There is something undeniably cool about an anthology focused on murder, sex, and cars. It’s a very American set of themes, particularly the last third of that equation: the car’s the symbol of freedom in the ol’ U.S. of A., to go anywhere you want on your own schedule. It’s also one of those things that’s been intertwined with the rise of America as a social and economic powerhouse after World War II (a recent conversation with a friend of mine got into how the rise of the automobile went hand-in-hand with the rise of the middle class), but I’m getting lost on a tangent here. The first issue of 12-Gauge Press‘ latest volume of The Ride has plenty of Americana to go along with the grotesques contained within its pages.
Despite the three different plots, styles, and structures across the three stories–each featuring The Ride’s vehicle of choice, the Camaro–they all follow a basic motif: man uses a woman for his own pleasure, and is ultimately punished for it. This is most explicit in the middle story, David Lapham and Jody LeHeup’s Money Shot, beginning and ending with a man and woman engaging in intercourse in one of those sleazy roadside motels that pop up everywhere, culminating in one of those Garth Ennis-inspired sequences that is equal parts hilarious and disgusting in combining sex and violence. Lapham’s art is trashy as ever, depicting a talking scene between a man who robbed a crime boss and the woman who picked him up alongside the road with pornographic vulgarity (she’s in a skimpy dress, he’s shirtless from the Southern heat, and both grip phallic symbols in the form of a stick shift and a pistol, respectively), with many of the shots closing in on the woman’s features in a way that could be described as predatory. Not subtle, but the way LeHeup dovetails the whole thing into the finale and turns the blatant objectification on itself (well, almost) does fall together surprisingly well.
The other shorts, Perfect Circle and part one of Paid in Full, aren’t quite as successful in this formula as Money Shot: the former tries for an artsy, karmic justice for a psycho killer, who murders a woman he met at a key party, with lots of swirling song lyrics from R.E.M. and the B-52s drifting through the pages, while the latter is just straight pulp involving hillbillies, shotguns, and mullets. In credit to Ron Marz and Rick Leonardi, Paid in Full only relates to the slasher movie sexual themes in its final f0ur pages, when a Dixie Mafia boss decides that a man’s girlfriend will be sufficient payment for his debt (after the two stole back a Camaro of his), and the punishment is implied in the cliffhanger it ends with, before that detailing the couple’s getaway from other crime figures in a Dukes of Hazard car chase. Leonardi’s art is clean and crisp, never getting into the Lapham’s graphic nastiness (Lapham got his start in smaller publishers like Valiant and Defiant, Leonardi is mostly known for Big Two superhero comics, a difference that denotes their approaches). Nathan Edmondson (Dancer) and Paul Azacetta (Graveyard of Empires) appear distanced from the other two with Perfect Circle (the opening tale in the anthology)–obscuring what little violence they do show with heavy shadow, wide angles, and even less detail–but they establish the arc the other stories follow. It ends up being the weakest of the three tales, unwilling to either be over-the-top shocking or intelligent in how it handles its twist ending, stopping just short of Tales from the Crypt cleverness (there’s a theme of abandonment in how it plays out).
Appropriately, it’s the Camaro in each story that ends up being the harbinger of doom. As one of the hyper-masculine “pony cars” the auto industry is known for (along with the Mustang, the Firebird, and others), it’s suited to how Americans tie in their own sense of freedom and individuality with their love of exerting their own strength over others: Perfect Circle’s killer feels entitled to use his victim how he sees fit, and thrashes her to death when she rebukes him before ditching her in the Camaro; Money Shot’s robber sees the woman pulling up in the Camaro and instantly deems himself lucky; Paid in Full’s crime boss uses bullet holes in the Camaro as reason enough to use a woman as “payment.” It’s a “might makes right” type of ideology that runs through them, except once they act on it, some revelation in relation to the car (or even the car itself in Edmondson/Azacetta’s story) ends up leading to a grisly fate, as if the car itself were delivering the wrath of God, American style.
Makes me want to stand up and salute a flag.