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Comic Books
Tuesday 15 January 2002

Red Hour Orgy
A Column about Comics by Philip Shropshire

  • Star Trek, The Next Generation: Forgiveness, written by David Brin; drawn by Scott Hampton (Wildstorm Comics, November 2001, $24.95)
  • Green Lantern: Will World, written by J.M. DeMatteis, drawn by Seth Fisher (DC Comics, June 2001, $24.95)
  • The Dark Knight Strikes Again, Issue One of Three, written and drawn by Frank Miller, with colorist Lynn Varley (DC Comics, December 2001, $7.95)

Say whatever you want about classic Star Trek, but at least they let genre science fiction writers do some of the writing. Legends who wrote classic Trek include Richard Matheson, Harlan Ellison, Robert Bloch, Norman Spinrad and Theodore Sturgeon. Nowadays, whenever I look at the credits of your basic science fiction show I seldom see anybody who actually writes and publishes science fiction, even the new Treks — although I do remember a gem of a DS9 story written by John Shirley from way back about short-term time travel. Writer John Barnes once told me that thereís too much real money involved to actually let science fiction writers write televised science fiction. Yeah, that makes sense.

So, when I read about the new David Brin Star Trek Graphic Novel I was definitely looking forward to it. The story is called "Forgiveness" and features the Next Generation cast of Picard, Data, and Beverly Crusher. Brin, who had the misfortune of having Kevin Costner taking one of his books to the Big Screen, is also making waves as a nonfiction writer concerning the ideas of what it means to live in a world of constant surveillance by tiny omnipresent cameras.

Unfortunately, I wasnít that impressed with "Forgiveness", whose artwork by Scott Hampton I found flat. Itís not Scottís fault that Alex Ross decided to have a career as well, but Scottís work suffers by comparison; it looks underdone and stiff, and thereís nothing of the Ross genius for capturing facial emotion.

The story means well. It attempts to tell a tale of how we actually had transporter and holodeck technology a full 100 years before the accepted date in Star Trek chronology, but reactionary religious forces, fueled by a Big Business transportation lobby that doesnít want change, managed to stifle and destroy the technology. Those of us who are wondering when weíll be getting those stem-cell-grown organ implants and off the grid solar generators recognize the theme, and I don't dispute the story's dual Big Messages about reactionary religious forces stifling productive research and that some research deserves critical safeguards. But the graphic novel feels more like an pedantic argument (that I already agree with) rather than a living, breathing comics story where picture and word are fused perfectly into a compelling narrative.

I suppose I would expect David Brin to attack the question of why there isn't a surveillance society in the Trek Future. (On the micro level, your average Star Fleet officer should have as much tech as your average Borg... Why aren't there nano sensors everywhere?) This is a competent tale, but not an inspiring one, and certainly not worth $25 bucks. Itís as forgettable as the vast majority of Voyager episodes.

Now if youíre looking for a comic thatís worth $25, then I highly recommend picking up the Green Lantern graphic novel Will World.

The story involves a spectacularly surreal rite of passage that Green Lanterns (Hal Jordan here) have to go through in order to more effectively wield the power of the ring. He also recites the Alfred Bester-penned Green Lantern oath at least once or twice. But the star of this show isnít the story, but the incredible pencils of Seth Fisher. The only thing I might compare it to is that New York gallery level Dr. Strange annual that P. Craig Russell drew many years ago. There are out and out homages/thefts of Man Ray, Escher, Magritte and Dali that burst from the page, not to mention the continuous suggestive ooze of Bill Plympton's animated mutations. It features a squealing zoo of bizarre images, including Giant Floating Heads, tiny people, people with six arms, flying carpets, flying saucers, architecture gone mad (Indian palaces mixed in with future organic skyscrapers mixed with Chinese houses standing beside a rundown tenement building, etc.), pipe smoking gorillas, zeppelins and of course Alien Grays. It has just a small touch of Moebius dappled with the sensibility of the Beatles Yellow Submarine Cartoon. Itís the kind of thing that would make Windsor McKay fume with jealous anger. And thatís just the first splash spread on pages 8 and 9 of this 96-page epic.

Not unlike walking through a living, acid-tinged dream. Stunning stuff, highly recommended. In fact, when computer pundit Robert Cringley's predicted cheap foldable plastic displays are a reality, this is the kind of art that Iíd like to upload on my walls.

The world spins MAD. The PEOPLE are so intoxicated by LUXURY they have forgotten everything that makes us more than just HOUSE PETS. REASON. TRUTH. JUSTICE. FREEDOMíEVIL has seduced mankind. And MANKIND has shown all the chastity of a three dollar WHORE.
--Tone Defining Quote From The Question (The original Rorshach)

Itís an interesting and completely fictional world that Frank Miller gives us. We have a hologram for a president (a virtual figurehead) and itís completely in the control of evil special interests. Itís a fictional imaginary country that has given up its civil liberties in order to eradicate crime and terrorism. Itís a fictional pretend country that defines peace when all of its enemies, real and imagined, have been killed. Itís the kind of a fictional country, whose resemblances to countries real and or imagined is merely coincidental, that has passed a Freedom From Information Act. Itís the kind of country where its director of Homeland Sec-, uh, ĎNational Security Enforcementí assures us that an act of terror came from a rogue nation, but he doesnít have to bother you with the detail of telling you what evidence he has to prove this, and he gets mad at maverick reporter Jimmy Olsen for daring to ask the question.

Like I said: This is a completely fictional United States. Why, Iíd have to stretch my limited perspective to untold dimensions to even imagine such a Hellish Pottersville Mirror-Mirror reality where such irrational and foolhardy tradeoffs have been made. It would not be unlike a potential blacklist of professors who arenít sufficiently patriotic, or an allegedly free media acquiescing to a government suggesting self-censorship during a time of war. Wild eyed Nova Express, David Lynch-plotted kind of stuff is this. So hard to conceive of such a place, like the Metaverse or Middle Earth or the Matrix. What will these fiction writers think of next...?

Luckily, in this completely fictional and made-up world, run by a Hulking Kingpinish Lex Luthor (heís not that good looking smooth guy in televisionís Smallville), there are heroes "who battled tyranny and defeated it at every turn." That must be nice, and probably more effective than the ACLU. It also makes for an exciting, fight-filled and slick comic where the heroes answer that Watchmen question: Whatever it is that you super people do anyway? In the Frank Miller world, heroes fight against political injustice no matter how profitable the machine is. Miller, like Moore and others, has turned around the conceit that superheroes are innately fascist. What could be more anti-fascist than fighting against fascism?

Usually I try to review comics for people who arenít really into comic books. This is a comic book for people who like comic books. I canít say itís as original as the first Dark Knight Returns because the reinvention of heroes has continued nonstop since Watchmen, all the new Alan Moore ABC books, Brian Michael Bendis, Kurt Busiekís Astro City and probably a dozen other titles that I canít remember. In fact, so far, the recent Alex Ross/Mark Waid Kingdom Come is probably a shade better. But this Dark Knight is only issue one of three; we'll see where it goes. I also think that Miller needs inker Klaus Janson. Heís the one element thatís missing from the original Dark Knight series.

The main thrill here is Millerís reinterpretation of these classic heroes. His Superman is aging and gets winded while saving the space shuttle. His Captain Marvel seems to be an out of it grey haired square who expresses anger in the manner of forties movie characters from the Bronx ("You Bum"). His Wonder Woman has African American features. And Batman can beat Superman, in an almost cartoonish Mad Magazine style kind of way. (Thatís a spoiler by the way.) And when youíre a captured superhero who the state is angry at, youíre invariably naked — I donít know why. There are also some cool science fictional elements. Miller was inspired by the living robotics in Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama when he wrote "Ronin" those many years ago; he's down with Science Fiction. The Frank Miller Atom fights off bacteria and rides Internet transmissions throughout the country. The president is a hologram whoís programmed for compassion levels and occasionally flickers out. Professional Evil Doers Lex Luther and Brainiac use the shrunken Bottle City of Kandor to blackmail Superman.

This is definitely a cool read, not in the Promethea league, but impressive. This is pure comic fun, dubbed with an edgy political subtext.

Philip Shropshire is an avid fan of both comics and science-fiction and he runs two personal blogs: and, as well as a message board. He is hard at work on both a collection of essays and a first novel called Virtual Gods.

Please send all promotional copies to Philip Shropshire, 496 Grove Road, Verona, Pennsylvania 15147.

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