Every page of Josh Bayer's Raw Power overflows with energetic, cruel, high level, scribbly, hatched drawing -- this is drawing that isn't afraid to show itself, to make a fool of itself before quickly showing itself for the beautiful thing it actually is. Twisted faces, dashed off caricatures---page after page, Bayer lovingly punches the reader in the face with his art.
Bayer's figures are round and solid, though if you look at their faces it seems for a moment that they were jaggedly hacked out on the drawing board with a blunt instrument. But when you pull your eyes back, you see the delicate drawing involved here. Reading the comic in one sitting--the best way to go with this one--it feels as if Bayer charged himself up, drew ten pages in a brilliant dash, then relented for five pages, gasped for breath (we get to do that, too, in these spots), then recharged, only to repeat the cycle until it all crashes into itself when we close the back cover. The beauty of Raw Power is that it's all incredible, inventive and original drawing.
It's fitting that Raw Power came out the same year Dan Clowes's Death-Ray was reprinted. The Death-Ray solidly jabbed at the inherent fascism of mainstream adventure comics and I think it remains the most stinging critique of the genre's stinking elephant in the room. Raw Power goes at the issue more ferociously (more of a scream than a jab) and we feel as if we're watching the murder and the autopsy--Death-Ray, in comparison, is more of a indictment. Raw Power gives us Cat Man (aka Terry Kaminczyk, a beautiful superhero real name if I've ever heard one). The bargain basement simple mindedness of Cat Man and the brain dead abandon he pummels people with (drawn with a lot of gusto by Bayer) gets at the disgusting nature of power fantasy comics pretty well without condemning them at all. Kind of like giving someone a milkshake and pouring one hundred times more sugar into it than is required--true and revolting.
We are also treated to Bayer's renditions of G. Gordon Liddy--the obvious putrid strain that would inspire a Cat Man. In an interlude to the Cat Man tale, Bayer has Liddy and Carter try to stamp out punk rock and somehow succeeds in making a transgressive, devil may care, and (most of all) righteous take down of Liddy: "I know all about you--you fascist!" "Fascist? You have heard of me!' For all of their fury and bile, underground comics could have used more succinct and elegant take downs like this one (Crumb on Trump, which is a more extended destruction, is one of the few examples I can think of were a noxious persona is laid out this well).
The book ends in spectacular fashion. Cat Man, ready to stamp out anyone who looks the least bit punk, lashes into an innocent bystander, a young woman. When she makes it back to her apartment, her clueless partner offers her a violent comic to read as comfort. Disgusted, she rejects the comic, but Bayer draws it himself so we get to read it. It's Bayer's re-draw of D.P. 7 #6 (yes a New Universe Marvel comic by Mark Gruenwald and Paul Ryan). Bayer takes a comic with lines like 'How 'bout pickin me up some Def Leppard?' and draws the hell out of it. It's almost as if he's destroyed D.P. 7--but there it is, totally understandable and thrilling in the way both Gruenwald and Bayer would want it to be.
This comic has so much ambition--any artist looking at this would be hard-pressed to resist sitting down to draw after getting through with it. While Bayer doesn't make it "look easy" he does make it look like he's doing it his way, and you'd be a fool to not do it your way before it's too late. This comic breaks a lot of closely held comic rules--draw the characters consistently panel after panel, don't vary their weight, height, make them recognizable--in fact it breaks them so strongly that you may want to believe they've been rendered irrelevant. But that only holds true as long as you're with this comic--to make it reality, we have to keep this book close, like the prophecy from a true believer that it is.