Thursday, May 28, 2015

A (Very) Quick Look at 2099: Manifest Destiny

Having already peered at X-Men 2099, let's take a quick, a very quick look at Marvel's 2099: Manifest Destiny.

The Marvel 2099 imprint went under in August 1996, and its sole surviving scion, 2099: World of Tomorrow, was unceremoniously put down after only eight months. In 1998, the superheroes of the dark American future get their eulogy and epilogue in the form of a double-size one-off called 2099: Manifest Destiny.  The book was authored by Len Kaminsky, who is probably best known for his work on Iron Man in the 1990s, but he also had a hand in Marvel 2099, writing all 25 issues of Ghost Rider 2099 (in which a dead street hacker's mind is digitized and placed inside a Ghost Rider robot). I read it for the first time a couple of days ago (before last week, I hadn't even known of its existence), and in 48 pages, it's given me more to chew on (and spit out) than sixty-something issues of X-Men 2099, Doom 2099, and the sad six-issue run of X-Nation 2099 (which, interestingly, was Humberto Ramos's first Marvel gig).

Let's start with this: we've established that the mood and public outlook of the early 1990s was a prime determinant of the grim hue with which the Marvel 2099 universe was painted. You had the economic hangover following the Reaganomics coke binge, the entrance of Generation X (whose most impressionable years were defined by the word "malaise") into the spotlight, urban homicides hitting a peak in 1991, AIDS becoming the number one cause of death for American males ages twenty-five to forty-four, and so on. If the 2099 books, with their dire prognostications of a future shaped by violence, corporate greed, natural disasters, and accelerated social decay, were a perfectly apt comic book mirror for the national mood of the early 1990s, 2099: Manifest Destiny sings in the key of the late 1990s, which, like the economy, had bounced back up like a physics-defying UV-reactive beachball.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

A (Relatively) Quick Look at X-Men 2099

Every now and again I get a hankering to write something big and fun and frivolous, which usually results in a giant writeup about old console RPGs or cartoons. I've got the itch again, and so today I'd like to review today a comic book that has long been dear to my heart: X-Men 2099.

X-Men 2099: False Advertising

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Flaubert as Futurist

Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, Futurist words-in-freedom

Prescience is one of the prime signifiers of a fine and powerful mind. Gustave Flaubert knew what was up, as we can see from a letter penned in the early 1850s, while he was working on Madame Bovary:
What seems beautiful to me, what I would like to write, is a book about nothing, a book without any external support, which would be held together only by the inner strength of its style, the way the earth hangs suspended in space, a book which would have almost no subject, or at least in which the subject would be almost invisible, if that is possible. The most beautiful books are those in which there is the least matter; the closer the expression comes to the thought, the more perfectly the language clings to the idea and disappears, the more beautiful the style. I believe that the future of Art lies in this direction. I see Art, as it has developed over the years, becoming more and more ethereal, from the pylons of Egypt to the Gothic lancets, and from the twenty-thousand verse poems of the Indians to the flights of Byron. Form, as it becomes more skillful, is attenuated; it abandons all liturgy, all law, all measure; it deserts the epic for the novel, poetry for prose; it rejects all orthodoxy and is as free as the individual that creates it. This liberation from materiality can be found in everything, for example, in the way governments have evolved, from oriental despotisms to the socialist states of the future.
Obviously Flaubert was right. What he almost certainly didn't see coming was that the clearing of contrivances, of "matter" away from expression would be essentially the same process (or a closely related process) by which his own medium—continuous walls of static, unadorned text printed on paper—would come to approach cultural obsolescence, gradually pushed aside by audiovisual media, electronic games, and hypertext. But we can't judge him too harshly. The notion that the artforms predicated on the viability of printed literature, the unchallenged mass media queen of the nineteenth century, would be flirting with irrelevance in just 160 years would have seemed to Flaubert, on the face of it, as unthinkable to one of us today that social media, iOS games, or webcomics would be looked over as quaint cultural artifacts by 2099. (The "chips in our brains in our lifetime" millenarians might disagree, though.)

Nor could Flaubert have known how right he was about the "liberation from materiality" either; the key word of the unspoken but necessary corollary statement would center on the word "digital," which would have had no meaning to him. But so did the oracles of myth convey the gods' riddles about the future without necessarily understanding their meanings.

(Note: I recently attached this blog to the domain, spending twelve bucks to purchase some additional trappings of legitimacy. In the process, my blogroll was somehow erased. Working on restoring it now.)

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Madame Bovary, Facebook, Romanticism Old & New

Georges de Feure, La source du mal

When considering the social tectonics of the modern age, I do sometimes wonder if humanity hasn't succeeded in unshackling itself from the hitherto timeless aphorism of Ecclesiastes: there is no new thing under the sun. Maybe human life in the twenty-first century really isn't just the same old tune played to a different beat, on different instruments; could this epoch represent humanity's entry into a fundamentally different existence than the one it has danced for the last 12,000 years?

If I were adopt the posture of an King Solomon apologist, I might argue that it isn't the dance that has changed, but its speed. Communication has become instantaneous, human beings (or human objects) can traverse the globe in a matter or hours, and waiting longer than half an hour for anything is now an almost unacceptable proposition—but human beings as we see them documented by Homer, Thucydides, Guanzhong, Shakespeare, Tolstoy, et al. are still recognizably the same people we are, albeit differently socialized.

(What gives the apologist cause to hesitate is Hegel's observation that at some point, an increased quantitative difference clicks over to a qualitative difference—but when or if we'll hit that point (or if we've already hit it) is beyond any honest conjecture I can make at present.)

I've been reading Gustave Flaubert's Madame Bovary lately, and it makes me wonder if Ecclesiastes might still be correct. Throughout this mid-nineteenth century novel I've been frequently reminded of conversations and articles about (and personal experiences with) social media, the hot topic of the early twenty-first century (and hot topic maker of the early twenty-first century).