American Virgin: Head

American Virgin ruins its potential when it becomes yet another revenge thriller and yet another DC comic where the hero is motivated by a dead girlfriend.

The first issue introduces Adam, a youthful minister who advertises his virginity as part of his nationwide purity crusade. He’s a three-dimensional character who seems to promise a sympathetic portrayal of a believer, rare in comics. I was looking forward to a thoughtful examination of some of the key issues American culture is currently struggling with: sex and religion.

American Virgin: Head cover
American Virgin:
Head
Buy this book

Unfortunately, the story takes a different path. His sister brings him the news that his girlfriend, an aid worker in Africa, has been beheaded. Then the sister accompanies him on his mad flight to reclaim her body. He’s out for vengeance instead of coping with his loss in any rational fashion, hooking up with a shady guide and swinging his fists when he doesn’t get the answers he wants.

Cloonan’s art is as wonderfully stylized as always, with lots of emotion, but the characters surrounding Adam aren’t as well-rounded as he is. He’s got a harridan of a mother with big dreams for him and a girlfriend who’s nothing more than an object to motivate his crusade and then his quest. His brother is a druggie and his cousins foul-mouthed sex fiends. Those he encounters in Africa are plot points instead of characters.

The extremity of his journey seems geared to provide him an excuse to shake him out of his beliefs, but it has little to say to me. I would think the death, just before their wedding, of the woman he was saving himself for would be enough of a motivation, without the whole “heart of darkness/exotic native practices” exaggeration.

This collection of the first four series issues also contains Cloonan sketches, a fake interview with the lead character, and other playful extras. Becky Cloonan and Jim Rugg have websites.

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12 Responses to “American Virgin: Head”

  1. James Schee Says:

    Ah! That doesn’t sound very good at all, and nothing like the interesting sounding talk up for the series before #1. Which I thought, much like you seemed to, was going to be about sex and religion in today’s world.

    I think I’ll pass on the collection now.

  2. Johanna Says:

    Yeah, the series as described had a lot of promise, I thought, but what ended up on the page didn’t match. I don’t know if that’s because of behind-the-scenes changes or the writer not communicating his themes effectively or if the story just went elsewhere.

  3. chasdom Says:

    I think Seagle is the most infuriating writer in comics for me. Compared with Peter Milligan, where I can usually sense pretty quickly whether we’re getting the “good Milligan” or the “lazy Milligan”, Seagle is just so unpredictable. Is he going to show up for work today or not?

    Honestly, I like Seagle, I even have a complete set of The Crusades, another work like American Virgin that was way better in concept than in execution. But this new series is really a new low, I think. I’m so glad I had a copy of Solstice on hand to wash the taste of “Head” out of my brain.

    I hold out hope, though, because Seagle’s House of Secrets started out as a shallow piece of dreck and then morphed into something really amazing. So maybe, lightning will strike twice, eh?

    Yeah, this series is doomed. *sigh*

  4. Lyle Says:

    While I think Steven Seagle can create some really great stories, his pacing tends to be a little off and I find that his series tend to wander a bit for long periods of time. My impression of Crusades was that there were a lot of interesting moments followed by lots more waiting for interesting moments. Nothing’s come close to his run on House of Secrets for me, unfortunately, that run keeps me checking out his work though.

  5. James Schee Says:

    That’s a shame too, as I really liked his.. Solaris(? I just woke up after getting in late, so I don’t want to hunt up the name:) ) GN so had high hopes for this.

  6. Johanna Says:

    James, I think you’re thinking of Solstice, which was my favorite of his work.

    Lyle, good analysis. I also find that the book he describes usually sounds much better to me than the book we actually get — It’s a Bird is a good example of that. I wanted more of “how an artist interacts with the idea of Superman”, less noble suffering and indy-style autobio.

  7. ~chris Says:

    Thanks for the review, Johanna. I passed on this title after scanning through #1 at the comic shop, and decided to wait for reviews from trusted sources to decide whether to pick up a possible (now definite) trade. Oh well, at least there’s the next issue of Becky’s wonderful East Coast Rising to look forward to.

  8. Johanna Says:

    I’m glad you found it helpful. I have to admit, though, I didn’t care much for ECR, either, based on a flipthrough. There didn’t seem to be much happening, and what was was violent. What do you enjoy in it?

  9. ~chris Says:

    It was those times when “[t]here didn’t seem to be much happening” that I loved, because I loved the characters. My favorite was Math, the ship’s navigator. Call me sexist, but I like a woman who’s good at math. :-) There’s a good mix of seriousness and laugh-out-loud comedy that springs from the characters. Plus I liked the monster turtles. My 15-year-old niece also loved East Coast Rising.

    I thought the violence was tame; people are bopped on the head and such, no severe damage is done (though scars and peg legs indicate past and possible future carnage), and much is slapstick. The only negative for me was that I sometimes had difficulty understanding what was happening in a battle scene.

  10. Johanna Says:

    Math sounds cool! I’ll have to see if I can find a copy for a second look.

  11. Comics Worth Reading Says:

    [...] With Demo, writer Brian Wood (DMZ, Channel Zero) and artist Becky Cloonan (American Virgin, Flight) team up for a jaded look at the world through a variety of character studies of broken lives. Although the project sprung from an aborted try at a Marvel teen mutant book, Wood does much more subtle and interesting things here than its beginnings would suggest. The twelve characters here, each with their own story, aren’t superheroes; instead, Wood describes them as “young people with power”. They’re the ultimate outsiders, and in most cases, they’re overwhelmed by the potential of what they can do. [...]

  12. Andy Says:

    This comic looks really deep story wise,Ill probrally pick it up when i stroll past the comic store at the end of my block.It looks like the kids been thrue alot and i can relate,Im def gunna buy this comic.

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