Tuesday, November 15, 2005
Saliva Strand Syndrome - a silent killer
One of the strange things about Saliva Strand Syndrome is that, despite the massive quantities of paste-like saliva in a character’s mouth, he (the afflicted is nearly always a male) has no trouble speaking and never drools. You would think there would be some spill-over, but miraculously, the saliva stays in the mouth.
I’m no doctor, and it strikes me that perhaps we should get a professional like Polite Dissent’s Dr. Scott to weigh in on this issue. The amount of literature on Saliva Strand Syndrome is embarrassingly scant for such a prevalent disorder. You would think Image Comics would have funded a study in the Nineties to find out why many of their characters were afflicted by the disease. What I do know is that the symptoms of Saliva Strand Syndrome seem to be triggered by stress.
Combat can be stressful, or so I’m told. It’s one of the main triggers for SSS symptoms, along with maniacal raving. For examples, below is an image of Prime, charging into battle on the cover of an Ultraforce!!! comic book – art courtesy of Mike Deodato (I legally must put three exclamation points after Ultraforce!!!). Prime has his mouth open wide, probably saying, “RAAA!!!” or “UltraFOOOORCE!!!” You can clearly see a few thick strands of saliva connecting the roof of his mouth with his tongue like gooey stalactites. Behold:
Below is a character whose name escapes me, from one of Rob Liefield’s Youngblood books. He’s one of the many generic Longshot/Cable guys that bred like Tribbles during the Nineties. They all had generic action verb names like “Brawl” and “Skip.” Don’t laugh, Skip was a total bad-ass – he’d come skipping up at high-speed and brain you with a magic golf club.* Skip suffered from SSS like many of his colleagues on Team Youngblood, including this fellow below. Judging by his appearance, I think his name might be Render.
You know what else is stressful? Having your life stolen, or misplacing your life. Just ask Booster Gold, who has lost his life on the cover of this Extreme Justice comic. Booster has a heroic variant of SSS that is easier on the eyes than the thick, gooey Cthulhu threads of saliva many villains have. His saliva is clean, elegant – it almost looks like speed lines, like he’s opening his mouth really really fast:
When Saliva Strand Syndrome strikes villains, the results can be particularly unappetizing. When you have a big-ass mouth like Modam, it’s even worse. I don’t know if saliva should be measured in weight or mass, but there’s one thing for sure, Modam has SSS – bad.
Here’s a Youngblood villain who has such an extreme case of SSS that his saliva has formed an intricate, web-like pattern in his mouth- as he’s being decapitated.
Perhaps the greatest single example of Saliva Strand Symptom is Elektra #2, with art by Mike Deodato. In this rematch between Elektra and Bullseye, the man who “killed” her, Bullseye has freakishly thick saliva. He looks like Venom, or a Queen Alien or something. Check it out:
Man, what did he eat? Paper mache?
The thing that annoys me about unbridled use of saliva strands by artists is that the overuse of the imagery ultimately undermines the meaning of the image. Does that make sense? If every character has saliva strands, what do saliva strands mean?
I would say that saliva strands, when used properly, would symbolize madness, evil, frenzy – that kind of thing. But when saliva strands are just a visual tic, they become pointless and unintentionally hilarious.
For instance, I can appreciate the use of the saliva strands in the panel above – it’s a shot of Bullseye being nutty. Fair enough. But below we have a shot of Bullseye getting kicked, and the saliva strands are still there:
How am I supposed to interpret the saliva strand symbolism here? “Bullseye is fucking insane – even when he’s getting kicked in the nads! Beware!”
Here’s a shot of Bullseye getting kicked upside the head by Elektra. Again, more saliva strands. Is he supposed to be scary or menacing or something in this scene? Or is the visual message: “Bullseye is batshit crazy – even when he’s getting kicked in the face! Look out!”
Some time ago -- and I wish I could remember where I read this – I read a little essay somebody wrote about how it pissed him off that now artists were always coloring Superman’s eyes red when he got pissed. The argument was that it was okay to draw Superman with glowing red eyes if he was using his heat vision or if he was enraged, but too many artists were drawing panels of Superman with red eyes just to make him look bad-ass. The overuse of the visual cheapened the impact of the whole red eyes thing, until Superman’s glowing red eyes have no meaning at all. Superman’s eyes would glow red if his cell phone batteries died, or if his eggs were undercooked, or if he saw a hot chick – his eyes were glowing so much he looked like frickin’ Jodi, the pig from The Amityville Horror. Enough, enough with the red eyes!
I feel the same way about saliva: Save it for when it counts. Only then can we truly stamp out Saliva Strand Syndrome.