The Webcomic Overlook #132: Nathan Sorry

There’s been a lot of scary hullabaloo in the media lately asking “What is it about 20-somethings?“, i.e. “How come my unemployed, lazy-ass kids are turning 30 and still living in my basement?” Seriously, my wife turned on the TV this morning, and that’s what they were talking about on the Today Show.

The argument boils down to the idea that 20-somethings are afraid of growing up. Now, I personally believe that a lot of this is the typical sensationalist media panic. When I was but a young El Santo, I remember being handed a similar article by my dad from the Reader’s Digest entitled “The Lazy American Teenager.” I imagine my dad afraid I was turning into a burnt out teen. (Guilty as charged!)

But, for the sake of putting together an intro for this here webcomic review, I’m going to go ahead and take this humbuggery seriously. Here’s a quote form the New York Times:

DURING THE PERIOD he calls emerging adulthood, Arnett says that young men and women are more self-focused than at any other time of life, less certain about the future and yet also more optimistic, no matter what their economic background. This is where the “sense of possibilities” comes in, he says; they have not yet tempered their ideal­istic visions of what awaits. “The dreary, dead-end jobs, the bitter divorces, the disappointing and disrespectful children . . . none of them imagine that this is what the future holds for them,” he wrote. Ask them if they agree with the statement “I am very sure that someday I will get to where I want to be in life,” and 96 percent of them will say yes. But despite elements that are exciting, even exhilarating, about being this age, there is a downside, too: dread, frustration, uncertainty, a sense of not quite understanding the rules of the game. More than positive or negative feelings, what Arnett heard most often was ambivalence — beginning with his finding that 60 percent of his subjects told him they felt like both grown-ups and not-quite-grown-ups.

In the end, the emotional paralysis stems from the attempt to maintain, for as long as possible, the elusive pipe dream that you can still mold your own destiny into something that’s better than the pains that the previous generation experienced. It rises from a fear that if you don’t get started on the right foot, you doom yourself to screwing up the rest of your life.

The webcomic I’m reviewing today, Rich Barrett’s Nathan Sorry, taps into the same anxieties. However, unlike others, he gains a priceless gift: an exit strategy for the curse of a life lived badly.

The hero of our story is Nathan Sorry. Yes, that is his real name. We begin on the day he misses his flight. This turned out to be a lucky thing. He was supposed to fly from Phoenix to New York on the evening of September 10, 2001. Now, it is September 11, 2001. The offices Nathan reported to were located in the Twin Towers. Now, after the terrorist attack, all of his co-workers are now among the nearly 3,000 civilian casualties.

Unless Nathan says something about it, everyone will assume he, too, was incinerated.

Nathan finds himself in a pretty choice position. The night before, his co-worker had disclosed how he’d been funneling money into a dummy account: $20 million under the name of a deceased artist named James Goode. The access to the accounts are stored in the laptop that Nathan’s holding. So, with his life not going exactly the way he wanted it to go and with a convenient stash of money lying around that no one alive is going to lay claim for, and Nathan makes a fateful choice that really isn’t much of a choice when you think about it: he decides to let everyone go ahead an assume he’s dead. Nathan assumes the James Goode identity and becomes a drifter — walking the earth, meeting people… getting into adventures… like Caine from Kung Fu.

Now, the adult part of your brain starts to think, “Wait a goshdarned cotton-pickin’ minute, El Santo. Doesn’t he have family that’s worried about him? How about loved ones? You expect me to believe that Nathan can just disappear and be such a total loser that he doesn’t have obligations to worry about? Isn’t all this just a bit convenient?”

To which I say, “Look, this is going to be an adolescent fantasy. Put the old fogey part of your brain to bed and enjoy the escapism.”

OK, so it’s not quite becoming a masked crusader of the night or a dashing archaeologist or a suave superspy. But it IS an adolescent fantasy nonetheless. In this world where potential employers can learn about your life story by accessing your Facebook account and anyone who ever got hold of your home address can use Google Maps to find out where you live, the idea of living off the grid is powerfully alluring. It’s a variation of the “cozy catastrophe” you see in apocalyptic fiction. Sure, being on the run would be hellish… in theory. But let’s look at Nathan’s situation here: he’s got a ton of cash, he’s still sampling all the wonders of modern civilization, he lives in a well-to-do town, and he has no real responsibilities.

That’s an adolescent fantasy if I ever heard of one.

Still, there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism now and then. The overall tone of Nathan Sorry reads like a fast-paced suspense thriller that you take along with you for some light reading while you lounge on the beach. If you’d heard that this comic had something to do with “Sept. 11” and expected a grand political essay, you’d be a tad disappointed. The event is a framework. The characters react to the events from the world around them, like the story of a small town girl who has to deal with her boyfriend being stationed overseas.

Like I said, Nathan Sorry is a suspenseful page-turner in the spirit of paperback kings like Clive Cussler and Elmore Leonard. A story about Nathan living off $20 million consequence free probably wouldn’t be very exciting. We’re introduced to several elements that haven’t yet come to fruition, but will likely upset the idyllic hobo lifestyle that Nathan’s set for himself. There’s the question about where the money came from, for example. Part of the reason Nathan keeps moving is that he’s becomes paranoid, afraid that the people who stole the money in the first place will one day find him out.

Plus, other circumstances that begin to spiral out of Nathan’s control. While waiting at the airport on that fateful Sept. 11, Nathan’s alarmed when he discovers that the FBI is looking into a murder that may be tied to his previous employer and the stash of cash. To evade them, he hits on a hot, tattoo’ed waitress They sneak off to a secret hotel room and spend the night. The next morning, she’s disappeared … and his wallet is missing. A month later, an officer shows up at the waitress’ door, wondering why she’s using the credit card of the supposedly dead Nathan Sorry.

Jean Valjean, meet your Javert.

The problem here is that Nathan’s no where close to having the intestinal fortitude of a Jean Valjean. In fact, he’s a bit of a milksop. He’s never really portrayed as the kind of person who would abandon everything about his previous life. Eventhough his tough-lookin’ five-o’clock shadow suggests a hard life on the road, his features are typically drawn to be exceedingly pleasant and friendly. When he talks with strangers, he’s the quintessential nice guy. So why doesn’t a nice guy like Nathan settle matters by simply sitting down with the local authorities?

As a result, Barrett has to work pretty hard to come up with reasons why, exactly, Nathan would go through such a drastic lifestyle change (besides, you know, the inherent coolness of being a drifter with millions of dollars). Unfortunately, sometimes Barrett tries a little too hard. It’s established that Nathan’s old company was unethical, a dead end that he’s all too happy to leave behind. Still, their travesties are ramped up to the point of being comical. For example, this white collar business with offices in the Twin Towers is basically run like a frat house. And Nathan’s co-worker? He doesn’t think twice about feeling around Nathan’s groin to see if he got a stiffy from all his talk about being eeeevvvviilllllll.

Shouldn’t the fact that Nathan is running for his life and that his former employer was engaged in shady money laundering schemes be villainous enough? When the comic’s framework is based on a real life tragedy, this sort of cartoonish, mustache-twirling villainy becomes far too distracting.

Nathan Sorry is a breezy, fun read. It’s not as polished as the thematically and artistically similar Sin Titulo (reviewed here) … but very few webcomics are. Nathan Sorry‘s got intrigue, mystery, and the adolescent fantasy working for it. Do you like reading webcomics with a dash of Robert Ludlum? This one may be right up your alley.

Rating: 4 stars (out of 5)


About El Santo

Somehow ended up reading and reviewing almost 300 different webcomics. Life is funny, huh? Despite owning two masks, is not actually a luchador.

Posted on August 24, 2010, in 4 Stars, action webcomic, adventure webcomic, dramatic webcomic, The Webcomic Overlook, WCO Big Review, webcomics and tagged . Bookmark the permalink. 14 Comments.

  1. “Our youth now love luxury. They have bad manners, contempt for authority; they show disrespect for their elders and love chatter in place of exercise; they no longer rise when elders enter the room; they contradict their parents, chatter before company; gobble up their food and tyrannize their teachers.”

    — Socrates, 300 B.C.

  2. Funny thing viewpoints. I’ve read a good poriton of Nathan Sorry and never felt the need to quantify his reason for being so earnest and happy in this storyline. Mayhaps because I can relate. I’ve worked at a job that felt like a coffin more than a career and worked with morally questionable folk. Some days you want to wake up and have missed your flight. To have such social chains lifted and feel free. Yes you’re ignoring the moral question of integrity. But that seems to be the lesson we wonder if he will learn. Some days, good writing is letting the readers who can relate do so. Let the others finally have that, “Ah-ha!” moment.

  3. I never thought Nathan Sorry was an adolescent fantasy! I find it bizarre you connected it to that. I read that article a few days prior, and it seemed to be pointing out that the 20’s seemed ‘full of possibilities’, not that those possibilities were necessarily fantasies. But who knows. maybe because I’m turning 20 I’m deluding myself into thinking that there ARE possibilities.

    Anyway, as for Sorry, I thought his escapism was more of an adult one than a 20’s one– escaping from a dead end, soul eating job feels pretty adult to me. I’m still enjoying Nathan Sorry but it gets a bit slow at times!

    • Speaking as a 30-something, my more grown-up fantasy is getting a nice five-bedroom farmhouse located near the waterfront where I can rock on the patio all day. I’ve gotten too domestic for hitchhiking around the country. 🙂

      (That’s not to say that older people can’t have adolescent fantasies, by the way.)

  4. I haven’t read the review yet, but I needed to post right away that I just had a “Randal get out of my head” moment, but with a Mexican wrestler.

    I started reading Nathan Sorry back when it was linked on Robot6. Although I enjoyed it, I was a bit worried about the slow pace of updates (I have difficulty remembering what happens if there’s only one or two pages released a month) and if it would be better to wait until the story was finished to read. I was going to send the comic to you to see what your opinion was, but you beat me to it.

    • Telepathy… it is my blessing and my curse.

      I’d say, at 50 pages, it’s a fairly good time to jump into Nathan Sorry. The pace, though, is still one page a week. So perhaps you could read the entire run, and then pick up again after three months or so.

  5. “60 percent of his subjects told him they felt like both grown-ups and not-quite-grown-ups”

    I just turned 50 and still feel this way. I still wonder what I’ll be when I grow up.

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    shout out and say I truly enjoy reading through your
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    Thanks for your time!

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