On Things I’ve Been Reading

I haven’t done one of my comic book reading round-ups since, umm, well… it’s been about nine months.

I’ve read a lot of comics in the past nine months. I’m not going to try and catch up on things I’ve read; instead, I’ll point out three things I’ve read recently.

Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust To Dust #1
BOOM! Studios
Written by Chris Roberson
Art by Robert Adler
Based on Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick

Science fiction of the 20th century promised utopias. As promulgated by editor John W. Campbell and his writers in the pages of Amazing Stories, the future was to be a place of rocketships and interstellar empires. Humanity would conquer the stars, take the lead in the halls of galactic power. The universe would beckon, and the future would be an unbreaking trend toward enlightenment and exploration. But not everyone saw the future in such optimistic terms, and one who saw the dark underside to the optimistic visions of Campbell and his writers, among them Isaac Asimov and Robert Heinlein, was Philip K. Dick.

In Dick’s dystopian visions, rocketships malfunctioned, empires had clay feet, the gleaming utopia was a façade, and the reality that it shielded would reveal itself in insanity and paranoia. The idyllic 1950s American small town would reveal itself as a futuristic prison (Time Out of Joint). Martian colonists would free themselves from their mundane existence in their hovels through drug use and consequenceless sex (The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch). Time travel would be possible through the perceptions of an autistic child (Martian Time-Slip). An ancient Chinese oracle, the I Ching, would reveal that history itself had gone wrong and a world conquered by Germany in World War II was just a fiction (The Man in the High Castle). Dick’s work married a dizzying array of philosophical ideas and science-fictional concepts, turning the gleaming future of Campbell’s Golden Age into nightmares of malevolent mutants, rusted robots, environmental collapse, nuclear holocaust, the collapse of reality, schizophrenia and autism, even the nature of god itself. These are but some of the visions revealed in the pages of Dick’s works, and one of his most popular works was his 1968 novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?.

One of Dick’s major themes, explored in Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, is the universal question of the dividing line between humanity and the inhuman. Dick’s answer? Empathy. In Do Androids Dream, the world of 2021 is a nightmarish hell. The world nearly immolated itself in World War Terminus. The animals have died. Off-world colonies have been established, and those who can escape the dying husk of Earth have left it behind for the virgin territory of Mars or beyond. A new religion, Mercerism, has taken root, founded on the principles of caritas — human empathy. And in the social and ecological niches left behind by the departing colonists, there are androids. Virtually identical to human beings, androids lack one critical feature in their make-up — they lack empathy. Enslaved by humans, the androids are a new underclass, and they have begun to rebel against their position in society and their infinitesimally short lifespans. To saveguard the remnants of human society, bounty hunters have been charged with hunting down the androids and “retiring” them. One of these bounty hunters is Rick Deckard, and Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? tells the story of his hunt for six androids loose in Los Angeles.

To most people reading this, I have just described the 1982 film Blade Runner, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Harrison Ford. BOOM! Studios last year began publishing a 24-part comic book “adaptation” of the novel. I use the quotation marks deliberately; the full text of Dick’s novel is maintained in BOOM!’s comic, right down to the dialogue tags. The effect has been to create an illustrated novel in comic book-format, and BOOM! has supplemented the adaptation with essays by writers such as Warren Ellis, Rockne S. O’Bannon, and Jonathan Lethem on Dick’s work and influence. It’s been an interesting project; artist Tony Parker matches Dick’s text quite well, and BOOM! is now halfway through the adaptation.

The world of Blade Runner, the film, has been expanded upon before. Westwood Studios, the game company best known for the Command & Conquer real-time strategy games, published a Blade Runner game a little more than a decade ago, telling a side-story to the events of the film. K.W. Jeter, a friend of Dick in his later years, published a sequel trilogy of novels in the late-90s — Blade Runner 2: The Edge of Human, Blade Runner 3: Replicant Night, and Eye and Talon (which was never published in the United States). Rumors of a sequel to the film have dogged Ridley Scott for the best part of the past fifteen years, while Paul W.S. Anderson’s film Soldier takes place within the Blade Runner universe.

BOOM! has just begun to publish a prequel to the novel Do Androids Dream with Dust to Dust. Written by Chris Roberson, Dust to Dust is to explores the aftermath of World War Terminus. As the war’s radioactive fallout casts a pall over all life, Earth’s animal life becomes extinct. Earth is burned out husk, the off-world colonies have been founded, artificial life is being created, and the first androids are built. Meanwhile, with the androids becoming a threat to human society, the government selects two men to become bounty hunters to find escaped androids — the schizophrenic empath Malcolm Reed and police detective Charlie Victor.

The first issue lays groundwork. On a day when Victor finds a dead owl in an alleyway, he must recruit Reed for their new assignment — to find a group of escaped androids from the Grozzi Corporation. Meanwhile, Samantha Wu, a Stanford biologist, is approached by a Mercerite (a follower of Mercerism, a religion based on empathy in the time of Rick Deckard).

The issue makes an underwhelming debut. There’s nothing wrong with it, though as you might be able to tell from the preceding paragraph not a lot happens; this is modern decompressed comic book storytelling. The issue’s major twist, which comes on the final page, is telegraphed early and, based on Dick’s body of work, isn’t unexpected. The Victor/Reed storyline looks like it could be a retread of the Rick Deckard story — bounty hunters chasing androids.

Still, I enjoyed it. I’m curious how the two plotlines — the researches of Samantha Wu into extinction, the mission of Victor and Reed — will collide, and I wonder how Dust to Dust will differentiate itself from Do Androids Dream. I also like Robert Adler’s artwork; it had a grungey look that fits with the decay that would follow World War Terminus. This feels much like something that would fit with Philip K. Dick’s body of work — what is real, and what is not. With the other PKD series — Marvel’s The Electric Ant and BOOM!’s own parent series — Dust to Dust is the one that may get lost in the shuffle; what’s unfortunate is that this is the one that can be the most original of the three as it’s telling, hopefully, a wholly original story.

I do hope the reported downgrading of Dust to Dust from twelve issues to eight doesn’t affect the story Roberson plans to tell.

And if BOOM! Studios is reading, I would love to write a Do Androids Dream/Predator crossover. Work out the details with Dark Horse, because it would be awesome! 🙂

Zatanna #1
DC Comics
Written by Paul Dini
Artwork by Stephane Roux and Karl Story

Despite the obvious reasons on the cover — attractive woman with long hair, large chest, fishnets, fuck me boots — I actually bought Zatanna #1 because it’s written by Paul Dini, and Dini has done some quality work with the Justice League’s resident magician in the pages of Detective Comics, where she was positioned as a potential love interest for Batman. I have no real affection for the character, otherwise.

Yet, Zatanna #1 was a nice — a nicely lengthy — read. If our previous book, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?: Dust to Dust, was decompressed, Zatanna packs a lot of content into its twenty-four pages. A mass murder is done by magic, and a cynical San Francisco cop asks Zatanna to help him with her investigation. This leads Zatanna into a confrontation with the magical underworld of San Francisco, which may have long-term negative consequences….

The book has a couple of different feels. There’s the intro, where we meet our titular protagonist and the cynical cop, and they have a kind of flirtatious conversation that you would find in a screwball comedy. A comic just on that premise — magician and cop, drawing its internal conflict from the struggle between the capes and the supernatural on one hand, from the norms and the natural on the other — would have been enjoyable enough on its own. But Zatanna doesn’t stay that way. We transition into a completely different supernatural comic, like the classic Ostrander/Mandrake Spectre of the mid-90s, no cynical cop in sight.

Zatanna #1 is a nice introductory issue. It’s a one-and-done, but it clearly sets the stage for a conflict to come. If you didn’t know who Zatanna was, you’d have a good idea by page three. And Stephane Roux’s artwork is top-notch and pleasing to look at overall, even if it does have a few panels that seem to exist solely for the gratitious display of Zatanna’s assets.

I don’t know how long Zatanna will run; I’d like to think at least a year, but I don’t know. Hopefully, it will be running by the time Bruce Wayne returns to the present day (he’s currently time-hopping — no, not a spoiler), because I’d like to see where Dini will take the Bruce/Zatanna relationship. On the one hand, I think six months from now, when Zatanna could have been positioned in the Bat-family of books, might have been a better time to launch the series. On the other hand, launching it now, letting it forge its own identity now, is better in the long-run.

I’m not sure which kind of book Zatanna will be — procedural with mismatched partners, or supernatural chills. I could follow it either way, to be honest.

The Simpsons/Futurama Crossover Crisis
Abrams ComicArts/Bongo Comics
Written by Ian Boothby
Art by James Lloyd

The Simpsons. Futurama. Which fan of these two classic animated series has not wondered what would happen if the worlds of Springfield in the 21st century and of New New York in the 31st century collided? Imagine Homer Simpson and Bender Bending Rodriguez getting drunk! Imagine Bart Simpson and Philip J. Fry getting into trouble!

Imagine no more! A few years ago Bongo Comics published two mini-series that brought the worlds of The Simpsons and Futurama together for one titanic tale, and Abrams ComicArts has collected them into a nice oversized slipcased hardcover.

I liked reading this, I laughed out loud a lot.

It is not, however, really a crossover.

The story breaks down into two parts. In the first, the Brainspawn (from Futurama‘s “The Day the Earth Stood Stupid”) trap the Planet Express crew inside of a Simpsons comic book that Fry is reading. So, Fry, Bender, Leela and all the rest don’t meet the actual Simpsons; they meet a comic book version of them.

In the second half of the story, now that the Planet Express crew has escaped from the comic book, an accident with one of Professor Farnworth’s inventions brings fictional characters into New New York — among them the Simpsons, Sherlock Holmes, Spider-Man, Anne of Green Gables, and many more. So, again, it’s not really the Simpsons the cast of Futurama is meeting, just a physical representation of a fictional character.

It’s funny, but it’s not a crossover. It’s not what the covers make it out to be. But it’s still an enjoyable Futurama story, and if you approach it like that — it’s a Futurama story — it’s a blast.

There are also some solo Simpsons back-up stories. One has Britain reclaim Springfield when Snowball II (Lisa’s cat) is elected mayor. The other has Chief Wiggum go on a vision quest when he accidentally eats his chili cook-off chili (and the hot chilis he used induce psychedelic visions). Of the two, I liked the latter more.

One thought on “On Things I’ve Been Reading

  1. There was a time in my life when I would have paid a fair amount of money to get my hands on some Guatemalan insanity peppers.

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