Page 45 Review by Stephen
"African American Shot After Offering Help To Lost Driver.
"Driver assumed man was going to rob him."
Welcome to Generation Gone.
Most of our best comics' covers contain some narrative element but few exceed snapshots or an elegant, perhaps impassioned distillation of what lies within. Almost all of my favourite graphic novels fall into those categories. I find no fault in that marketing strategy: please give me maximum impact.
But this collection's cover speaks of so much more if you study it closely, and it contains not one lie.
However, were you to flip through this after a first read then you'd find page after page of unbridled anger, furious displays of once repressed rage; now empowered and unleashed: flashing eyes and screams of injustice bursting from previously gritted teeth.
"General... with all due respect, I don't think you understand what I did...
"I know you are like me. You want to succeed at what you do.
"What I do is evolution...
"What you do is war.
"So I built you a perfect war machine."
Ummm... no, you didn't, Mr Akio: perfect war machines don't have minds of their own. Perfect war machines aren't already embittered towards their governments through acts of police brutality, endemic racism and authorities mismanaging that which they know to be toxic. Perfect war machines don't already harbour long-standing grudges towards each other as well as the world and, in simple terms, are uncomplicated.
This is going to get complicated.
We begin on the other side of the Military Science fence with three young friends who have lives and ambitions of their own.
Two of them are a couple, late at night, flat-on-their-backs, and wishing upon stars. Elena wishes that her boyfriend Nick would reciprocate her love for him, vocally. Nick wishes that his "babe" would just shut the fuck up. Actually Elena's aspirations aren't even that high: she's all apologies for her open declaration of unequivocal affection, while Nick insists that she should feel gratitude for his indulgence of (and tolerance towards) her pathetic, needy, cloying emotions. Sadly, she does.
"Are you ready for tomorrow?"
"Born ready. Born to make a mark."
They're really not ready for anything that will follow but, yes, Nick wants to make a mark. Delighting in his own ego, he is unable to meaningfully engage with any degree of comprehension; he's a big fan of the film 'Taxi Driver', but I'm not sure that he's learned the right lessons. I don't think you'll like him at all.
Nick, Elena and Baldwin are also consummate code-breaking hackers. They've already broken into the Defence Advanced Research Projects Agency's exceptionally well protected website twice and, in a trial run for their real end-goal which is money, they are about to do it a third time.
Baldwin is alone, organised, disciplined but driven. You may discern what drives him right at the top of this review. He exercises at the crack of dawn then blends nutritious juice to sustain his peak physical and mental acuity. Then he wipes the surfaces clean. He is meticulous.
Elena is loving and doting, not only on dismissive prick Nick to whom she is loyal, but on her mother who is undergoing treatment for cancer. Constantly they cuddle up on the coach. They tease each other too.
Nick eats with what's left of his family in silence before skulking upstairs - to his childishly door-declared exclusive domain - to draw his own bath. Perched on the toilet and staring into his smart phone while the water runs, his finger is idly pressed between his big toe and second, and you just know that he'll sniff himself before getting in.
How each behaves during their final trial (but still live) run at code-hacking is telling, excruciating even.
They think they've gone undetected. They haven't. They've been hooked.
So let's flick back to the military's perspective:
"Everything in the world is code...
"The human genome. The computers. Your phones. The traffic. The movements of the oceans, the movements between our neurones.
"Everything is code. Including our flesh.
"So how do we rewrite it?"
This is young, bespectacled Mr. Akio, working for S.T.A.R., a subsection of D.A.R.P.A., tasked with helping to re-establish America's global dominance which, as he perceives it, has been eroded "at an increasingly rapid rate since 1970s". He has contributed to this military endeavour by building ideas, codes and machines, all part of Project Airstrip. We are shown some very big mechs indeed.
Now he unveils to the military board his own private ideal, Project Utopia. It is code-based and clever, pertaining to humans. But how do we rewrite that code in humans which generally takes multiple generations of genetic evolution?
"Have you ever read a book that changed your life? I bet you have. The content of the book changed the way you processed information. Then it changed the way your brain processed the information. Then it changed the way you interacted with the world."
I don't think the General is much into reading.
Mr Akio is ordered to stand down, but he doesn't and is discovered. The General is infuriated.
"Project Utopia is dead.
"Please point out all hard drives containing anything pertaining to Project Utopia to the soldiers. We are confiscating everything related to the project effective immediately. Why the hell would you think, even for a second, that you can do this behind our backs? We own everything you make.
"We own you."
From the writer of WOLF, ZERO and MATERIAL comes what seems on the surface to be a far more traditional comic about power and powerlessness but it still packs a political punch and has many an unusual angle to explore. You don't generally associate Generals with powerlessness, do you? Yet over and again - and in spite of his iron-fisted rule - you will find this military man wrong-footed both by those under his immediate command and mere civilians whom he believes he can intimidate.
It begins from the outset, for once more behind his superiors' backs, Mr. Akio throws the book full of life-changing code at our three hackers. Alter the code, upgrade the human - physically, anyway.
The immediate transformation at the end of the first chapter - and almost everything that follows born of multiple miscalculations - is a pretty grim ordeal, but the single Araujo image that haunted me most - and does still - is Mr. Akio's eyes when threatened and dismissed.