There’s just no two ways about it: Repo Man is one of the best movies ever made by human beings. I’ve often thought so, and there was no end to my excitement when I discovered that a comic book sequel – written by Alex Cox – was on the way. Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday was published in March of this year, and while I’ve had a copy for a while, I only just finished reading it the other day after I’d finally plowed through all my required reading for school.
As many people know, Alex Cox originally penned Repo Man with accompanying story boards, and when he was trying to get the film made, the Comic / Script hybrid is what people saw when he was trying to generate interest. Repo Man itself is a perfect synthesis of everything that Comics are about: Sci-Fi stories with everyman characters getting caught up in the action, working against the Government & Local authorities to get the job done. But beyond the junk-culture trappings that it embraces, what Repo Man managed to do effectively was to synthesize Alien Conspiracies, Cold War Paranoia, the Devolution of Americans, TV Addiction, the Commodification of Everything, Punk Rock, LA Street Life, Drug Culture, Revolutionary Military Groups, Tabloid Footprints In Your Hair, the Disposable Nature of Modern Human Life, Televangelists, Celebrity Gossip, & The Interconnectedness of All Things into a stream-of-consciousness filmic essay about Life In These Here United States. After a few viewings, Cox’s dialog takes on Chaucerian qualities, and every bit of garbage and each throw-away “product placement” seems full of nuanced meaning in the same way every piece of set-dressing in a Wes Anderson movie does. Many people have argued to me that Repo Man is a sloppy and schlocky ’80’s movie that implies a lot and says very little. I couldn’t disagree more.
Having said that, Waldo’s Hawaiian Holiday is very much about the same things that Repo Man is about. Set 10 years after the film ends, Otto (now calling himself Waldo) returns to LA in an effort to eek out a living for himself. Where the career of Repo Man was previously the job that represented American Culture perfectly (everyone can own anything, but the elite thug ruling class will always have the power to take it away if there’s a buck in it to be made), now the career of choice is Telemarketer. Waldo quickly immerses himself into the world of everyone trying to sell everyone else every imaginable thing they don’t need, not realizing that everyone else is trying to do the exact same thing. The shiny prize, the thing that keeps all Americans living this pathetic lifestyle, is the idea that if you work hard enough, you’ll win that Hawaiian Vacation.
Waldo buys into this idea just like everyone else, and as the book unfolds we watch him weave in and out of a story that, itself, is a further scathing criticism of the direction this country is going in, here and now. The same fears are still at play, and as people stab each other in the back they’re still surprised to see a knife in their own when they turn around. Odd Sci-Fi elements come into play, and the Government – as clueless as anyone else – is still trying to screw over their people while still being thwarted by clueless people like Waldo, even if he’s not making an effort to. So much of what is great about the original film is in this book that it’s hard not to like.
Still, this is not a great sequel by any stretch of the definition. While continuing the same themes and ideas that are great, Waldo suffers from being somewhat incoherent and condensed in a way that borders on the surreal. To me, Repo Man was about the ability to leave behind the world around us by giving up the bullshit that causes misery in our lives. Otto, from the outset of the film, rejects nearly everything in his life (in order: his job, his friends, his family, religion, and in the end, his girlfriend & driving itself) for a chance to understand the wisdom that Miller gained from having not driven until that moment. Their reward is that they are allowed to ascend to the next level, to leave behind LA & it’s flawed existence and discover the secrets beyond.
Cast against that reading, Waldo leaves something to be desired in terms of resolution. In fact, there can barely be said to be a plot, and what little there is seems irrelevant in the end, anyway. LA has progressed to a point that bears little similarity to the world Otto left, and as Waldo, he seems to have learned nothing, and is willing to jump right back in and play the game, despite the implication that we’re all running in circles anyway. Waldo fails to learn anything useful during these adventures, and while one could argue that only in the end did Otto actually “learn” anything in the movie, in the comic, Waldo fails to change in any way; at the end, he’s still under the impression that his Hawaiian Holiday is just around the corner, despite serious evidence to the contrary.
There are so many things that I could address that make Waldo unimpressive: it is not a movie, it has no awesome soundtrack, it has a slick computer look-and-feel to the production that adds a lame “sheen” to new comics, and the format of the book is cramped and feels a bit short in the end. (I read it in a couple hours, and it seemed to go by too fast for something that is as ostensibly dense as it is.) Of course, these complaints are all personal taste more than anything else. So, here’s a recommendation: Plettschner (the knitting “coffee break” security guard that worked for the Helping Hand Acceptance Corporation) makes a great cameo, and catches us up on what’s happened to him in the interim. (Very, VERY funny.) And really, Waldo is a great book in terms of cultural satire, and Cox’s ability to take disparate parts of the American Dream and weave them together to create a Comedic Nightmare is equally painful and funny. But there is no ooomph to the book, no emotional trajectory that makes it worth following (or, really, rooting for any of the characters), and the resolution is as empty and painful as Mainstream Marvel Comics Pap.
Perhaps I should try reading it listening to Iggy Pop & The Plugz? Or, perhaps, the book is just not that great in the first place, and I should let sleeping dogs lie? Only time will tell.