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Cory Doctorow's Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now #1-2

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Cory Doctorow's Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now #1-2

Credits

  • Words: Dara Naraghi and J.C. Vaughn
  • Art: Esteve Polls and Daniel Warner
  • Inks: Esteve Polls and Daniel Warner
  • Colors: Robert Studio and Scott Morse
  • Story Title: Anda's Game and When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth
  • Publisher: IDW Publishing
  • Price: $3.99 each
  • Release Date: Nov 7, 2007

Cory Doctorow is known as a wild writer of fantastic ideas, a true blue maverick in the current field of science fiction.  He’s an outspoken activist for liberalizing copyright laws to suit the new electronic culture, a believer in post-scarcity economics, and a fanatical blogger about both such beliefs.  And when it comes to his fiction, he tends to manage a William Gibson vibe with a magical realism twist.

IDW has selected six of Doctorow’s shorter works to be adapted into six single-shot issues under the nom de plume  Cory Doctorow’s Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now.  Issue #1 was released in October, with issue #2 having hit stands this past Wednesday.  How’s the concept faring thus far?

Issue #1: Anda’s Game

The more morally complex of the two, Anda’s Game concerns itself with a world wherein online role playing (MMORPG) has become a global pastime of Hollywood-like prominence.  Unions have organized, including a progressive feminist group called Clan Fahrenheit—girls for the advancement of girls in gaming.  The lead character, Anda, joins Fahrenheit and sinks deep into a vista of online fantasy adventure, taking on mysterious contracts of unknown origin that prompt both her and her best chum to slaughter online innocents by the bushel-load.  Battles of seemingly little to no worth, for sums of online gold that cannot be rivaled.  But why?

Quickly Doctorow’s story delves into startling territory: the online world proves as complex as the real one, as anything that becomes such a money-making business coup in the physical world will quickly find mirror reflections inside any game-made fabrication…including sweatshops, gamed by real sweatshop workers, paid a pittance to labor for the paying gamers of the leading nations.  Where, then, does any gamer’s responsibility lie?  Can partaking of a world that’s little more than a copy of the real one be any more criminal then simple existence?  And yet, in a gaming world that calls for a mercenary attitude and brutal enforcement of any player’s position, can any single player make the right choice yet stay true to the game?

Writer Dara Naraghi (author of the online comic Lifelike) pens a thoroughly thrilling rendition of Doctorow’s story.  It’s dense, textually, yet never drags or feels weakened by its obvious prose roots.  The themes of Anda’s Game call for a comprehensive exploration of the characters, their world, and the events involved, and Naraghi manages to provide all of the above in a single regular-sized issue, which is no small feat.  Few tales will cause readers to stop and consider the way Anda’s Game will, and thankfully, even in comic book form, I believe the story retains all its original impact, and perhaps, for being presented via a speedier, visual medium, a greater entertainment threshold as well.

Esteve Polls works the art for issue #1, and while not the strongest choice to depict the fantasy elements of the plot, he perhaps was a singularly apt selection for his ability to bring a classic sense of humanity to the piece.  Polls’ work is reminiscent of the great Steve Lieber (Whiteout) and Hal Foster (Prince Valiant), with simple yet refined figures, structurally strong though basic layout, and a storytelling sense effortless to partake of.  Anda’s Game, for all its far-future imaginativeness, looks like the world today, and—looking at the wild success of gaming as it's come to be—perhaps is today, similar moral dilemmas just waiting to be unveiled.

All in all, an impressive debut issue, and it brought me slap-happily back for:

Issue #2: When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth

J.C. Vaughn transports Doctorow’s story to comics for the second outing, relating a tale inspired by Doctorow’s time spent as a sysadmin (System Administrator) himself.  Far more reaching than Anda’s Game, though not quite as thought-provoking, When Sysadmins Ruled the Earth posits a time wherein an internet virus brings about the end of modern civilization inside of a single night, and only the sysadmins—safely sequestered in their offices during world-wide attempts to fix the problem, mere hours before the world outside collapses—are untouched by the initial catastrophe.

What follows, then, is a world reconstructed by the very men and women trained to fix it in the first place.  It’s an interesting yarn that does, indeed, explore how such an event might plausibly go down, but largely it dates itself by a too-emphatic emphasis on the miraculous possibilities the internet’s very existence entails, having it act as a foundation for all of civilization and human possibility rather than as the enhancing exoskeleton it’s in truth become.

Vaughn seems to lift some of Cory’s actual prose and pepper it throughout the story in caption box form, a move that helps to spice up the flavor of the text and mark the translation as something more distinct than most.  The dialogue is strong, the pacing well-considered for being vastly different from that of Anda’s Game.  An inarguably good story worried into comic book script by dexterous hands.  Between issue #1 and now this, Futuristic Tales of the Here and Now is looking to be one of the best prose-to-comic treatments of the past decade, among the countless Marvel and Image attempts to do the same with other properties.

The art in issue #2, by Daniel Warner, carries a very IDW signature sensibility with it.  Fans of the more expressionistic, jagged sketch-lines of Ashley Wood and Ben Templesmith should highly enjoy Warner’s calmer though no less stylized forms.  Sysadmins, visually, appears wild and surreal and simple in equal measure, a look that services the story remarkably well.  Colored by Scott Morse (is that the Scott Morse?), the book is really quite beautiful.

And so…

Two issues, two highly disparate stories, script styles, and visual approaches, though both of them quality as quality can be.  I’ve yet to try a Cory Doctorow novel, but my exposure to his fiction via Futuristic Tales is more than enough to prompt me to do just that.  No one should find themselves disappointed with IDW’s take on the author’s short bits.  This is a fantastic anthology mini, six issues in length, and thus far, perhaps one of the best things IDW has in fact produced.  I read both issues days ago, and still can’t stop thinking about them.  That’s good comics.

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