This article was originally published at ComicBook.Com on October 1, 2014.
Men of Wrath #1 is not a bad comic. Jason Aaron’s script is tight. It presents a clear story, includes understandable characters, and features dialogue that reads well. Ron Garney’s artwork is rugged and dirty. It creates a clear tone while constructing characters and settings. His sequences always convey and emphasize the proper information to readers. Matt Milla compliments Garney’s work with a suitable color palette that accentuates the mood of each sequence. Jared K. Fletcher’s lettering helps to guide the eye. No creator involved in Men of Wrath has failed at their task.
All of that having been said, I have no interest in reading Men of Wrath #2.
Men of Wrath is a deeply unlikable story. It tells the story of the Rath family, descendants of an unremarkable man who committed an unremarkable murder. Every successive generation has become increasingly violent, eventually resulting in Ira Rath, a man without a single redeeming quality. Over the course of the first issue, Ira ensures that no human being with a conscious would be capable of liking, much less caring for, him. In the first few pages he commits a crime that places him beyond redemption. He is a human being defined purely by cruelty and hatred.
Aaron and Garney recognize that. That point seems to be central to their story, but it also leaves little room to care about what is happening in these pages. The handful of other characters introduced are either equally unlikable or act as props. A snide crime boss and incompetent stick up man may not be quite as murderous as Ira, but lack any redeeming qualities. The only person capable of evoking an empathetic reaction is not presented as a character, but a plot device.
A pregnant woman who becomes embroiled in the events of this story is easily perceived as a victim worthy of sympathy. There’s no reason, outside of her being a victim, to provide that sympathy though. She lacks motivation or any sense of characterization. She is not a character in her own right, but an accessory for the men in this comic. Her presence or lack thereof speaks to what this story is about.
Men of Wrath is a comic about white men. Ira is an old, dangerous white man in the model of many Clint Eastwood without any sense of morality. He only deals with other white men, whether they are his family, doctor, or employers. Of the two women who appear in this story, he is only shown speaking to one whom he executes. The story is purposefully focused on the toxicity of a culture in which men hold all power, so much so that the narrative is incapable of anything or anyone else.
Aaron and Garney’s portrayal of Ira and his town does not lionize this behavior. It treats the culture as something horrific. There is no humor or hope here, instead there is only the monotonous drumming of a patriarchal hatred that ruins everything it touches. That may seem like a very harsh statement, but it appropriately reflects this very harsh comic.
Unlike Aaron’s previous works exploring similar themes, like Scalped and Southern Bastards,Men of Wrath lacks new insight. It condemns violence and sexism, but that condemnation alone is not noteworthy. The connection between family and sin has been made before in these other comics and was presented in a way that made it possible for readers to connect with the story. Men of Wrath goes so far that I am unable to connect to a single character or concept. It is brutal, and it is ugly, and it is without redemption.
Although it is a well told story, it is one I have no interest in reading.