I am beginning to wonder if Curt Pires only works in trilogies. This is a question that functions on two levels. There are the series the gonzo Canadian has already scribed, with LP, Theremin and Pop functioning as a trifecta of pop music comic epics. And then there is his placement alongside Ales Kot and Grant Morrison as a fellow hallucinogen slinging shaman (or maybe an anti-christ in this case?), the violently propulsive yin to Kot’s more New Agey philosophizing yang, a rising star who seems a little sick of drug culture’s hippie platitudes in favor of a “burn everything down” frenzy. But the newest level of Pires’ trilogy bent is Mayday, a counterpart to Pop‘s music industry terrorism where the dopey geek pothead and the amnesiac shouldabeen pop princess have been subbed out for a pretentious fuckhead of an auteur and a take-no-shit LA newcomer. If Pop was the end of Pires’ music trilogy, then it also seems to have been the start of a trilogy viciously mocking and deconstructing celebrity culture with music naturally followed by that other trench of shit, film.
Mayday also has an extra bit of connective tissue in the form of Pete Toms, the Pop colorist who is no stranger to deconstructing the film world thanks to his essential webcomic On Hiatus. Given how Mayday‘s entire first issue mirrors Pop’s, on down to a mostly wordless opening four pages where Toms’ coloring does as much to set the atmosphere as Chris Peterson’s art, it’s necessary to view the work in the context of that previous series, but I think it’s also necessary to view it in the context of Toms’ own celebrity skewering series. While Pires casts a hateable white man as his lead (there are even billboards advertising a film franchise called White Privilege throughout Mayday), both works feature an existentially plagued person of color shaking shit up– for On Hiatus it was Harry Malloy and the shaking was mostly inside his head but here in Mayday it’s the bluntly named Benicio del Cocaine, a former star stud in a space suit who seems to have crafted his own version of Scientology, where shots to the face replace personality quizzes and heaven comes in the form of an incubator chamber that seems a lot like the one that bred Pop’s stars. Toms colors Pop and Mayday in flat, stark pastels and earth tones, which combines as well with Peterson’s minimalist art as it did with Copland’s, creating a druggy, hazy atmosphere where stand out images kind of float into view rather than rudely commanding your attention. It’s distanced, like its lost and confused protagonist, and a purposeful flip of Hollywood sheen as much as Pop was a flip of autotune and Photoshop.
All of that background and atmosphere is perfect for a celebrity autopsy, basically, but as always, Pires writes comics that are if nothing else impossible to be bored by. Right from the start, Pires’ narration and dialogue is clever, if occasionally juvenile, never being obtrusive like the oppressive text folks like Cullen Bunn and Justin Jordan like to make their artists suffer through. We’ve got a protagonist named Terrence Gattica, a newbie auteur who takes home a “golden statue” for his flick Glitterfuck Empire and then spends the next few years blowing his budget on, well, blow. He goes from the high of the awards ceremony to the low of a series of anonymously gorgeous bodies and designer drugs, waking up a couple years down the line to look out on his inevitable future, with a Fast and Furious billboard threatening him from the left and an ad for other bad boy auteur Gus van Sant’s “I needed the money” turn at the helm of a comic book film (the problematic but fun Garth Ennis opus Hitman, of all things, though it is worth noting a reveal about the relationship between two gunmen in Mayday mirrors a plot element from Elephant).
While Benicio del Cocaine is out shooting news crews like an alternate ending to Man Bites Dog, guns are also providing a wake up call for Gattica, as he witnesses two Hotline Miami cosplayers murder a fellow coke fiend in the bathroom of Hollywood morgue The Viper Room. The duo in the chic Halloween masks indicate the murder is just the first in a planned series of five, and Gattica does his best to not make the checklist by hiding out in the neighboring stall until some club enforcers knock him out, under the impression that he is behind the brutal slaying. Cue the worried, anxious agent (Cuba Gooding Jr, moonlighting) springing him on bail, only to have his disappointment in the auteur elevated when Gattica jacks his Lambo and speeds off, nearly hitting Kleio, the wizened young Texan waitress who is unaware that she’s about to become his foil. It’s understandable, since Kleio’s entry into LA culture was a night that seems to have been identical to Gattica’s two lost years crammed into a 24 hour period.
The issue climaxes with one of Pires’ now patented dual 15 panel sequences, and if there’s one gripe here it’s that Peterson doesn’t quite seem to be as capable at making this kind of thing as iconic as Copland did in Pop. Peterson’s line work is a little softer, his expressions a little flatter and the important close ups don’t carry quite the same weight– a dropped gun on the ground, juxtaposed fatal weapons, death cries and brain splatters all look decent here, but they just aren’t as sharp as Copland’s treatment of similar things. Weirdly, the debut issue’s final image is very striking, even though it’s one of those “let’s calm down for a bit and take in all this carnage” endings rather than a cliffhanger, but that might also be due to Toms using some brighter coloring for the blood, which makes it really pop against the otherwise dull earth tones surrounding. There is also the issue of none of the characters in Mayday being as sympathetic or as engaging as anyone in Pop, but that is clearly also by design– Pop wanted you to feel for the pop stars you hate on the reg, viewing them as slaves to an industry that dehumanizes them, whereas Mayday so far seems to want you to view everyone in Hollywood as immensely self-absorbed and egotistical and also happy to literally kill the competition. It also refuses to let you know where it’s going by the end, so take everything here with a grain of salt.
Truth be told, after Dylan Todd’s incredible cover contributions to Pop I was already a little unsure of how Mayday would be since when its cover got teased I was super worried it was yet another riff on the Hunter S. Thompson legend– I mean, look at that cover again and tell me Gattica doesn’t look like he’s dressed for a Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas costume party. And besides that, middle entries in trilogies are often the best in their series, but also the ones that require the longest wait for the payoff. The good news is that although Gattica is a total fucking shithead so far, he is nothing at all like a Thompson pastiche, and the open ended nature of the first issue’s closing moments means that the giant middle finger to Hollywood we’re seeing so far is a fake out for something a little more nuanced to come. Stick around, do a line, find out.
Mayday will be out in March from Black Mask Studios.
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover