Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Dennis the Menace: You're not out of shape, Mr. Wilson. You've got lots of shapes.

What the hell are Dennis and Mr. Wilson doing in the bathroom together? And why is Mr. Wilson not fully dressed? And where is Mrs. Wilson? How can she just turn a blind eye like this?

I think I'm beginning to understand Dennis the Menace for the first time. It's not really meant to be funny at all. That's just a thin veneer, designed to make the comic palatable to a mainstream audience.

Dennis the Menace is actually a horrifying and heartbreaking portrait of the seedy underbelly of 1950s suburban life. Mr. Wilson's hatred of Dennis the misdirected self-loathing of a man unable to control his own urges. Mrs. Wilson's endless cookie-making a futile attempt to cope with the awful truth about the man she loves. Dennis's misbehavior a desperate cry for help. The Mitchells' obliviousness a shocking indictment of parents too wrapped up in their own lives to see their child's pain.

And the worst part is that they're all trapped there, in that nostalgic single-panel Hell, never getting the help they need or the chance to grow and age and change. I'm just surprised the comics section has been willing to provide a home for a comic with a subtext this daring and bleak and controversial. It's almost as if nobody else notices.

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