A negative reaction to a book forces certain decisions that a positive reaction does not, at least if you’ve agreed to review that book. In this case I tried to articulate an experience of reading these comics, with a mind to what works and what doesn’t, without getting too prescriptive. I don’t think a work like Fukitor should be censored or banned (for the record). As for buying it–the notion that the purchase of a book is an endorsement of its content is a little reductive, I think, and every reader is entitled to act on curiosity. But buddy, I’ll tell you, I did not like it!
“Zombie Gorebath” is one of the collection’s first stories and one of many to take some cues from old EC comics. (A character exhibits hubris, encounters the supernatural, receives a violent comeuppance, etc.) During a prelude to the gorebath, a white researcher on a pacific island anally rapes a brown villager and then shoots the villager in the head. (Karns depicts the villager with a bone in his nose, a bit of signifying that defies readers to wonder whether the choice is self-consciously lazy or traditionally lazy.) One page later, the zombified native returns to bite out the white person’s crotch. This sequence lacks the conviction of even a revenge fantasy—Karns approaches both moments with the same sort of leer.
From “Zombie Gorebath” alone, a reader might wonder if Karns simply wants to offend. But “Special Forces Attack Squad: Operation Cockblock!” story reads (superficially) as an attempt to do something more complex. The comic follows a mostly-white combat team as it plows through coded-Islamic militants who speak in phrases like “Muhak jihad allak!” and “Doobla madooba blaggle!” The opening page of this story suggests a skewering of all parties—the Ss in “Special Forces” recall the SS insignia, and the G.I. Joe types are goons in their own right. A generous reader might even suggest the comic critiques certain ways of seeing Middle Eastern peoples. But subsequent spreads mostly celebrate the over-the-top slaughter of sublingual ethnic grotesques.
Intentionality becomes a consideration while reading comics like this. Here are two ways to consider “Operation Cockblock!”: 1) Karns uses satire as a pretext to include content that’s upsetting by design; 2) Karns’s ambitions as a satirist outstretch his gift for satire to such a degree that the story is a near-total failure. Not all art has a social intent, and not all art is best viewed in these terms, but we can certainly judge ostensible social comment by its follow-through. Fukitor manages little with respect to race except the visual parroting of hateful tropes.
It’s possible Karns doesn’t consider the reactions of readers while drafting his work. Not likely, but possible. If he does consider reactions, we can posit that shock is not merely expected but desired. So criticizing Fukitor because of its harsh content feels uncomfortably like playing a game that Karns has arranged. But Fukitor can also be critiqued on the grounds of its eventual boringness. By the end, viscera fall with plodding monotony.