Have you read the news today? Oh boy.
Revelations of sexual misconduct and abuse. Increasingly open intolerance and outright racism from politicians. The threat of nuclear war somehow once again hanging over our heads.
It often feels like the world is just getting worse and worse. Maybe that’s not true, and the internet and social media has just made us more aware of it, but how many times have you cursed 2016 or 2017, as if the year was a physical entity responsible for all our suffering?
Aleš Kot and Danijel Žeželj’s Days of Hate stems directly from this feeling. The first issue opens with two characters looking back at our recent anni horribilis with something close to wistfulness. The year is 2022, and things have continued to get steadily worse -- and people have become desensitized to it.
This is technically a sci-fi story, in the same way that The Handmaid’s Tale is, but its dystopia is considerably less pronounced than that book's. Days of Hate's future doesn’t feel so much like it's branching out of one divergent moment, as it does an inevitable result.
It’s not subtle about any of this. The very first image we see is a swastika, spraypainted at the site of an atrocity. The title page quotes Steve Bannon. The issue itself is named “America First," which is both a slogan used in 2017 by Donald Trump and the name of an anti-Semitic pressure group that opposed the US declaring war on Nazi Germany.
If the comic is unabashedly direct in its political fury, it could stand to follow that example a little better with its storytelling. Kot’s writing can often be allusive, a tendency that’s only exacerbated here by the art. Žeželj’s chiaroscuro style is undeniably impactful, but it’s not always the clearest -- several times I had to scan back over panels to figure out exactly what was happening.
This may well be an intentional effect, however. The comic seems specifically designed for the reread. Much of the dialogue -- appropriately contained by letterer Aditya Bidikar in shaky-edged word balloons -- refers to events that haven’t happened yet, that there’s no way of knowing about on a first read. The book wrongfoots us from its opening. There's a detective-show vibe, implying the two characters investigating this crime scene must be cops… until they name the LAPD on their list of suspects, nestled amongst a number of hate groups.
Kot and Žeželj don’t seem to want the reader to ever get comfortable. The first characters we’re introduced to are in fact, at least by the definition of the government, terrorists. They act in ways that are sympathetic, while we hear things about them that are less sympathetic. We watch them commit murders that seem justified, or at least justifiable. Are they the protagonists of the book, or the antagonists? I couldn’t say for sure.
For a story determined to take us into murky waters, explore the dark times we’re living in, perhaps that’s appropriate.