Titanium Rain: Anxiety for Postmodern Warfare - Part 1

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One of the books Archaia Comics is resuming this summer is Titanium Rain, by the husband and wife duo of Josh Finney and Kat Rocha. Seems like doing a futuristic book on cyborg fighter pilots is the magic recipe for a solid marriage: these two don’t stop talking – which is why we’re splitting this interview up into two parts! But hey, it’s a great read filled with fun anecdotes, so let’s dive into it right away…

BROKEN FRONTIER: You’re billing Titanium Rain as a cross between Generation Kill and Battlestar Galactica. Why is that?

JOSH FINNEY: Truth is, when we were pitching Titanium Rain, it was difficult coming up with anything to compare it to... or at least anything that would evoke the right mental image in twenty words or less.  While on the surface Titanium Rain is a book about cyborg fighter pilots, there is a hell of a lot happening in the subtext -- politics, war, human nature, and ultimately, what we as a species are becoming.  Yet Kat and I needed a way to say, "If you like this, you'll enjoy Titanium Rain." 

We've found at cons it's good to use analogies to TV and movies.  I mean, you'd figure at a comics convention comparing your book to other comics would work best, but nope.  Nine times out of ten the, "if you like Red Star and The Surrogates" pitch got us people saying, "Yeah, everyone says I should read that book, but I haven't."  Then people would see the jets and say "Oh, it's like a futuristic Top Gun!"  Then I'd have to grit my teeth and politely explain that it was nothing like Top Gun.  This is actually good.

Josh: We felt the comparison to Galactica was a strong one.  Both tackle many of the same themes -- war, religion, technology-- yet remain very character driven.  There's also the gritty sci-fi element.  Philosophically speaking, though, Titanium Rain really owes more to the original Star Trek than anything. 

Kat: You mean Kirk and Spock and green-faced honeys?  So, does that mean the main character gets his shirt torn off in every episode... er, issue?  Do the bad guys wear gold lamé?  [Laughs]

Josh: Damn it, woman!  Remember, I know where you sleep! 

How's that a threat?  What's the worst that could happen?  You creep up and grope me?  Oh no!  Stop!  How terrible!

Nah, the link between Trek and Titanium Rain is in Roddenberry's ethos that mankind will not only survive in the face of extreme adversity, but thrive.  If you look at the country today, and the mess that was the last eight years, it is easy to understand why so much sci-fi now panders to the apocalyptic.  It's sexy, it's easy, and its a sure-fire way to get asses planted in theatre seats.  But it's also utterly defeatist.  It sends the message that we're helpless, we're doomed, and we might as well embrace failure.  To quote the mighty Harlan Ellison, "I have no respect for anyone who says they've given up, or that they're not looking or that they're tired. That is to abrogate one's responsibility as a human being."

When I first started sculpting what was to become Titanium Rain the problems of our era were in the forefront of my mind, but so was Gene Roddenberry's legacy.  Now just stop for a moment and think about the climate in which Star Trek was launched.  In the late 1960s America was imploding -- Vietnam, racial strife, assassinations, the looming threat of nuclear annihilation.  Americans were deeply (if not violently) divided on just about everything. 

Then here comes Star Trek with its vision of a better tomorrow.  But not only was it a better tomorrow, it was a future where the worst had happened.  Mankind had pushed itself to the brink of extinction with nuclear war.  And yet, Roddenberry dared to show humanity climbing up out of the ashes to rise above its mistakes.  This was ABSOLUTELY the kind of story I wanted to tell.  I wanted to show mankind getting dragged down by our worst instincts and still overcoming them.  I wanted to show that we as a species are not only capable of greater things, but that it is in our nature to do so... to reach farther, do better, become more.

On that note, it should be mentioned there is a second part to the equation.  If Roddenberry's vision was the starting point for Titanium Rain, then Ghost in the Shell was the thing that pulled it together and gave the project direction.  For as long as I've known Josh, Ghost in the Shell has been a major source of inspiration to him.  And since then, I've been bitten by the Masamune Shirow bug myself.  So do I score major geek points if I mention that we played the "Making of the Cyborg" theme at our wedding?

Yeah.  It would be fair to say Mamoru Oshii's two Ghost in the Shell films had as much of a hand in shaping Titanium Rain as Trek did.  Especially in how I wanted to tackle some of the bigger issues in Titanium Rain -- evolution, religion, and man's relationship with technology.  One thing that stuck with me from the moment I saw the first Ghost in the Shell film back in college was Oshii's portrayal of man/machine evolution.  It was a total rejection of the Frankenstein myth.  Here was a future in which technology wasn't shown as a de-humanizing force, but rather a means of ascension. 

I realize a lot of people found the film a tad confusing, or were simply drawn to the film’s striking imagery, but at it's core, Ghost in the Shell is a metaphor for the species moving past its adolescence and into the next phase of our evolution. Hmmm... wait... didn't you ask about Generation Kill?

I believe he did.  He said like, "Something something...Galactica Generation Kill."  And so we started talking about Captain Kirk and anime instead.

So we've gone completely off topic, just like every other interview?

Kat: Yep.  Looks like.

BF: Hey, I don’t mind. You just go along with what you’ve got to say.

Er... okay... well, in regards to Generation Kill, HBO's amazing mini-series about the second Iraq War, the comparison grew out the effect the show (and book) had on us.  Generation Kill absolutely shaped my portrayal of men in combat, and how the big picture affects the guys on the ground. 

Really, as far as striving for realism, there has never been anything remotely as accurate or as powerful as Generation Kill.  All the soldiers we've spoken with in person or online have repeatedly cited the book/mini-series as the most true to life portrayal ever made.  And the Pentagon has on numerous occasions complained about the book for the same reasons. 

But aside from getting an inside look at what modern warfare is, Generation Kill did a lot to humanize the men in combat.  Author Evan Wright went out of his way to make sure we knew who these men were, why they chose to become Marines, and how they felt about their mission in Iraq.  Whatever opinion you think you may have about war, the military, or global politics, this book will change them in some way or another.

Kat: Seriously, if you want a real account of what it's like for our guys in the field, read Generation Kill. It's absolutely not what you would expect and it's the best book that I ever read that shows that the military is not full of dupes, or baby killers or, poor kids who were desperate for some college money, but real people.
To be continued tomorrow...

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