Watch your step as we spiral further down the rabbit hole in the second volume in the King of the Flies trilogy, entitled The Origin of the World. Last May, we featured Volume 1: Hallorave in an Omni spotlight and then selected it as one of our Top Comics and Graphic Novels of 2010. Volume 2 begins in the thick aftermath of Volume 1 and shifts its narrative in favor of something new.
While publisher Fantagraphics described King of the Flies “as written by Stephen King and drawn by Charles Burns,” in Volume 2 the squirming underbelly of suburbia feels much more like Twin Peaks than King’s Castle Rock. The unease that once crept through the residential basements now spreads vulture wings and takes flight. Volume 2 justifies the previous paranoia and displays it in full view: protagonist Eric returns as the titular king and is violently beaten in broad daylight, dethroned. His assailant nonchalantly details Eric’s mother’s sexual preferences after wiping blood from his head. “But kids don’t want to know, do they, Eric? Not the normal ones.”
Whereas Volume 1 unsettles with its unflinching look at violence, Volume 2’s focus lies more in the carnal. It’s going to be a while before I feel like visiting a bowling alley, for example, and I’m not sure I’ll ever look at a soda can the same way again. The manic, pompadour-sporting, anti-irony Big Ringo is back in this volume, still wearing the bowling shirts and permanent scowl. He lives in fear of losing a bowling pin that’s really more like some sort of power totem, warping sex and violence for all who touch it.
Eric is once again the focal character--try to find a female character who doesn’t succumb to his inexplicable spell; even his mother is subject to his Oedipal hallucinations--and writer Michel Pirus turns up the narcissism and self-loathing. Eric believes his own hype, only now he hates himself for it. He teeters on the edge of control in an especially convincing drunken sequence at a party:
The glass fell from my hands. It flew through the air, piercing a hole into the night--the fake night--and I lunged to follow it. To dive through the breach before it closed up again.
Several chapters highlight a new aspect to the trilogy: the ghosts of dead characters lackadaisically haunting the living. In a possible nod to Alan Moore’s Watchmen, several of the deceased meditate on the red planet Mars before traveling back to Earth to revisit those who’ve wronged them--which, in King of the Flies, is everyone. Early in Volume 1, Daniel is struck by a car and killed as he crosses a street at night. In Volume 2, he revisits the scene to find the driver sitting alone in the middle of the road. “I tell the man that I hold no grudge and there’s still time,” Daniel narrates as headlights appear. “The glare of the lights is blinding, but his eyes stay wide open. Like he’s already dead.”
The Origin of the World's plots coil and ceaselessly shift; the characters tasting and testing one another with serpentine instincts. When the whole thing threatens to surrender under its bleakness, the last page morphs to resemble something akin to hope if the reader squints just right. That would have been a fine ending to this second installment, a palate cleanser before whatever lies ahead in Volume 3. But then it’s broken by the sound of a doorbell--and the promise of a doorway darkened yet again.
P.S. Fantagraphics' co-publisher, Kim Thompson, offers a few notes on Volume 2 in a piece here, along with a flip-through tour and higher resolution images of those in the above post.