac”, the title character is shot in the head (by a gun-holding device of his own suicidal design). At the end of Part 5, Nny (the more affectionate name by which our villainous hero is known) dies. When he dies, the entire universe dissolves into nothingness. Can we say “Solipsism”?

Solipsism, of course, is the metaphysical position “that only I exist and that everything else is just a creation of my subjective consciousness.” This stems from Berkeley’s Idealism, and is in opposition to Locke’s Realism.

Solipsism can be considered somewhat abstract in that it goes against the widely shared belief that “the world exists and that’s that”. However, Solipsism is also a very logical position. It is the result of questioning the existence of anything beyond one’s own perception. If you cannot perceive something, then how do you truly know that it exists?

Solipsism is not the metaphysical position of the author, however. The author is not really trying to preach any philosophical beliefs in an imperative fashion; he is merely expressing his thoughts in his own artistic way. These thoughts just so happen to run the gamut from deep thinking (“You know, the idea that a thing exists solely to be the anchor point for all known things. The old thing about what happens to the world when you close your eyes!!”) to fantasies of violence (“Go find a cheerleader and saw her legs off.”). Johnen Vasquez offers us no philosophical imperatives, just questions and some speculative answers to those questions.

Solipsism cannot be represented without conversely representing Realism. While none of the characters in “Johnny the Homicidal Maniac” ever express anything resembling the metaphysical position of Realism, the position is brought to one’s mind simply because Solipsism is represented. Realism is also represented (and Solipsism possibly challenged) when, at the end of Part 6, Nny, after having literally gone through Hell, returns to Earth. Surprisingly, there is an Earth to return to. This can be seen as a challenge to Solipsism and an affirmation of Realism in that the universe did not really disappear when Nny died; it was there the whole time. One might think to argue that the world could have disappeared but simply returned when Nny did. This argument is not apt, however, because, shortly after he dies, he is the only person in line to enter either Heaven or Hell. Then again, it might be possible that Nny simply did not imagine (after his death) that any other people might have died. On the other hand (one hand of many, it seems), it’s likely that the universe did disappear; Nny’s universe, that is. The last panel of Part 5 shows a dying Nny lying on what’s left of his floor, surrounded by the darkness of a void. As far as Nny knows, the universe has indeed disappeared. After his excursions in Heaven and Hell, however, he no longer brings up the idea of Solipsism. The comic book ceases to hold any philosophical thought that regards the world or perception and only asks questions that hold merit on a personal level.

Since the book deals a lot with philosophy on the personal level, it must be filled at times with something resembling Existentialism. Nny is murderer; there’s no getting around it, that’s just what he is. However, he blames the deaths of his victims on their own actions. (“As for protecting the people, well that’s a bit of a paradox – at least from what I know. I’m sure that if you searched into the lives of some of these victims, you would find out that they, themselves, were the cause of their very deaths. In those cases, the so-called ‘victim’, at some earlier, played some part in the creation of their ‘killer’. I believe that the life ended was ended for the fact that it was wasted on something that would never evolve beyond the childish cruelty so many never cast off.”) He goes about the entire book complaining about people and the wrongs the commit on other people. Whenever he is made fun of by someone on the street or in a store because he dresses funny or has a weird haircut (he looks like someone who spends half of his time at Hot Topic and the other half reading “Sandman” comics and writing in his journal), he kidnaps the opinionated individual and proceeds to inflict upon him a gruesome death (i.e. running a scythe through a cheerleader’s throat because she and some friends giggled at him).
Nny’s Existentialist-like views are not limited to just other people -- Nny hates himself as much as anyone else. He hates the fact that he is human and subject to emotions, needs, and even the basest of bodily functions. If he hates his life so much, why does he simply not kill himself? He actually does “attempt” suicide several times within the first half of the books, he just fails because he is (1) distracted by a funny TV commercial, (2) there are no more bullets in the gun, or (3) he has forgotten to charge the battery of the taser. However, he does “succeed” in Part 4, when his device shoots him in the face, and he dies. His “second chance” is also displeasing to him, but now he does more than just gripe about it. At the end of the book, Nny decides to leave his current life, and eventually checks himself into a mental institution. While things don’t work out perfectly, the reader sees a man who recognizes that he is responsible for his own life, and he does his best to consciously take hold of the reins and better himself. Let it not be said, though, that Vasquez is preaching existentialism here. It must be remembered that Nny still remains a murderer, and his life, as far as the reader can see, is far from perfect.

In the end, Vasquez shows the reader a peek into the world of philosophy, but also remains faithful to the notion that he is more of an artist/entertainer than a philosopher. The reader is not supposed to take from this book a personal philosophy or set of beliefs, he is only supposed to think a little more about things, and, more importantly, laugh.

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