This review first appeared in The Morpheus Tales Supplement #18.
Peter Bagge’s four-issue limited series Reset is among the weaker of Dark Horse Originals’ raft of “Genius Redefining Genre” comic books. Like the other titles in that line, Reset offers a skewered literary sensibility and unique art style combined with genre content which, in American comics at least, is often reserved for straightforward narratives and realistic visuals. Although Reset might disappoint some science fiction fans, genre aficionados curious about alternative comics might want to give this series a go.
In the early 1990s, Peter Bagge made a name for himself as the cartoonist laureate of the Seattle grunge scene with his slacker epic Hate. Although some of his later comics tackled speculative material, such as the amusing Apocalypse Nerd and the lacklustre Yeah!, Reset is Bagge’s first foray into hard science fiction, and the results are at least passable.
In Reset, a washed-up comedian named Guy Krause signs up for a scientific experiment that allows him to relive events from his own past. In a laboratory, he dons a virtual reality helmet and haptic simulators to experience digital reconstructions of key moments from his life, such as his high school graduation. The interactive technology, complete with a handy reset button, allows him to change the course of events to his own satisfaction. The line between the experiment and Krause’s real life soon begin to blur as he stumbles upon a conspiracy that has manipulated his career to ensure his participation in the study, but Reset keeps the true purpose of the project a mystery until the final issue.
This premise is no doubt a commentary on the artificiality of reality television, the constructiveness of celebrity image, and the fluidity of the division between reality and fiction. Reset’s combination of speculative satire with a black-and-white palette makes the comic reminiscent of certain Twilight Zone episodes, although the writing comes steeped in a caustic sarcasm that reeks of Generation X. Most of Bagge’s work has a humorous edge, and Reset is no exception, although the comedy here is much more muted than one might expect, given the look of the comic.
Bagge’s signature style, on full display in Reset, unites the manic exaggeration of kustom kulture cartoons with the low-rent neurosis of underground comix, all placed in service of character-driven, relationship-based comedy, where noodle limbs and demonic mugging portray personalities with believable psychological depth. The art only switches gears when Krause flashes back to his past, where the cartoonist employs a flattened look that mimics Flash animation. Although some readers might enjoy the contrast between the outrageous form and the naturalistic content, the eccentric visuals of the series will put off others.