1. Alex + Ada (No. 8, Aug 2014, Image) – Sarah Vaughn & Jonathan Luna
Revisiting my conversation with Janice Lee on the topic of cyborgs got me thinking about the best comic book depictions of AI in recent memory. Near the top of the heap is Vaughn & Luna’s Alex + Ada. If the series does one thing brilliantly it’s taking seriously the most perennial of sci-fi themes: What in fact would it be like for a nonsentient being to suddenly have sentience? How would such a creature process newfound affective states such as love and sexual desires? Though television series like Battlestar Gallactica have touched on these questions with a measure of earnestness, more often than not they have tended to defer such inquiries to the demographic demands of adolescent male fantasies. Even Bladerunner, as beautiful looking and sounding as it was, portrayed the replicant Rachel as mainly Rick Deckard’s love object. Eight issues deep, it’s to writer Sarah Vaughn’s credit that Alex & Ada have yet to consummate their affair. A sample of a particularly revealing exchange between the human born Alex and the recently sentient Ada:
ADA: …What’s wrong?
ALEX: This isn’t right.
ADA: I don’t understand.
ALEX: Some things are just really bad ideas.
ADA: How is it bad to do what feels good? / You don’t trust that what I feel for you is real.
ALEX: You can’t know what you feel yet. Don’t you see? You need to find out what else and who else is out there before you can really know what you want.
ADA: … / Wow. / That’s not fair. […] You told Katherine that I’m “more than just a robot.” But that’s not really true. I am just a robot. I’m entirely a robot.
ALEX: What I meant is that you’re a person.
ADA: Then why won’t you treat me like one?
ALEX: I do, Ada.
ADA: You don’t. If you did, you would believe me when I say I want you. / You don’t trust that what I feel is real because you think I’m just programming. But you’re programming, too. Everything you feel is because of neurons firing in your brain and chemicals pumping through your system. / Is it really any different?
2. Afterlife with Archie (No. 6, Oct 2014, Archie) – Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Francesco Francavilla
If the figure of the cyborg is a psychic bridge from modernity to the coming singularity, then the witch is all that we have symbolically repressed in our efforts to leave behind a pre-Albrahamic pagan worldview for the promised destination of a post-Hegelian “end of History,” welfare state. No wonder then that a growing subculture has begun to toy with witchcraft as an emancipatory practice to curb the excesses of consumer capitalism. The newest issue of Afterlife with Archie, which features Sabrina the teenage witch as the Lovecraftian bride of the unspeakable Cthulhu, only goes to show how potent the figure of the witch is in our shared cultural heritage. Gone are the halcyon days of youth when Sabrina Spellman solely used her powers to help others and juggle the day-to-day trials of high school. Writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s Sabrina unwittingly brings on the apocalypse and is banished to the nether-realm to be exalted as the new Queen of Carcosa.
3. She-Hulk (No. 7, Oct 2014, Marvel) – Charles Soule, Javier Pulido & Muntsa Vincente
Neither entirely cyborg nor witch, She-Hulk is representative of today’s preferred mode of vicarious alterity. Though the contemporary superhero, much like the cyborg, is “an illegitimate offspring of militarism and patriarchal capitalism,” progressive-minded writers like Charles Soule have internalized Donna Haraway’s sentiment that “illegitimate offspring are often exceedingly unfaithful to their origins.” Hence, this week’s issue of She-Hulk: Our favorite green-skinned attorney Jennifer Walters teams up with the paracyborg Hank Pym to avert yet another technologically induced, Honey I Shrunk the Kids catastrophe. Devoted readers will be glad that Javier Pulido is back in the artist’s chair to get the series back on a more consistent aesthetic footing.
4. God is Dead (No. 17, July 2014, Avatar) – Mike Costa, Emiliano Urdinola & Juan M. Rodriguez
Jonathan Hickman’s God is Dead serves to confirm Janice Lee’s overarching point that we “might as well have an ideology-a-day-flip calendar, with ideologies being constantly destroyed, created anew, or recreated[.]” As the pitiless, battle-hardened Norse gods quickly gain ground on the pitiful, bare-breasted, toga-clad Greek myths, we as consumers of popular culture are reminded once again that though we may be done with the past, the past is never quite done with us. To the extent that the classical gods, much like cyborgs, represent a frontier within ourselves, perhaps the fact that there is such an appetite to retell the machinations of the imagined past speaks to our impotence to change the immediate present. To borrow Janice’s line, “if we can not change our environment, do we [not] look within ourselves?” Alas, the gods are dead. And so is our very agency to resurrect them.
5. Wonder Woman (No. 33, Sept 2014, DC) – Brian Azzarello, Cliff Chiang & Matthew Wilson
As Azzarello & Chiang’s run of Wonder Woman comes to a close, what I will personally miss most are the aesthetic allusions to a protofeminist, Communist utopia (i.e., Paradise Island). A handful of you might know that I have a keen interest in “actually existing” protofeminist, Communist societies. For instance, there is some archaeological evidence to suggest that ancient China harbored a vaguely protocommunist, goddess-centric society. Missionary documents suggest that there may have even been a protofeminist near-utopia for a brief time in medieval Japan. And, of course, perhaps the most encouraging example in recent memory was the Feminist takeover of Iceland’s government immediately following the financial crises of 2008. It was in the wake of this crises in Icelandic patriarchy and global capitalism that Wonder Woman captured my imagination and reignited my interest in comic books as cultural artifacts. For what are comic books really but stapled together hieroglyphs on papyrus: time capsules, an anthropological window into a society’s disavowed hopes and desires.