Thursday, December 09, 2021

Sports Is Hell by Ben Passmore

Somewhere there is a Super Bowl, between the Birds and Big White. Those seem to be the actual team names, not nicknames - this is a world where everything is a little more obvious, more extreme.

This is also a world where the Super Bowl is apparently played at the home team's stadium, because we see both the stadium with the game and the fans pouring out of it to riot in the streets, as of course sports fans must do when their teams win or lose.

At the same time -- on the evening of the Super Bowl? in the same town? -- there is also a big BLM protest, where at least some participants are looking forward to violence and burning down as much of the city as possible.

(I should say, before I go much farther, that I'm the wrong audience for this book in several ways: I don't care that much about sports, and my political leanings are not that close to creator Ben Passmore's burn-everything-down stance.)

The game ends, apparently with a win for the Birds, whose fans, at least as we see them here, are mostly Black. But there was a flag on that final play, and a blackout immediately hits this city - it's not clear why, but here are a couple of pages of big BOOM!s all around the neighborhood, so I'm going to guess some combination of incompetency on the part of authorities and bloodthirstiness on the part of random revolutionaries. (Both of those things are always fair bets in Passmore's work.)

And of course there's a riot, which we see raging across this business/sports district. (The action of Sports Is Hell doesn't take place in residential areas, except at the beginning to set up characters.)

All of this is narrated, off and on, by two sports announcers, presumably the guys broadcasting the game and who then just segued into doing the same for the ensuing battles of more-or-less organized militias and other armed groups of murderous thugs who claim to be sports fans. They have a lot of death and destruction to talk through, in best play-by-play fashion. They do not explicitly call it a race war, but Passmore possibly would: an awful lot of those militias, maybe even all of them, are aligned by race.

We follow a bunch of different people, all of whom are horrible in one way or another: clueless white would-be-protestors, a Black protestor devoted to nonviolence (which in Passmore's world is the sign of an idiot), a couple of Black anarchists, and a more organized and better armed Black militia group. Many of them die horribly over the course of the book, as do dozens of others - from the narration, it's pretty clear at least hundreds and possible thousands or tens of thousands are getting killed, mostly by gunfire from these various militias, over the course of this night. 

I don't think Sports Is Hell is meant to be a nihilistic book, but that's what I took away from it: that people are horrible and evil, only one minor moment away from mass murder, every last one of them. I do think Passmore intended to connect the violence in the streets with the violence of a football game, but it didn't really click for me. The game happens almost entirely off-page; the story is about non-athletes, who mostly seem to want to kill each other. The sports feels arbitrary and unnecessary: these people would kill each other for less, or nothing.

So, yeah, maybe sports is hell. But in Passmore's comics, as far as I've seen, everything is hell, so I'm not quite clear on the distinction here.

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