Master Stroke

Ok, The Trenches annoys me. Frequently. I don’t know why I keep reading it, really. I mean, it is well written, and the characters have depth. If the events are mundane, it’s because that’s the focus of the comic—it’s about the mundane lives of a bunch of mundane people working a mundane job. (What’s that adage about how the only normal people are the ones you don’t know yet?). It’s all slightly exaggerated, because that’s what caricatures do. But something about it, some sort of background buzz perhaps, ticks me off. The tone, maybe, or the setting. Or the fact that I don’t really like (or identify with) most of the characters. In fact, almost none of them are likeable; they are mostly petty and self-interested, with a smattering of other not-so-hot traits thrown in for seasoning. Isaac, ostensibly the main character, is a scheming dick (but happily, an incompetent schemer). Gwen is selfish and somewhat lazy. Marley is admittedly not selfish or petty, but his brain is so fried that he’s lost touch with reality, and I just don’t want to be near him. Q is an arrogant corporate climber, and also a bit of a dick. And the others are pure caricatures, and caricatures that depict only the banal, the weird and the pathetic, at that. (One person thinks he is a bat. One is batshit looney.)

Let us be clear. I think the comic is masterfully dislikeable. (I want to use words like “repugnant” and “repulsive”, but they are too strong.) It is not awful. The characters are not detestable, not horrifying or disgusting. They are unsavory. Shady. Everyone (except Cora) is trying to have an angle, some sort of advantage for him or herself, or is so far gone on some trip or another (weed, dementia, whatever) that he or she can no longer really see reality.

But this particular strip is spot on. It “exposes” (scare quotes because this is not news to readers) and makes fun of Isaac. He is a villain, or he wants to be one, unconsciously. He is exclusively self-interested, and actively tries to harm others for his own benefit—not out of sadism or a desire to hurt, just out of greed, selfishness, power-hunger. But he is an incompetent villain; his plans fail, backfire. And as this strip makes clear, he is incompetent enough not to realize that he is not a hero. He is the opposite.

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