29 February, 2012

Review: Aaron & Ahmed by Jay Cantor and James Romberger

I've been on a graphic novel kick lately, and sometimes graphic novels mean having to say you're sorry.

I am very sorry I read Aaron & Ahmed. I really should have known better. The thing is, when a graphic novel promises to be a difficult read, emotional, challenging, all of that - I expect it might offer something new. A love story between two men in a time of war? A meeting of two cultures? A transcendence of humanity over inhumanity? Look, it doesn't have to all be Maus. At a certain point I'll take A Very Special Sugar & Spike.

9/11 graphic novels are all sophistic pieces of crap, and I should know that by now.

Aaron & Ahmed opens by showing how our poor schmo Aaron never really had a chance. With a Jewish name (turns out he's a nonreligious halfsie) and a dead dad, he loses his fiancee in the second plane. (Complete with real time phone call and touching the window of her plane as she goes.) Right. So now that the attempt at emotional manipulation has been made, we turn to Gitmo where a Dr. Mengele type is turning prisoners into dogs and frothing about how we are all programmable meat puppets awaiting the right coding of information to cast off our humanity. You know, the kind of shit that sounds deep when you're 11 (getting high at juvvie) or 17 (getting high at your mom's place in the Hamptons) or 43 (drunk on Tea) and male. Soon our young Aaron is feeding Ahmed (our chosen prisoner) estrogen to calm him while trying to make him fall in love via the patient / therapist relationship. Yea, I know. This book seriously wants to be deep. It thinks it has some profound insights about the nature of love and the nature of religion (hint, it hates the latter) and the ways of men who might like men when mixed with Stockholm Syndrome.

Soon Ahmed is magically transporting Aaron off to the depths of training camps in Pakistan where Aaron's first serious exposure to religion (and hard drugs) convert him into a walking time bomb of paranoid fervor. Returned to NYC, Aaron awaits his deployment while Ahmed has some bizarre change of heart. Wait, back up a second - just as emotionally manipulative as the early sequences for Aaron are the mid sequences for Ahmed. The West is bad but the East is worse and there will be war without end, praise Allah. Any complexity of the view from the other side is obscured by the need to have Aaron falling prey to the fanatical brethren. It's like a tiny bit of reason dropped into a giant shaker of bigotry and anger turned into a propaganda martini and served cold. (Insert Ron Paul joke here.)

Ok, so back in NY Aaron has God Fever and his meat puppet is out infecting other meat puppets while Ahmed is offering him romantic love and wanting to run away with him for a life of western decadence. Ahmed's change of heart is never explained. His reasons for taking Aaron to Pakistan are left in the dark, and his switch from trusted driver of OBL to homosexual craver of all things McDonald's rings untrue. Ahmed fails to evoke emotion or drive the plot in a logical manner. He stands in for Aaron to impose his own perceptions on before becoming a device to drive the plot in the circle the author wants it to go.

Religion exists to control us and is harnessed for evil by many forces. Money and power drive wars. Governments don't care about the human cost. Absolute power corrupts absolutely. There is no nuance in fervor. The masses can be manipulated. (It just goes on and on.) If you're drug free and over the age of consent do yourself a favor and give Aaron & Ahmed a pass. There may be an interesting and multifaceted look at the underlying causes of 9/11 out there but I doubt it's got an English translation. I should brush up on my German. Or maybe Swedish. Possibly Japanese. I don't know. Oh, also, gay people are noble and stuff. Love drives Ahmed to his doom!!! (Sorry, was that a spoiler?)

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