Cult Fiction isn’t strictly a review column. So, unless there is a great new comic this writer has read (no, Pale Horse doesn’t make the cut for a variety of reasons), all he has to do every time a review is due—and it feels like one is every few hours—is dip into his library.
This time’s dip came up with Paul Pope’s 100%. Regular readers of this column should be familiar with the name. Both Heavy Liquid and Batman 100, other comics by Pope, have been featured in it. 100% dates back to 2002-04 when Vertigo (the DC imprint targeted at readers such as your columnist) published a miniseries of the same name. A trade paperback came out in 2005, and I probably bought a copy shortly after. I have read reports of a hard-bound collector’s edition that came out towards the end of the last decade but I haven’t seen one.
Not geeky: 100% is about real people, real relationships, and real emotions.
Science fiction—including a vision of a future so dystopian it would make Philip K. Dick proud—manga and pulp appear to be the things that Pope gets off on, and all are on display in 100%. Paul explains in an author’s note in the paperback edition that he went to Vertigo with an idea for a series of short stories set in a futuristic city. “When I proposed to Vertigo a series of short stories about love and sex, set in a science fiction city, they liked the initial premise, but rather than have me do a bunch of short stories, they wanted me to do just one story.” And so, Pope explains, he wrote out the book pretty much like a movie.
And an interesting movie it is, with six interrelated lead characters in a New York of the future. Pope’s visualization (he writes and illustrates his comics) of the city is similar to what he did with New York in Heavy Liquid, although there is no relation between the two stories. The six men and women have something to do with Cathouse, a strip club (indeed, one is a stripper) or, rather, a gastro-club (Pope’s invention) where scanners record and then project images of a dancer’s internal organs for the benefit of the audience—sort of like voyeurism on steroids. Pope also speaks of gastro-fights (and another of his characters is a gastro-fighter) where the audience gets to see the impact of punches on a fighter’s internal organs.
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Some people may think these are cool technologies; others may be disgusted by them; but despite more such technology on display, 100% isn’t really a geeky book on gadgets. Instead, it is a book about real people, real relationships, and real emotions such as pain and longing and obsession—all set in a very futuristic New York (heck, they even have flying cars a la Blade Runner), and depicted, ironically, in black and white. To me, what works most for 100% is Pope’s ability to tell these stories, and tell them well, without being overwhelmed by the setting he has created for them. The medium adds to the story, but it is finally all about the story, not the cool visual medium Pope uses to tell it. And that, in so many ways, is what good comics are about.
R. Sukumar is editor, Mint. Write to him at firstname.lastname@example.org