Guy Krause, the protagonist of Peter Bagge’s new graphic novel, “Reset,” is kind of a creep. A movie comedian whose career has flatlined (“But I’ve only been washed up for a year! Two, tops!” he wails), he’s perpetually angry, indignant and broke, but he hasn’t quite lost enough of his pride to join a reality show.
As he’s attending a DUI class after a road-rage conviction, he’s offered an opportunity to make some money by testing a virtual-reality system that allows him to live his life over again. The program, created by a company that’s collected an unnerving amount of personal information, lets Krause change the decisions he made the first time around. Whenever he doesn’t like how the simulation is going, he can press a “reset” button that begins his adult life again, starting from a humiliating moment at his high school graduation.
Will Krause ultimately be redeemed by this power of choice? One of Bagge’s gifts is giving narrative cliches a hard slapdown, and the “Groundhog Day” premise laid out by the opening scenes quickly mutates into something weirder and funnier. Every one of these characters is keeping secrets from everyone else, and each successive revelation raises the stakes and changes the rules. Bagge’s previous graphic novel, “Other Lives” (2010), was a broader but much shakier look at the relationship between virtual reality and flesh-and-blood existence. “Reset” pares down those themes into a wickedly sharp satire about the distance between intentions and actions.
The look and tone of Bagge’s comics haven’t changed much since his “Hate” series lacerated Seattle hipster culture in the early ’90s. “Reset” is, as always, filled with characters whose rubbery limbs and misshapen-cookie heads somehow add up to recognizable human forms, yelling and whispering at one another, in panels packed with snappy, ricocheting dialogue. Bagge has adapted the tools of slapstick to what’s essentially a drawing-room comedy, if a cheerfully profane one, and his enthusiasm for sabotaging Hollywood-style resolutions makes the few hopeful moments of “Reset” even sweeter.
Wolk is the author of “Reading Comics: How Graphic Novels Work and What They Mean.”