If you could travel back in time, would you kill Hitler’s mother, seek out your old house and play ball with your former self, or locate your (eventual) wife during her unhappy adolescence and punch her violent boyfriends? These are the dilemmas facing Jack, the hero of Daniel Clowes’s latest graphic novel. The murderous attitude towards Hitler’s mother (rather than towards Hitler himself) fits right in with an underlying misogyny throughout. Indebted to Hollywood for most of its ideas and its deficiencies, Patience only squeaks by in the Bechdel test.
It begins wittily enough with the tip of a penis, a semi-circle of cervix, and a big white splodge in between. Across this romantic conception scene the year 2012 is emblazoned. Patience is ‘preggo’, as she despairingly puts it. She and her husband Jack want the baby but don’t have much money. He hasn’t even told her yet that his current job consists of handing out porno flyers. He’s about to fess up when Patience is murdered. As in The Fugitive, Jack is unjustly accused of the crime — but he gets off.
He proceeds to grieve for Patience and their unborn child for 17 chaste years, until 2029, when he happens upon a scientist with a time machine. Though Jack admits that ‘all that sci-fi bullshit is way too much to wrap my stupid-ass brain around’, now begins a bitter tale of love lost and reclaimed via time warps.
‘POOF…BOOM…POW!’ As with Woody Allen, the descent into magic makes your heart sink. Clowes doesn’t need to retreat from reality — he needs to get closer to it. Still, Jack’s psychedelic freakouts add visual variety, since Clowes’s usual flat, denuded pictorial take on things can make Patrick Caulfield’s formalised functionalism seem rich and generous.