Benjamin Marra Attacks Fantasies of Sex and Violence in ‘Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T.’
The cover of Benjamin Marra's new book Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War On Terror) is just about perfect, at least in terms of telegraphing the interior pages. In his signature Paul Gulacy-by-way-of underground comix artists style, Marra depicts the title character gorily decapitating a bizarrely attired opponent who has a chainsaw in one hand and is firing gun with the other, while a buxom, scantily clad woman looks on, the whole tableau rendered in glaring Golden Age comics coloring.
The only way the cover could be more accurate in telling a potential reader what lies beneath it would be if the title character were simultaneously engaged in a graphic sex act.
But then our man O.M.W.O.T. never actually engages in hardcore, graphic sex while killing people; he alternates between extreme violence and extreme sex, only stopping one to do the other. The closest he comes to multi-tasking and doing both at once is in the second chapter, when he lands the front half of a plane while having intercourse with a passenger... just after ruthlessly killing a bunch of tastelessly portrayed terrorists and several by-standers.
And if Marra had to choose between the two when it came time settle on a cover image, ultra-violence was certainly the way to go: As a society, we tend to be much more comfortable looking at the insides of human beings being violently emptied by blades and bullets than at people without their clothes on. Which is actually pretty messed-up.
And hey, speaking of messed-up...
The premise of O.M.W.O.T. is laid out briefly in a paragraph on the title page:
In 2001, as a response to the terrorist attacks on September 11th, President George W. Bush ordered the creation of a super-secret team of U.S. foreign service agents committed to the protection of American interests overseas. This team was known as the Terror Assaulters. Operating with complete and total independence and licensed to kill without mercy, these highly trained individuals were in no way linked ot the US. government. The following account is of one such agent, codenamed O.M.W.O.T. (One Man War On Terror).
Marra abandons that precise premise almost immediately, beyond the the fact that the comics involve a guy who kills terrorists. O.M.W.O.T. is a frozen-faced, knottily-muscled secret agent who never takes off his opaque sunglasses and is rarely without a lit cigarette in his mouth. Marra sends him on a series of increasingly silly "missions" that are closer to G.I. Joe than James Bond, with less sophisticated plotting than either.
In "Cyber Attack Part 1" he kills a bunch of guys to get a microchip, then breaks for a date. In "Funding," he's an air marshal whose spectacular killing of hijackers and the landing of half a plane earn him an audience with the power behind the President (who is actually a lizard-faced alien). In "Cyber Attack Part 2," 'terrorists' have taken over the United States Red Dawn-style, and are using the microchip to turn Americans into terrorists. And in the final chapter, he tries to settle down to normal life with his court-ordered marriage to a former foe who... well, it's impossible to summarize in a way that's not totally offensive to many of our readers.
In fact, there's a good chance this whole comic will be offensive to many of our (and its) readers. And maybe that's fine; everything doesn't have to be made to appeal to everyone, and it's always refreshing to find a work like this that is of such exceptional quality and that appears made specifically to appeal to maybe no one other than the author.
Marra writes the entire book with the characters speaking in over-obvious descriptions of their own actions. "They're killing me!" says someone being killed, for example, or "He kicked our hands!" says a terrorist, as O.M.W.O.T. kicks their hands.
This used to be a staple of comics narratives, of course, when the form was still primitive, but Marra makes a joke of it; his art is crystal clear, and doesn't need any of this, but almost every panel includes such dialogue, which is perhaps funniest when applied to the sex scenes. I would almost call it a running gag, but it's so omnipresent it's more of a style; the whole comic reads a little like it was translated into English from a different language, by someone who didn't know how to speak the original language.
Marra is an incredible action artist, even if the style of his small-handed figures isn't to your liking. It's rare to see an American comic that depicts actual combat as a series of physical exchanges, but Marra draws actual kung fu scenes. The style of the action is very 80s movie-inspired, but taken to such an extreme that absurdity doesn't even begin to cover it (The first terrorist O.M.W.O.T. kills, he does so by shooting him 50 times. Seriously, 50; I counted.)
The sex scenes aren't as frequent as the scenes of violence, although they are almost as extreme. In the book's 100 pages, O.M.W.O.T. has sex with five women and two men, and Marra renders it all with the sort of exacting detail one doesn't really see visually anywhere outside of porn.
Pornography is always a tricky thing to define, and while I imagine many people would refer to the sex scenes in O.M.W.O.T. as pornographic, I think, if an essential element of pornography is its intention to titillate, this doesn't qualify. The sex isn't necessarily sexy, but merely another way in which Marra takes archetypal 1980s alpha male movie heroes in as extreme direction as possible.
Bond, for example, may make coy double entendres and wake up in bed next to naked ladies; this man of action has porn film-style sex with most of the women and several of the men who express interest in him.
The many weird sex scenes in the final chapter, in which O.M.W.O.T. lives out a hyper-parody of the American dream, are similarly parodic in intent.
The best gag, however, may be Marra's use of quips and witticisms. Our "hero" repeatedly coyly begins, "Let's just say..." and ends by saying something completely obvious, which Marra puts in quotes as if it were a joke of some kind.
If you can imagine Fletcher Hanks collaborating with Larry Hama or Chuck Dixon on a Jack Kirby-inspired, deadpan G.I. Joe parody that was serialized in the back of Playboy in the late 1980s, well, you'd be pretty darn close to what Marra has come up with here. You'd just have to multiply that by a factor of 10 or 20.
It's not for everyone, obviously, but is it any good?
Let's just say... "Yes, it's good."
Terror Assaulter: O.M.W.O.T. is on sale now, published by Fantagraphics.