"The guy who taught me to fight was the same guy who shot my dad in front of my eyes. That will tend to focus your concentration."
- Jesse Custer, in Garth Ennis's "Preacher"
Violence is at the heart of "Absolute Beginners", and it's a narrative lesson I learned from Garth Ennis. It's easy enough to let the extremes of violence push a narrative forward. There is no shortage of books and movies that show violence at its most extreme and most casual, but it's the work of Ennis, who writes primarily in the realm of comic books, that best conveys the fluidity of morality at a crisis point.
Ennis's protagonists are complex, ranging from a hitman who only kills criminals, to a soldier, haunted by the memory of discovering Auschwitz, manipulating world events and racking up a lifetime of dead bodies, to a preacher on a mission to make God pay for abandoning his creation. Every single one born or reborn in brutality but driven by a strict moral code. That's what makes his stories work, and it's what I'm trying to bring to the characters in Absolute Beginners, the idea that a morality that finds its beginnings in violence is a morality that's most easily compromised.
The brothers (and best friend) in Absolute Beginners act out of a desire to protect their family/tradition/neighborhood and in doing so, cause untold chaos because at the heart of each thing they're trying to protect is immeasurable brutality and cruelty.
One of the greatest characters Ennis has ever written for (though it's not one he created) is John Constantine, a man who fancies himself a defender of humanity against all of hell...
“I’m the one who steps from the shadows, all trench coat and cigarette and arrogance, ready to deal with the madness. Oh, I've got it all sewn up. I can save you. If it takes the last drop of your blood, I'll drive your demons away. I'll kick them in the bollocks and spit on them when they're down and then I'll be gone back into darkness, leaving only a nod and a wink and a wisecrack. I walk my path alone... who would walk with me?"
…who has managed to kill off every single friend he’s ever had (and more than a few lovers), and that’s what makes him, and characters like him, so compelling.
The deals and the mistakes, the blood and the horror, all of it in service to a greater good, but even that good thing is flawed.
The best moments of literary or theatrical violence come when everyone is trying to be the hero, but nobody succeeds at being noble.