Young Slasher, the latest from S. Elliot Brandis, is a slasher horror story that owes an awful lot to comic books, particularly Mark Millar’s Kick-Ass and uber-scribe Grant Morrison. This is a story that wears its influences proudly on its sleeve and name-drops them with regularity, not necessarily to be cute to show off a measure of pop culture awareness, but because these are the things that shape and inform our titular killer, who goes by the very comic book-ish name of Mia Sanguine.
Mia is a real-life movie slasher for the twenty-first century. Inspired by comic books and horror movies, her psychopathy even comes with its own Spotify playlist so that she can kill with a punk soundtrack. Her origin story is rooted in modern-day Big Topics of our time, as her and her best friend are ridiculed and bullied by their high school peers. Mia was a late transfer to a private school filled with spoiled, rotten rich kids and her taste in fashion and music made her an outcast. Her friend Casey is struggling to define his sexuality and is routinely harassed by his bigoted, homophobic classmates. And so, they hatch a plot, inspired quite knowingly by Kick-Ass. They want to become real-life horror movie killers.
And although I stated above that this is a horror story, that’s not entirely correct. It has all the benchmarks of a horror narrative – that sleek, cool looking cover; a terrific bit of the old ultraviolence; a fantastic slasher villain with an impressive array of cutlery and scorn – but Young Slasher is more accurately a fun work of metafiction. As Mia might say, this book is “meta as fuck!” and the meta narrative run multiple layers deep, reaching quite a bit beyond merely the fictional, fourth-wall breaking killer that fans of Deadpool will recognize.
Aside from being an interesting thought experiment and clever literary construct, this book would not work without a reason to care beyond picking out points of reference and trying to figure out what’s real and what’s not. That’s where the characters come in. Mia is simply a fun girl to hang out with for the couple hundred-some pages that she exists in. She’s brutal, but also empathetic, and, perhaps troublingly, somebody I could relate to.
As a victim of bullying during my own school years (being the only kid with a gnarly scar running the length of my chest from open heart surgery and unable to engage in the more rough-and-tumble aspects of gym class made me both an outcast and, since I couldn’t run, easy pickings. When I eventually found comfort in junk food and became overweight, I was then the fat, scarred outcast), I found myself fully sympathetic to Mia and Casey. I could understand their urge to find primal satisfaction in waging war against their tormentors, even if, even at my lowest, I wouldn’t have gone so far as to take an axe to somebody’s head (although I’ll admit to fancying some pretty dark daydreams about how to handle the idiot jock who liked to leave an empty seat between us so he could kick that empty desk over the seatback of my chair and into my spine over and over and over during high school Geometry).
Mia and Casey may want to be villains, but, like most fictional anarchists, there’s a certain measure of joyful escapism to be had in their exploits. It’s fun to watch them turn the tables on their bullies, even as they go far beyond the pale in their brutality, taking a beeline right away from justice and straight on to revenge.
[Note: I received an advance copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.]