Thursday, July 20, 2006

Grant Morrison Creature Feature

Nope I haven’t finished the Animal Man trilogy of trade paperbacks. I did manage to read WE3 borrowed from the Ottawa Public Library, my new favorite geek-out location.

WE3 was a hell of a lot shorter than I thought it would be. There was some neat visual storytelling involved, especially the escape scene, but I have to say this book didn’t hit me as a recompressed story. It wasn’t decompressed but it also wasn’t the same manic energy of the old school stories found in the Showcase collections. It was some sort of new recombination – recompression. I hope I’ve managed to coin that as a term.

It was a short story that presented a few really cool ideas and a rather simple plot. It had a couple of touching moments and some really big explosions. While the story isn’t harmed by its relatively straight ahead pace it did still feel a bit slight to me. It felt more like plot rather than an examination of anything. We’re presented with rather big ideas but then they aren’t really explored all that much. That being said, what is presented is enough to keep one thinking. I think in a lot of ways that straight ahead but somewhat shallow surface exploration of big ideas reflects a the contradictions that are at the heart of the story.

It’s a story about cute and cuddly animals who are killing machines. They can talk and want to go home, but they explode, get hurt and hurt a lot of things. They draw us in but they also repulse us. We can see the attraction but also the repulsion of their existence. Most characters have a similar struggle going on in them – they try to be nice but cause a lot of death or they’re the unfeeling scientist who lets the pets live in the end. The art is realistic one moment then stylized the next. It’s equally cute and disgusting, or disgustingly cute if you enjoy puns.

I did appreciate the exploration of “smart” weapons and the reemergence of animal testing as a part of “bettering” society. We are living in a time when war is becoming an ever more distancing activity as we develop warmongering technology. War used to be fought face to face, then trench to trench and now it’s done over miles. The distance increases as the weapons get smarter. You can now simply be a pilot. Pilots only press buttons, the missiles find the targets and do the killing. It’s easier now to remove yourself from horrible actions but the potential for catastrophe is that much greater the more you remove people from their actions. Yes, the pilot is safer, but if he presses the button and the missile hits his allies he can’t stop it. The weapon does the work and not the person.

These animals, the WE3, are sort of the next step. They’re a hybrid of weapon and brain. They are the evolution of the smart weapon in that they have animal brains. However they still mostly function on instinct and the conscience and decision making is still left to the human scientists who are even further removed from the destruction in this case. In this story, the scientists just make cybernetic suits or train animals, they don’t even push buttons, but in the ends they are the ones responsible. It is more tragic when they make the connections and realize the effects of their disconnected actions.

If anything, Morrison manages to un-cool cyborgs with this story. I think he’s dead on for predicting where, why and how cyborgs get developed. It’s not a pretty picture no matter how much you want it to be.

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