Living A Lie
Tripwire continues its 100 Graphic Novels You Should Read While Stuck Inside with its sixty-eighth choice, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, published by Image and reviewed by Tripwire’s contributing writer Tim Cundle…
My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colourist: Jacob Phillips
Junkies lie. It’s what they do. Trust me, as a former drug counsellor, I’m all too aware of the habitual behavioural patterns of junkies, or as the terminology of our more “enlightened” age would have them called, victims of substance abuse. Users, addicts, junkies, call them what you will, all have one thing in common. They quickly learn how to twist and manipulate the truth according to the situations that they find themselves mired in. If they want to keep doing, and enjoying, whatever their drug of choice is, their success depends on it. So it isn’t really a surprise that Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillip’s My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is built on a lie, or rather a succession of mistruths, that as the stories progresses, are gradually peeled away to reveal the stark, cold reality that lies at the heart of the book’s events. Admittedly, the reasoning behind the deception is rooted in purity and a desire to do the right thing in the most adverse of circumstances, but sometimes, as the protagonist soon discovers, doing the right thing is the fastest route to damnation. Junkies lie and so, all too often, do those who worship them.
What starts out as seemingly innocent enough tale of two young would-be lovers sent to rehab to clean up their acts by concerned, and incredibly rich, relatives, soon takes a much darker, tragic turn. Given that My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies was written by Ed Brubaker, the author responsible for Criminal, shouldn’t really be too much of a surprise, but it does provide a nice twist in the tale and a particularly vicious, heart-rending finale. Taking its cue from One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest and Drugstore Cowboy, Brubaker’s story of lost and broken teenagers cast adrift in a cold and unforgiving world is an ode to lost love, the pain of betrayal and the hopeless devotion to the rock-n-roll genii lost to narcotics; a devotion that can only truly really understood by those who have also sold their soul to the beauty of amplification and the simple pleasure of the almost orgasmic crackle that a needle makes when it touches vinyl.
While addiction lies at the core of My Heroes, Brubaker’s multi-layered story doesn’t climb on a soap box or adopt a moral stance toward, or about, it and examines the many facets and forms that it can take, not all of which are necessarily found at the bottom of a bottle or a burnt and twisted spoon. And the reasons his characters have chosen the directions that their lives have taken them in are complicated and entrenched in human failure. Brubaker also gives the age-old nature versus nurture argument short shrift as both are held equally to blame as the players he’s cast onto his stage circle ever closer to the end that, much as you wish it wasn’t, is shaped by inevitability of causality and revenge.
Given form by the gorgeous, washed-out, stark, fitting and at times strangely fragile, art of Sean Phillips that serves as a perfect companion for Brubaker’s prose, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies is a noir tragedy, a Shakespearian opus channelled by Raymond Chandler that champions hopeless romance, mourns its unavoidable demise and laments the fact that we’re all doomed to endlessly repeat the same mistakes that our parents, as did their parents before them, made. That and the fact that, unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a happy ending, something that Brubaker and Phillips are acutely aware of and seamlessly incorporate into My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies. And it is, much as you expect it be given the names of the creators that adorn its cover, fantastic.
Here’s links to the other graphic novels reviewed so far