Just a Few Graphic Novels

It was a joy to sit down and talk about the some of the science fiction that left fingerprints on how we think about and interpret the world. I read avidly as a kid, and Loyd fed me plenty of fiction and fantasy, but Neuromancer was the first to encourage me to think beyond the pages of the book. The vivid, dystopian world traveled by a protagonist named Case, the blurring of good and evil, of the virtual and the physical, of the human and transhuman, and the humane and the corporate, forced a consideration of how these themes played into my world, and has, ultimately, shaped how I think about technology and the future.
I wanted to dig a little deeper into graphic novels I’ve read recently: what they meant to me, what was good and right, and what didn’t work at all. These are indie graphic novels, for the most part, not the stuff cranked out by the big comics companies. They’re creative, thoughtful, and try to take long, hard looks at possible futures.

Descender

Jeff Lemire, writer, Dustin Nguyen, artist

After a race of a robotic-like species attacks the planet that serves as the center of galactic civilization, robots are systematically subjugated, dismantled, and destroyed. Ten years later, a robot named Tim, who looks and acts like a child (meant to be a companion to a human kid), wakes up in a distant mining colony where a gas leak killed all the humans. Who will find him first? 
With a highly empathetic main character — a kid on the run from bounty hunters —, a government with opaque motives, a disgraced scientist, a secret alien race and rich, detailed, expansive watercolor, this shaped up to be one of my favorite stories of the year even though I barely squeezed it into 2016. Highly recommended, and I can’t wait for the next chapter.

Saga

Brian K. Vaughn (writer), Fiona Staples (artist)
In the midst of an epic galactic war, two soldiers from opposing sides fall in love and go on the run. 
This was the first re-introduction to graphic novels since I read Sandman almost a decade ago. While the premise
of the story isn’t unique, its execution is. The whole series is told from the point of view of their unborn (and then, born) daughter, and the myriad characters — from assassins to royalty which have TVs as heads to a sentient seal who protects the work of a romance author. Vaughan doesn’t hold back anything — there is sex and violence, love and cruelty, hope, menial labor, ghosts, & drug abuse. AND WOW FIONA STAPLES. Every single panel is a work of art. Also, the art is just as much, if not more of the story, than the dialogue & text. And anyways, our country could use more stories about humanizing the “others” right now.

Lazarus

Greg Lucka (writer), Michael Lark (Artist)
The world is now run by 20+ families, who control wide swaths of land through, and humans are classified in 4 categories: families (highest class), their immediate circle (educated), citizens (working class), or serfs/nonhumans/subhumans (poor). Each family has their own “Lazarus”, with superhuman strength & health. The __ family’s Lazarus, Forever, has grown up knowing she was genetically-altered to become a Lazarus, but believing that she is still her parents’ child.
As far as dystopias go, I haven’t found another world quite like this one. The technology — especially the biotech — is futuristic, but other than that, society has basically reverted to feudalism. Family loyalties are tested, no one gets a free pass, & the choreography is genius. I really enjoyed the first three sets, enjoyed the fourth less as it was almost all fighting with little character development, which has been ___’s strength throughout.

Nimona

Noelle Stevenson, writer & artist
A girl shows up at Blackstone’s lair. He’s the villain to the village and Sir Goldenlion is the government’s champion and his nemesis — but Noelle Stephens has brilliantly blurred all lines. Who is good and who is evil? Who is Nimona, a girl who can shapeshift and who urges violence, but is also funny, thoughtful and enjoyable? 
Just read the book; you won’t regret it. Though at the surface it is a simple story, the storyline has little to do with the plot. Highly recommended for kids 12-15, high school literature classes, and your critical reading pleasure.

 Bitch Planet 

Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer, Valentine De Landro, artist

A Handmaiden’s-like dystopia where there’s a whole planet for female prisoners & their lives are reality TV.
Like Black Mirror? You’ll like Bitch Planet. Welcome to the dystopian future, where women who are “noncompliant” are sent to a different planet run by the (corrupt, etc etc etc) “Council of Fathers” to serve their sentences. Women are noncompliant if they are too black, too religious, too atheist, too outspoken, too queer, too.. anything. OH is this a metaphor? Yeah, but it’s larger than you might think. It’s a call-to-arms for anyone who isn’t at the top, for anyone, men alike, who doesn’t fit the box. Writer Kelly Sue DeConnick is known for giving Captain Marvel (previously Ms. Marvel) a flight suit & an identity as a fighter pilot, so when detractors called this move part of the feminist agenda, DeConnick’s reply was: “This is not angry feminist. You want to see angry feminist?”, she told NPR in an interview.
All this said, lots of nudity + violence + trigger warnings in here.

Low

Rick Remender, artist, Greg Tocchini, artist

Far into the future, humanity forced underwater by the sun’s increasing radiation & clean air is running out. a promising probe is recalled from a distant galaxy; two girls are kidnapped; their mother sets out on a quest to recover the probe. 
I was very excited to pick this up. The story and setting seemed unique; the art looked incredible. It started off with some non-traditional gender roles — twin girls taking up their father’s mantle as “helmswomen”. After the father is killed and the kids are kidnapped on a hunting trip, however, this story loses drive and lost my interest. In this *far future* society, for whatever reason, women are still highly subjugated and hypersexualized and I could not get past that. The girls’ brother has become a corrupt cop who kills a prostitute. The mother, the ‘hero’ has basically no personality or agency other than her 1D, unwavering optimism, springs him by giving a BJ to the senator and says what he’s done in the past doesn’t matter (so, the girl he killed doesn’t either). The women are basically depicted wearing Princess Leia bikinis, and their subjugation is never discussed nor does it drive the story in any meaningful way. Sorry, but a couple million years in the future, can we not fall back on these meaningless, sexist tropes?

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