American culture is governed by desire. We are obsessed with consumption, with the attainable and unattainable, with a freedom of choice that we continually take for granted–even the freedom to make poor decisions. Socratic theory asserts that individual choices must be sacrificed for a collective greater good. Buddhism teaches that desire is directly linked to suffering and that its abolition is the key to achieving perfect bliss.
The America portrayed in Rick Remender (Fear Agent, Deadly Class) and Greg Tocchini’s neo-noir saga The Last Days of American Crime (which hits stores this week in a fancy remastered hardcover collection of all three issues) has also arrived at the notion that no choice is the only choice. Fed up with terrorism and mounting violence, the government awaits the arrival of a covertly implemented synaptic inhibitor in the form of a broadcast signal that will render its citizens physically incapable of criminal activity. To divert public attention from the broadcast, the US treasury simultaneously proceeds to convert the nation’s currency from paper money to a virtual fiduciary system using renewable charge cards so that all transactions—and, by proxy, citizens—may be tracked. However, word of the ban is leaked to the public, inciting outrage, mass exodus, and widespread chaos. In the eye of the shitstorm lies one Graham Bricke, a hard-luck ex-con planning to jack one of the machines used to replenish the new currency in the two weeks before the ban in order to bankroll a comfortable retirement and care for his elderly mother. Along the way he is forced to enlist the help of a couple of shifty safecrackers with uncertain motives. What ensues is what you’d generally expect from your normal everyday crime thriller: shifting alliances, plot twists, love triangles, femme fatales (one, anyway) and a lot of bloodshed.
I guess that’s my main beef with Remender’s story: instead of keeping the focus on this fascinating premise of an America that has eliminated its citizens’ right to choose violent and/or criminal behavior in order to benefit society as a whole (maybe taking the story beyond the underworld to portray the ban’s effects on everyday people, for example), the emphasis is placed upon these boilerplate pulp fiction tropes and archetypal characters, which seems a wasted opportunity for insightful, satirical social commentary. A sharp concept such as this surely deserves better than to be treated as an afterthought. Remender’s cast of characters also suffer under the weight of epithet-ridden dialogue; Bricke’s dialogue in particular reads like a Mickey Rourke voiceover, making one wish he came off as roguishly sympathetic as Rourke’s Marv in the film version of Sin City. I acknowledge that characters don’t have to be sympathetic or likeable (especially in a crime caper) to make a story enjoyable, but their speech shouldn’t be so riddled with obscure euphemisms that they are difficult to relate to. Despite these obstacles, my love of crime fiction kept me invested in the story enough to eagerly anticipate the outcome, though admittedly it was with hopes that the broadcast would play more of a role than to provide our perps with a deadline for their Last Big Heist. Tocchini’s knack for matching the breakneck pace of Remender’s storytelling with dynamic, whirlwind images of Bricke & Co.’s seedy, battle-scarred reality smooth out the book’s rough edges, lending accessibility and creating a coalescent narrative. The frenetic action and flashy chase sequences set a high precedent for the film adaptation that has been in development for some time, and I expect Remender’s story will translate well to the big screen given the Hollywood treatment. Perhaps then the potential for social satire will be fulfilled—or not—but until then, Remender and Tocchini’s series is a wild and purely entertaining ride through the hypothetical last days of an America torn apart by greed, facing the extinction of its own freedom of choice.