Tracking how the specter of 9/11 has fallen over the comics industry for the past five years has been much like watching the grieving process after a death: From DC's quickie, gushy 9-11 collections to Art Spiegelman's sophisticated elegy In The Shadow Of No Towers, comics have digested the attacks by gradually taking them less literally, processing personal experiences into metaphorical resonance.
Case in point: Rick Veitch's Can't Get No, which draws heavily on the New York attacks for mood, but ultimately reduces them to a mere backdrop, with the Twin Towers' collapse as an easily packaged metaphor for one man's personal collapse. Veitch's protagonist, overstressed executive Chad Roe, loses his tentative grip on normalcy when his "ultra-permanent marker" company is sued into oblivion over the indelible graffiti blanketing Manhattan. In a haze of booze and anxiety meds, he winds up unconscious in the merciless hands of artists who cover him in ultra-permanent-marker patterns from scalp to sole. With his inner alienation suddenly transformed into a visible mark of Cain, he's rejected at home, at work, and in public, and he flees into a picaresque journey full of societal dropouts, taking kindness and joy wherever he finds it. When the hijackers' planes descend, it's just one more blow—but one that mostly stuns the people around him into the sense of dissolution and devastation he already feels.
Remarkably, Veitch accomplishes all this without word balloons; Can't Get No is almost entirely textless, apart from a dreamlike prose poem that parallels the action. It's the hardest part of the book to swallow, thanks to pretentious language and ellipses-packed stream-of-consciousness nattering like, "Under a pale radioactive moon… Tender young wings are breaking through the ovum… and unfolding. The milk of human kindness runs white… and virgin sweet. We're playing for all the marbles. Or none at all." Trying to suss out any possible meaning for such gibberish is a constant distraction, but the text controls the pace, encouraging a leisurely stroll through the black-and-white art rather than the headlong race implied by the propulsive narrative. And by forcing readers to slow down and breathe, Veitch gives them time to absorb his fetish for grotesque detail, from the scraggly hairs on a policeman's upper lip to the saliva dripping from a set of fake teeth. For someone operating on such a small scale, the enormity of 9/11 is an appropriately monstrous and distant calamity.