Rituals: Troop 142 #3

Posted by on May 1st, 2010 at 5:42 AM

Rob reviews the third issue of Mike Dawson’s minicomics series, TROOP 142.

In my review of the first two issues of Mike Dawson’s minicomic/webcomic TROOP 142, I emphasized the ways in which Dawson contrasted the ideals of the Boy Scouts with the viciousness of teenage boys. I also discussed the nature of hierarchies in such settings, especially with regard to how that sort of thing plays out with the adult scoutmasters. The third issue focuses on other aspects of teenage life: a first LSD trip, the ways in which an outcast hardens himself against the world, and the hints of two of the boys falling in love with each other. Throughout the issue, Dawson manages a surprisingly light touch with regard to all of these issues.

Part of that successful restraint comes with setting the story in the mid-90s, the era right before it was common for kids to have cel phones and laptops. Another key to the success of the series is that Dawson makes a point out of not providing an obvious protagonist for the reader to identify with. Every character is unpleasant but undeniably human in their own way, and Dawson lets no one off the hook. This is a story about an organization whose members pledge to live up to a certain set of rigidly-encoded ideals and how that plays out in real life.

Wisely, Dawson plays the acid trip a couple of the boys partake in mostly for laughs and sharply captures the reality of the experience as one of the boys is so transfixed with his environment that the possibility of communication simply falls away. Dawson communicates this cleverly by literally having the letters fade away on the page.  There is a scene where he hallucinates the camp scapegoat falling into the campfire and burning to death, but that hallucination is quite matter of fact. It’s not even wish-fulfillment so much as a fate that would make sense for the sad-sack Chuck.

Chuck is the sort of quiet loner who gets chosen as a target for abuse for no good reason, as even one of his tormentors admits. He’s defensive and fractious, with no sense of humor about himself. That may well be because of his status as the son of a conservative, hard-ass scoutmaster who embodies the potential for hypocrisy, since he’s a bully who uses his status as an authority figure to push around the kids.  It’s clear that he has no idea how to communicate with his son, as the scene where he intentionally scares him (with a truly creepily-drawn mask) indicates.  He hasn’t moved much beyond the way in which a teenager would try to indicate closeness: through insults and pranks.

The most intriguing story in the book concerns the two boys (both named David) who had been inseparable since the camp began.  They chose to eschew group activities in favor going off on their own, and it was clear that both started to understand the feelings that were starting to bubble up between them, even making pointed references to potentially hooking up with girls so as to defuse the tension.  The issue’s ending was another marvelous bit of restraint on Dawson’s part, as one of the boys asks the other if he wants to know a secret.  Nothing further is revealed here, and I’ll be fascinated to see where Dawson takes this particular development, especially in light of the BSA’s infamous attitudes toward homosexuality.  Dawson is cooking up a fascinating series here, and it’s clearly the best work of his career.

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2 Responses to “Rituals: Troop 142 #3”

  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Mike Dawson. Mike Dawson said: Sweet – Rob Clough reviews Troop 142 #3 at tcj.com http://bit.ly/aT7lau I wasn't expecting to get another review. […]

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