The Webcomic Overlook #212: Minimum Security (2010-2012)
I’m going out of town — actually, this country —- this weekend on vacation. I’ve been doing a lot of travel planning this week, trying to find the best deals, plotting out the best places to check out, etc. Long story short: I really hadn’t planned on writing a review this week. I didn’t have time to read any webcomics, let alone write a review about ‘em.
However, after posting a recent press release, I came to the creeping realization that, man, I have read a hell of a lot of Stephanie McMillan’s Minimum Security. This absolutely discombobulated me. Of all the things in the world to embed itself like a termite in the soft, spongy recesses of my skull, why this particular comic?
Fortunately, Minimum Security is concluding a self-contained story arc this week. Next week, it’s embarking on a completely different tangent. Something about proletariat theory. Does this mean we will be soon reading The Communist Manifesto as illustrated through panels of interpretive dance? Will the world of Minimum Security be consumed by an apocalyptic event where society reverts to an agrarian system, a la NBC’s Revolution? Will every comic panel just be a paragraph long dissertation with a tiny doodle in the corner so that, yes, officially this is a comic and not a logorrhoeaic blog post? Who knows? As Alice Morse Earle once said, “Yesterday is history. Tomorrow is a mystery. Today is a gift. That’s why it is called the present.”
Now is as good a time as any to look back at the smiles and the tears from the last two years. So grab yourself some organic brown rice sandwiches, slip on some locally grown hemp slippers, put on the soundtrack to Koyaanisqatsi by Phillip Glass, ’cause we’re gonna take a trip down Self-Sustainability Lane and we just won’t stop until Capitalism is destroyed!
Pre-Earth Day 2010, Minimum Security was more of a gag-a-day strip. And by that, I mean gags that you imagine go around at the offices of PETA. Our star is Kranti. I think she’s written to be bold, confident, and confrontational; most will see her as oppressively smug and highly unlikable. Every other line out of her mouth is eventually going to be “The planet’s being killed!” Even people who support environmental policies found it a little too much. It doesn’t matter, though; McMillan only has disdain for the mainstream liberal contingent.
The comic changed drastically on Earth Day 2010. The big difference is that McMillan wanted to craft an epic story — a vaguely science fiction parable about revolutionaries struggling against Corporate America. In other words: yes, there will be flying robots that shoot lasers.
The characters all received a significant visual update. Our main character, Kranti, had previously been drawn as a pigtailed girl in a long black frock. Later, she was stringy-haired girl dressed in leaves. Note: I am not making this up. She’s now drawn as a young adult. Also, she is Indian. Seriously, this was a shocker. I’m looking at some earlier strips where Kranti’s colored with a vibrant pink skin tone, and I think she was originally supposed to be a white Goth with a pretentious name. And now… she’s Indian? Kranti is also a disappointment to her elderly Indian mother, which is a surprise to no one.
Fortunately, she never sheathed that rapier sharp tongue of hers. Here are some actual Kranti lines:
“Humans should never have evolved opposable thumbs.”
“Unconsummated property damage isn’t violence. THIS is violence!” (Says Kranti as she’s punching out an old woman.)
“Leave them. They’re too stupid to live.”
“The population won’t smash civilization. So what? It still needs to be done.“
Now, I’m going to ask you something: is there anything, anything at all that Kranti says that doesn’t make her a Silver Age supervillain? But hey, she’s graduated from full time wearing leaves to advocating a society of eating leaves. And people dare to call her a tin-foil hat wearing lunatic!
Bananabelle also returns, also no longer in pigtails and now an office girl fo sorts. She is a fellow revolutionary, only less radical as evidenced through the following “zinger”: “Terrible service. I’m totally writing them up on TripAdvisor.” Oh, Bananabelle! You and your technology! She prefers less radical methods of revolution, though: she wants to start a community garden. Bananabelle (ugh, that name) is also in love with Chip, her boss. Unfortunately, Chip only has eyes for Kranti. I think Ms. McMillan missed a golden opportunity in writing Chip’s story, where we learn he has lost all sense of smell and is also blind.
terrorists revolutionary freedom fighters are thwarted in their fight because, apparently, the rich have their own army of UAV’s. You’d think rich people could afford robots that don’t look like they were built out of bathroom trash cans and coat hangers, but I guess you don’t get where you are by wasting your money away on engineering.
Eventually, the man wins. Kranti and Bananabelle get sent to a concentration camp in the middle of the desert. The girls get nervouse as windowless train cars pull up. There is a strong implication that all the protestors rounded up at the camp will be gassed.
What the hell.
Of course, if we were taking bets as to which webcomic would invoke Godwin’s Law, Minimum Security should easily have been on everybody’s roster list.
Fortunately, they’re saved by
revolutionary freedom fighters terrorists. Specifically, Bunnista. Bunnista is a cute fluffy rabbit that lost an eye because … capitalism. Anyway, he’s a bunny armed with bombs and weapons and … blah blah blah…. eventually Kranti decides to be more proactive in her domestic terrorism plans: “The world is being killed TODAY. There’s no time left!” Oh, Kranti. The more things change….
Incidentally, Kranti’s activities involve blowing up a bunch of bulldozers — which, granted, were being used to build a nuclear power plant — and setting off a novelty oversized cartoon bomb. OK, I’m not saying I’m supporting Kranti’s agenda here, but there are probably more effective ways of accomplishing your goals.
Minimum Security also has a villain… I mean, a tangible one, not an “all of mankind is the enemy of Earth” one. The bad guys is Chip’s dad, whose name I can’t remember and who I will refer to as the evil CEO. He runs OmniCorp, a ruthless multinational trying to push … CLEAN ENERGY! Mu hu ha ha! Of course, he’s not on the level … because capitalism. That’s why. Witness his monologue how he knows clean energy will destroy the world, but even he is powerless to stop it. Damn, you clean energy. DAMN YOU TO HELL!
it’s fairly notable, by the way, that Kranti opposes any method that generates electricity. Apparently, power plants are evil because they sustain the evils of capitalism. Now, I’m not historian. However, I’m guessing that non-capitalist countries, such as the former Soviet Union and Maoist China — which Kranti seems to be a huge fan of — kinda sorta have energy-producing power plants, too.
Anyway, the Evil CEO is so evil that he also takes away Bananabelle’s community garden. For some reason, this is portrayed as a soul crushing tragedy and not hilariously comical.
Our heroes go deeper down the rabbit hole after one of their attempts is almost thwarted by a cop. Fortunately, they’re saved by Otto, a sketchy arms dealer with a scar on his cheek who shoots a cop in cold blood. He sorta half-heartedly tosses off the excuse that this cop, this exact cop that had coincidentally caught up with our heroes, was the same cop who raped his sister. Now, in a saner work, you’d think that the cop murder thing would mean that Otto isn’t entirely on the level. Nope! Otto is a valuable ally who is automatically more trustworthy than anyone in uniform, because F*** The Police!
The two years in between would prove to be fertile ground for Ms. McMillan, as that period saw the BP Oil Spill, the earthquake in Japan … and, of course, the Occupy Movement. Minimum Security, in fact, seemed like it was going to go on again about how protests are useless until the Occupy Movement started up. You can almost feel the glee as Minimum Security gets swept up in the movement even portraying U.S. military vets, depicted as murdering thugs in any number of News Tickers, as heroes. Honeymoons never last forever, though, and when reality sets in that Occupy wasn’t going to overthrow civilization, the comic sorta gets a little disillusioned.
OK, so let’s ignore the politics for a while (I know, I know … pretty much impossible with this comic), and let’s look at the story. To sum it up in as few words as possible, it’s a mess. At various points in the story — like the one with the concentration camp in the middle of the desert — characters complain that The Man has so much power that no one one will ever believe their stories. This is completely undermined by the fact that literally every plot point is resolved via deus ex machina.
For example: the Evil CEO has orchestrated everything to where our noble
terrorists revolutionaries whatever are being rounded up in a trap. Bananabelle visits the Evil CEO, who is now her father-in-law because… I don’t know. Capitalism. He’s busy controlling his robot drones and riot squads from his top secret control room … and he’s left his door open. Why? I mean, the guy is paranoid enough to game the system so that the protestors all die. Why isn’t he coordinating things from a secure location? And why is everything being controlled by one guy? Shouldn’t there be an entire team on location?
Bananabelle smuggles a gun in her purse and she kills the evil CEO. Oh yeah, spoilers. The evil CEO was already kind of suspicious of her. Why would he even let ler get this close? Anyway, Bananabelle tries to escape, but she’s caught by the totally incompetent security guy and the maid. But … twist! It turns out that evil CEO’s maid is actually working for the terrorists. I count at least three deus ex machinas here, and that’s just one scene. If crap like this happens all the time, why wouldn’t the media believe that evil corporations build concentration camps in the desert that can disappear overnight?
While it can be argued that Ms. McMillan’s art has a distinctive style, it’s still atrocious. The faces are amorphous blobs, changing size and shape. They look especially horrible in the side view. You could probably say that Ms. McMillan’s disdain for technology bleeds through her art, because the cars looks especially horrible.
There was one artistic choice that proved to be utterly baffling. The heroes and the corporate goons finally clash. All of the sudden, though, some of the characters look like they’re ballet performers. This was intentional. I read somewhere that Ms. McMillan — despite being OK with illustrating cop murder — did not like drawing scenes of fighting… so she substituted the protestors with ballet performers wearing military fatigues. We all have our tolerances, I guess.
The comic only gets weirder two strips later, when Ms. McMillan decides to draw scenes from Battleship Potemkin instead. This is where I draw the line. It also makes no sense from a symbolic level. The Potemkin scenes are all of civilians being caught in the crossfire: a baby carriage bouncing down the stairs and an elderly grandma getting shot in the head. Team Kranti, on the other hand, are, at this point, armed terrorists. They are NOT THE SAME THING! What does this say other than, “Wow, Stephanie McMillan really likes this movie”?
In his review of the movie The Life Of David Gale, Roger Ebert points out that the surprise twist at the end would more likely convince the audience to take a stand opposite from what the filmmakers intended. (SPOILERS: In the movie, David Gale is innocent, and the reason he’s on Death Row is because it was an elaborate ploy by death penalty opponents to prove that sometimes an innocent man can be incarcerated.)
I am sure the filmmakers believe their film is against the death penalty. I believe it supports it and hopes to discredit the opponents of the penalty as unprincipled fraudsters. What I do not understand is the final revelation on the videotape. Surely David Gale knows that Bitsey Bloom cannot keep it private without violating the ethics of journalism and sacrificing the biggest story of her career. So it serves no functional purpose except to give a cheap thrill to the audience slackjaws. It is shameful.
And that’s what this is. Minimum Security is the Life of David Gale of webcomics. The comic almost actually reads better if you imagine the writer as being secretly a right-wing agitator out to discredit environmentalists everywhere as unprincipled fraudsters.
There’s a sense of doom at the end of this run of Minimum Security, by the way. Bananabelle and Kranti were both tricked by the man. Nothing they ever did changed anything. And, of course, the Earth is still dying. Mankind, you make me want to vomit. maybe this is Ms. McMillan’s way of admitting defeat … but I wouldn’t bet on it.
Rating: 1 star (out of 5)