The Column: Issue #18

Fri, January 3rd, 2003 at 12:00am PST

Comic Books
Mark Millar, Columnist

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SUIT-UP FOR THE BRAVE NEW WORLD

We're the last of our kind; the last generation of people on this planet who will remember a world without super-people. This isn't just me talking. These are commentators from all over the world who appear to be bombarding me with images that I can only recall from comic-books and am now hearing about between commercial breaks on the evening news. Earlier in the week, I read about the super-soldier program where American troops are being physically augmented to become 24-7 war-machines who can live and function entirely without sleep as the first stage in the Pentagon's One Man Army revolution. A few days earlier, a former French racing writer named Claude Vorilhon (now dressing as Princess Leia and calling himself Rael) gave a press conference before a gigantic construct of the human DNA chain and assured us that he'd just masterminded the birth of the first human clone and that immortality was now in our grasp by means of downloading our consciousness onto a limitless supply of these identical duplicates.

Cloning to honour the alien species who created us and who would return once we'd perfected this process? Captain America brewing in the think-tanks beneath the Pentagon? We're talking mainstream news front-pages here, people, and mainstream news front-pages from the last seven days alone. Last year I started cutting out these kind of stories from the papers with all the intensity of that dude with the hair-lip in Red Dragon and my files are now bulging with everything from a Russian boy born nine months after Chernobyl with blue fur and advanced athletic abilities to an electronic brain-chip which might soon be able to walkie-talkie our thoughts to an identical chip within another living person. I was sitting on a train last year when I saw someone reading an article about an anthropologist who had invented a Bear-Proof Suit that looked exactly like a prototype for an Iron Man costume and I asked him if I could tear out the page and keep it. A few weeks later, I read an article in The Guardian newspaper about a revolutionary piece of optical engineering which might not only allow 80% of blind people to regain their sight, but give a man with average eyesight something close to telescopic vision.

Of course, none of this is anything new to we lucky bastards who have been preparing for this world since our Mums and Dads first shelled out their pennies at the grocery store ten, twenty or fifty years ago, but to the people out there who weren't raised on the American comic-book (and there are a few of them) this is all going to come as something of a shock. Then again, when Bill Clinton took office in January 1993 there were less than a thousand Web sites in the world and e-mail sounded like gay porn from Europe. Now look at us; my seventy two year old Auntie regularly emails my eighty one year old Auntie in Australia as matter-of-factly as she boils her tea and the average person spends eleven hours a day sitting in front of SOME form of monitor or another. The late mathematician Dr Terence McKenna estimated that there had been more technological advances in the 20th century than the rest of human history combined. Interestingly, he estimated that there had been more advances in the last ten years than the preceding ninety all bound together before finally dazzling us with the fact that science has made more quantum leaps in the previous twelve months than we made in even this incredible last decade. But how many people do you hear saying they can't keep up? Nobody. We're all just swapping our VCRs for DVDs and our Ninetendos for X-Boxes as quickly as we'll soon be swapping our eyeballs for implants or growing our personal clone at the merest whiff of short-sightedness or terminal illness.

It interests me how pulp-writers have always been somewhere between fifty and a hundred years ahead of the scientific mainstream. I'm sure everyone had a right old chuckle at Jules Verne and his preposterous underwater vehicles fifty years before the submarine and trashy pulps about the moon-landings half a century before Neil Armstrong had even contemplated his first buzz-cut. In much the same way, I think Siegel and Shuster divined the first superman back in 1938 and we've spent the last sixty plus years refining their initial idea to point where he enters our world by means of federal tax dollars. I don't know whether the pulp-writers actually anticipate what's coming or the science-geeks who read our books try to make their childhoods real, but it occurs to me that the last half century has been spent making this early, crude concept of the Superman more sophisticated with every passing generation of comic book pros to the point where, in books like Planetary and The Ultimates, they're just a step away from what we understand to be the real world. The next logical step is simply having them here among us and, like our email and our digital video discs, I think this is going to happen so casually and naturally that we'll barely even be speaking about it.

Of course, super-humans means villains as well as heroes, but we're already halfway there, don't you think? I'm not just talking about whatever horrors they're growing for military warfare in bases we don't even know about. I mean, the guy who's sitting in his own trademarked cave and ushering his henchmen to destroy major American cities. It wasn't such a stretch to draw parallels between Osama Bin Laden and Magneto in the pages of Ultimate X-Men when OBL is using video-taped addresses to threaten our corrupt western culture and a doctor friend of mine was telling me that six Muslim extremists had been arrested in Edinburgh last week before they could scatter anthrax over our country's major New Year's Eve celebrations from hang-gliders. All that's missing from these scenarios is the eleven-page brawl and the witty one-liners and we'd be living in the pages of a four colour comic-book. I doubt we're even going to realize it until we're being held hostage by some lunatic super-gorilla threatening imminent invasion from his super-monkey pals from Dimension X.

But it's nothing to be afraid. There's genuinely no greater time to be living in. It's exciting watching these events unfold and witnessing the kind of scenarios and concepts we do as our bread and butter every day make that leap from comic-book script to news-item. Where are we right now in the chronology of the DC and Marvel Universe? I'd say we're somewhere around page eleven newspaper articles about amateur astronomers spotting a rocket-flare over a Kansas wheat-field, some crazy Howard Hughes type blue-printing his idea for a superhero war-suit or some rich-kid brat watching in horror as his parents are shot dead on their way back from My Big, Fat, Greek Wedding.

Bags I get to be Moon Knight.

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