Si Spencer’s Disjointed/Unified England in Bodies

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This weekend, synchronicity rules my selection of what to read and review. On Friday night, I watched Mike Leigh’s Naked, a spectacular masterpiece of English filmmaking and possibly one of the most English films to date. Then, on Saturday, after visiting Golden Apple Comics, I picked up Si Spencer’s Bodies, and to my surprise, when I arrived home to read it, I realized Tula Lotay of last week’s review of Supreme: Blue Rose illustrated a part of Bodies.

Now, how exactly do Naked, Supreme: Blue Rose, and Bodies tie together?

Most clearly, all three have English creators. All three take place in some form of dystopia, be it more of a realistic one in Naked or a futuristic one in Supreme: Blue Rose or both in the case of Bodies. Naked and Bodies center their narratives on forces perceived or known to corrupt the existence of English citizens. Bodies and Supreme: Blue Rose construct their protagonists and antagonists in fragments across time. Bodies contains the realism of Naked crossed with the time traveling and futurism of Supreme: Blue Rose.

All three tackle major political and philosophical concepts. Naked has a fiercely raw energy weaving throughout the film, which enforces its overwhelming sense of desperation and desolation in Thatcher’s England. Supreme: Blue Rose reinvents the Supreme mythology into a fresh new, time-shifting and complex exercise in understanding fundamental existence and persona. Bodies aims to construct a murder mystery across time in order to understand the history of England’s perceived internal enemies to English tradition and values. While Naked and Supreme: Blue Rose reach for ambitious concepts with underlying comments on politics and human existence and successfully execute them without ever stepping to the pulpit, Bodies reaches for the moon in its concept, but unfortunately, it only reaches the troposphere of the earth.

Cover for Bodies Volume One

Bodies divides its narratives into 4 timelines in London: 1890, 1940, 2014, and 2050. In each, a detective of the time discovers a mutilated body in Longharvest Lane in the East End of London. At a first glance, each of the detectives tie the body to Jack the Ripper, but upon further inspection, the corpse shows ties to something far more supernatural. Each detective possesses some quality which has been or will be rejected by the traditional English society. Inspector Hillinghead, the detective of the 1890 component of the story, is homosexual. Inspector Karl Whiteman, the 1940 detective, is a Polish Jew who escaped from Krakow. Detective Sergeant Shahara Hasan, the 2014 detective, is Pakistani and Muslim. And, Detective Maggie Belwood, the 2050 detective, is an amnesic rendered into almost a borderline infantile state from some unknown force.

Across each narrative arc, the corpse has wounds which bring about suspicions of some form of ritualistic killing. To make things stranger, as each detective dives deeper into the investigation, the corpse disappears and returns to life. In each incarnation, the corpse emerges from death as a slender blonde man with an eyepatch with a variety of names, but fundamentally, he encourages each detective to accept his or her own identity and past, coaxing each into an act which will allow them to finally incorporate themselves into the world they belong, whether that world is a past or future England or a void beyond the earth.

After unpacking all of the characters and the role of the revived corpse, Bodies studies the history of England’s disenfranchised people across time, addressing the conflicts each face and how they eventually assimilate into society. Unfortunately, Bodies does a disservice to its detailed discussion of different marginalized groups by incorporating a facile message of acculturation: “Know you are loved.” As a result, by the end, Bodies feels less like an intelligent discourse on England’s hesitance toward foreign cultures and lifestyles across time and more like a hippy peace rally filled with chants of love without a full understanding of how a conservative nation comes to accept once marginalized groups.

Ultimately, the detectives who do assimilate into English society with the help of the reborn one-eyed man accept their differences while still proclaiming their pride as citizens of England, revealing Spencer’s belief in patriotism as a unifying force. Then, to reinforce his thesis, Spencer closes Bodies with a sanguine salute to England that accepts all of its flaws, cherishes its strength, and aims to instill a sense of pride in the nation, a pride which allows each of the characters to become accepted by others, and a pride which Spencer hopes will allow future disenfranchised groups to feel unity with the people around them.

However, this belief that a common pride in a nation can create bridges between people of different gender, sexuality, culture, and heritage is one that is far too idealistic and far too removed from reality. Undoubtedly, patriotism can unify people to a certain degree, but understanding between people occurs at a much more personal level than pride in one’s own nation. Consequently, Bodies exists more as a manifesto of ungrounded beliefs and less as an observational argument on assimilation and mutual understanding.

Bodies lacks nuance and evidence to establish its thesis, and as a result, even the wonderful artwork and the fascinating idea to have different illustrators dedicated to each time period cannot save this series. After all of the time traveling and the rise from the dead are said and done, only the unfounded thesis is left along with many irritating repetitions of, “Know you are loved.” More of a comic book stylized kumbaya, Bodies contains naive politics mixed with an ambitious concept, thus creating an all too pretentious (and of course completely marketable) series.

With the rise of the xenophobic national front spreading across England and Europe, Spencer had an excellent opportunity to research and discuss the origins of the movement and its recent resurgence, but instead of asking, “What is the origin of the fear of foreigners in England? Why is this happening in mass again?” he asks “Why can’t we love each other?” making Bodies much less of an effective and galvanizing work.

If you’re looking for a work which studies the marginalization of England’s people, go watch Mike Leigh’s Naked instead. I promise you will not be able to look at media and its ability to comment on the fragmentation of a society in the same way again. You probably also will not be preaching a message of universal love at the end of it either…

Bodies is written by Si Spencer with artwork by Dean Ormston, Phil Winslade, Meghan Hetrick, and Tula Lotay and coloring by Lee Loughridege. It is available via Vertigo. 

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