Science fiction has long prodded the boundaries that separate the living from the artificial, and as real-world advances come closer to enabling equally the visions of utopia, warnings against de-sensitivity, and nightmares of destruction, perhaps the most pertinent question to ask is the old adage, "Who benefits?" In the four-issue miniseries"Insurrection v3.6" by screenwriter Blake Masters, BOOM! Studios mainstay Michael Alan Nelson and artist Michael Penick, the use of artificial life to wage war takes an interesting turn as robots known as AUTs fight for interplanetary resources on behalf of powerful corporations, even as international conflict on Earth itself has been abolished. CBR News spoke with Masters, best known for his work on "Brotherhood," "Rubicon" and "Law and Order: Los Angeles" about the his first foray into comics.
"The idea was to extrapolate into the future a world where multinational business conglomerates have replaced traditional nation states, and combine it with an epic 'Roman Empire' social structure, only where the role of 'slaves' would be filled by sentient machines," Masters told CBR. "The result is a world where the machines, called AUTs, are actually more human and live more vibrantly human lives than their cosseted masters who passively numb themselves with vids and exist in state of sterile ennui.
"What happens is, the large economic blocs that control life on earth, the 'Glomrat' and 'Retsu,' fight battles for control of scarce, off-world mines using their machines as surrogates," the writer continued. "Now, since no humans are in danger, the 'cost' of these battles is pure dollars and cents, a line item in the corporate budget, 'equipment lost during a hostile takeover.' So they are not 'wars' in the eyes of the corporation. The twist is, to the machines doing the fighting, it is war. Friends are killed, lovers lost. But to their human masters, a toasted AUT is the same as a broken toaster."
"Insurrection v3.6's" point-of-view character, Masters told CBR, is an AUT who rebels against this order. "The AUT messiah of this series is a Team Leader Model v. 3.6, who goes by the name 'Tim.' Ergo, he is Tim v. 3.6 and the revolution he leads is Insurrection 3.6.
"The series follows the intertwined stories of Tim, the TLM AUT who ends up leading a revolution, and Hal, a 'forward thinking' Glomrat executive who in the beginning could be defined as liberal because he is willing to admit that that AUTs are more than just machines, but who, in the end, becomes a reactionary determined to put down Tim's revolt and thus preserve the master/slave relationship between humans and AUTs."
Masters said, though Hal may in some ways be sympathetic, "technically Hal is the antagonist" of the series. "But he is not a 'villain,'" the writer clarified. "He's a well-meaning man who loses his soul, because he's scared to admit that his AUT slaves are just as human as the humans."
The focus on powerful corporations as the shapers of society is, of course, a trend in the real, modern world, and "Insurrection v3.6" considers the potential results of unchecked enterprise. "The entire point of science fiction is not to predict the future but to use the future as a metaphorical landscape on which to play out our present-day fears and hopes and conflicts," Masters explained. "So yes, I think humans are slowly anesthetizing ourselves with technology. Yes, I believe that multinational corporations operating outside the boundaries of nation states may one day become more powerful than those states. Yes, I think we like to believe we are more progressive and welcoming of others than we actually are. I think we hide our dependence on our machines, from ourselves. I think 'Insurrection' is not 'the future' but a comment on the blind spots of the present."
Masters is working with co-writer Michael Alan Nelson on the series, with Nelson bringing the comics writing expertise from his regular gigs on BOOM!'s "28 Days Later," various Cthulhu miniseries and other titles. "As a film writer, I wrote about 120 pages of film-style text for the series that Michael, as a ridiculously talented writer in his own right, shaped and honed so the story would and could work as a 4-issue miniseries," Masters told CBR. For his part, Masters brings the filmmaker's perspective, which he is also employing for BOOM! in another capacity, adapting the "2 Guns" series for the big screen. "I'm a cinema guy. I make no bones about it. It's why I value working with Michael Alan Nelson so much. He knows the form inside and out. What my perspective gives me is a desire to use images to express the complexity of character, to not fall back on easy, one-note tropes. It's a perspective that sees comics as a form that can carry so much more emotional weight and nuance than the average non-comic book reader thinks," Masters said. "I fell in love with comics through the Frank Miller 'Daredevils' and the Alan Moore 'Swamp Things,' and those books taught me comics can create vivid, three-dimensional, morally complex human beings. Not just guys in tights going 'biff.'"
Rounding out the team is artist Michael Penick, who Masters describes as a "world builder." "His clean line drawings are overflowing with the detail work necessary to bring 'Insurrection's' future-scape to life," Masters said. "He also has the terrific ability to never settle for simple boxes. He is constantly changing the flow, size and lay out of his panels, which is fabulous and within those panels he chooses really spectacular angles of view."
"Insurrection v3.6" #1 is on sale Wednesday, March 9