Thursday, September 15, 2011
Review: Prison Pit, Book 3
by Johnny Ryan
If you're onboard for the third installment of something so purposefully vile as Prison Pit, you know what you're getting into. You're not going to be shocked by violence and gore, but you're still going to have a great time, and as you flip through Book Three you're still going to be muttering middle school interjections to yourself to the tune of "oooh GROSS" or "siiiiiick" or whatever you would yell out when Rodney Hagelman put mustard on cottage cheese during recess. What makes this book different is that now that we know that we've got the stomach for it, we're going to need something more than just an increased level of brutality, and fortunately for us, Johnny Ryan gives what our sick minds didn't even know we needed from something like Prison Pit. He gives us some beginnings of what may be... a plot?...
Man, the more I'm thinking about it now, I'm wondering if I'm just being an asshole reaching to find meaning in the depths of the Prison Pit abyss. On the surface, we get the incredibly enjoyable and somewhat mindless game of a strong guy mangling other strong guys with ridiculous violence and cursing at a ninth-grade level, but beneath that I suppose we get a blank space to bring in whatever meaning we can dig up from Prison Pit. And maybe there isn't anything more to it than a bunch of ugly things smashing each other into uglier, bloodier things. Sure. Fine. But Johnny Ryan makes sure that that surface take on the material is entirely enjoyable in its own right. We get a collection of creatures and monsters beating the shit out of each other in the most juvenile way possible, but Johnny Ryan does such a handsome job of designing these creatures to be as ugly and awful as possible. It's an ugliness that you see in the margins of your seventh-grade notebook when you were drawing pictures of horrible things because this was the only thing that could excite you during social studies or whatever, and it's exciting to look at because you never know what you're going to see next.
Anyway, there seems to be some semblance of a more complex plot forming here in this volume, which is a good move since it'd be futile to try to make things more violent. The violence curve had been set so high in the first two books anyway, it'd be impossible to top it now that the audience is expecting this kind of caliber of violence from this book. Instead, Johnny Ryan takes the unexpected route of hinting at a plot bigger than "Some mean motherfucker fights other mean motherfuckers while trying to escape the desert wasteland he's trapped in," and he does this with the introduction of a new, unnamed character who we are led to believe is the archenemy of our *ahem* hero, Cannibal Fuckface. With the introduction of this new character, Johnny Ryan hints at a few new possibilities for the story of Cannibal Fuckface. We are left with the potential for some sort of backstory or history between the two characters, and more importantly there is the hint of something resembling consequences to Cannibal Fuckface's actions. It also helps that this new character carries himself in a way much different from the rest of Prison Pit's inhabitants. While everyone we've seen so far is aggressive and over the top, this new character is quiet, understated, and driven only to find and, presumably, kill Cannibal Fuckface. The new character and the new plot elements he hints at are a well-timed break from the usual 100+ pages of violence. I mean, it still is 100+ pages of some of the goriest violence out there, except that this particular volume gives you a little bit more substance in the form of the loose outlines of plot.
But none of that is why we pick up a book like Prison Pit, is it? We can intellectualize Prison Pit all we want, but the real appeal of Prison Pit is that it's fun on a purely visceral level. It doesn't require a lot of work to enjoy it because we don't really care about something so trite as a plot. We pick up Prison Pit for the carefree thrill of wonton violence and escapism. We pick up Prison Pit to feed our id, deeper meanings and criticism about form and structure be damned. We pick up Prison Pit to remind us of that time when we could've beat up Gregory Clauss if we'd just held our ground, but instead we ran away and drew pictures of him getting his throat stepped on. Maybe that says more about us than it does about Prison Pit, but c'mon, man. This isn't about us, this is about some ugly dudes beating the shit out of each other, and if that's not your thing, don't worry about it, I'll be around later to talk about that new issue of Optic Nerve that came out this week, but for now, fuck off for a second, I think I see a guy getting his guts pulled out through his dick.