by Joe Orchard
Identity politics are fun, aren’t they? Take the digital hellscape that is Twitter as an example. On the one side libtards, cucks and snowflakes, on the other gammons, nazis and any number of -phobes and -ists, all screaming together, at each other, into the void, while the concept of nuance slowly shrivels and dies in a corner somewhere. Scumbag seeks to hold a mirror up to the writhing mess of our own performative outrage by putting all the power in the hands of a man with no stake in any of it. A drug-addled, grime-covered mess of denim and bad life choices named Ernie Ray Clementine.
Reminiscent in a way of the opening to The Big Lebowski but with the polarity flipped, our initial introduction to Ernie is not kind. Where The Dude is treated with warmth, Ernie gets cold revulsion. Where The Dude is amiably sloppy, Ernie is a disgusting mess. So it is, then, that just a few pages prior to this book’s spider bite moment, we are treated to the image of Ernie in the middle of the street with his pants round his ankles, spraying liquid faeces into the air while cooking up a spoonful of the bad skag.
It’s a scene that really sticks with you, realised in gross (and admittedly quite funny) detail by Lewis Larosa’s tremendous artwork. Not to play down the efforts of the artists throughout the rest of the book, Larosa’s work in this first issue really sets the tone. There’s a sickly iridescent sheen covering almost everything that makes you feel like you need to wash your hands after you finish each page. It lends the whole thing an illicit quality, like it should be sold in a brown paper bag. Even after the issue ends and the next artist tags in, that feeling lingers, like the faintest whiff of something forgotten at the back of a fridge.
So how is it that Ernie, this stinking, grimy, selfish wreck of a human manages to get you to root for him? He’s a self-serving moron whose only desires are to get high, get laid and repeat, so what is it that is keeping me from closing the book and walking away from this reprehensible man? Pity.
This is a man who, despite having the lowest of ambitions is thwarted in his pursuit of them at every turn. Take the aforementioned street scene: all the guy wants to do is shoot up, but instead he finds himself accidentally turned into a super hero and, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility, and great responsibility is a drag. The poor guy can’t get laid at an orgy. He can’t even persuade his own personal sex robot to have a rummage down the front of his drawers. There’s a farcical quality to everything that Ernie does that, despite his gross, base motivations engender sympathy. Also, pitting him against actual fascists doesn’t hurt.
As with Ernie, the surrounding cast of characters are painted in the broadest of brushstrokes. The antagonists, Scorpionus, are jack-booted neo-nazis with masks that look like a nude lady torso for some reason. They can be found enacting evil schemes and shouting ‘Death to beta cucks,’ so it’s not too tough trying to figure out what their deal is. Sister Mary, Ernie’s handler/partner is, in her own words, ‘a fabulous international superspy,’ and in the words of lead evil henchman, Ultranationalist, an ‘overcompensating, “badass” Mary Sue,’ which begs the question: is your Mary Sue a Mary Sue if the person who says she is is a white supremecist meathead?
All in all then, Scumbag isn’t going to solve the issues surrounding modern political discourse. It won’t stop the mud-slinging and name-calling. What it might do is provide a little bit of giddy escapism, and in Ernie Ray Clementine provide an avatar for our worst, most self-indulgent impulses to run amok while trying, but ultimately failing to do the right thing.
It might also remind us that, while no-one really wants to hang out with an inveterate waster, anything is better than a white supremacist.