Wednesday, January 22, 2014

HEY DONNA / WHY YOU WANT TO DO ME LIKE THAT?


DONNA MATRIX
First thing out of the gate, credit to Donna Matrix creator Mike Saenz where credit is due; At a time when digital publishing was dynamically on the rise, comics were still drawn in the traditional manner. Saenz – the original artist on First Comics’ digitally-illustrated comic Shatter, and then the writer and artist on the first digital graphic novel Iron Man:Crash – was willing to implement new technologies in the creation of comics, even as imperfect as they were. Saenz' pages were illustrated on the computer but – as the technology hit a roadblock at that stage of production – had to be printed out then traditionally photographed in order to be printed as a physical comic.

Those dead eyes are judging you for
reading this comic.
The current model of comics – particularly mainstream comics, assembled more or less in factory conditions with individual art chores broken down to steps handled by different artists and departments – not only allows for digital creation, it encourages it. While the end product of Saenz' earliest work may have been necessarily imperfect, someone had to take the first step towards digital comics, or else we’d be sitting here in the early days of the twenty-first century never having heard the name “Greg Land”.  Yep, we’d just be idly swinging our feet over the edges of our gilded thrones, dangling our toes into crystal-clear water running from cool mountain streams, attended by super-robots of the future attending our every need, watching the pollutant-free jetcars speed across a sapphire sky, at one with God and Nature, ignorant of sin and Greg Land.

All of that being said, there is that pesky ol' necessary imperfection of Saenz' comic book work to address, as the technology becomes something of an impediment to artistry. Even by 1993, the 3-D modelling he uses in his debut effort with Reactor Comics – the slightly spooneristic but, come on, admittedly clever Donna Matrix – has the nasty habit of making every character look like a package of hot dogs speared on a hatrack. I mean, they make the Money for Nothing guys look like hot shit wrapped in a cat’s pancake, so it’s got that going for it, right?

You could gleefully wallow in the technical achievements – as modest as they seem by contemporary standards – of Donna Matrix, were it not for the fact that Donna Matrix is a comic book about a rogue sex bot largely comprised of visually incomprehensible panels of vector edges and sound effects.

"I get my money for nothing and my kicks for free!"
Sex bots – fandom's fascination with sticking their dicks inside a walking Cuisinart must date back to the stone age, when early Cro Magnon nerds shouted at the guys painting antelope on the cave walls “Make the tits bigger!” You can’t blame them – do you know how long it was after motion pictures had been invented before someone made a porno on them? A YEAR EARLIER. It’s only human nature to wonder how long it’ll take before any great advance in science comes in natural flesh color and can be easily cleaned with a wet-nap.

Saenz, additionally, already had one foot in the other side of sex-in-early-technology, having been the creator of something called Virtual Valerie, which your humble editor had to Google and apparently it’s a game where you take an imaginary hooker to a motel on your computer and use your keyboard to stick things in her hoo-ha until she climaxes. It was apparently a Mac thing. I had a PCjr.

The opening five or six pages of Donna Matrix cover the short jump from Robo-Prostitute to Robo-Prostitute-Terminator in a concise story which would have made for a better-than-average entry into Creepy or 1984, maybe even (post-Eastman) Heavy Metal, one of the oversized horror and sci-fi magazines which owed a lot to the EC model of shock and suspense;  a gentleman masochist buys hisself a sexbot, but sexbots are prohibited by law from indulging in any kind of rough stuff (Apparently the government had legislated the morality of BDSM but not the morality of lifelike sex bots, which I guess implies the politicians were once again bowing to the influence of Big Sexbot). Illegally modeming what he thinks is a BDSM subroutine that he can Ctrl-Alt-Delete on his sexbot’s monitor (did I get the terminology right?), it turns out he actually got himself some kind of super-commando routine instead and gets snuffed when his sexbot dishes out a “punishment” that’s slightly more capital than carnal. The safe word is “EYAAAAAARGH”

All well and good, it would have been a nice contribution to an anthology at this point, but IT WOULD NOT ENNNND. Heck, I suppose if you went through all of the trouble to create the 3-D models, you may as well have them wander around in front of fluorescent shoeboxes blurting dull dialogue until an orange-and-white panel implies something’s exploded.

What do you think it was going to say in that first panel before it was interrupted?

There’s no real story after the first few pages, just Donna Matrix encountering things to blow up, one after the other, and everyone’s face looks like a clear plastic pillow filled with hot dog meat. Likewise, the printing doesn't do the limited palette and grim lighting any favors, so that the often-slightly-blurred figures are additionally muddled and colored in an assortment of earth tones and shades of chewed food to form a palette which we’re calling “The Chili Disagrees With Dad On The Flagstone Patio”.

Part of what makes Donna Matrix a bit of a slog is the potential of what could have been – true, the story was thin, pixelated gruel, but the foundation was there. The lettering, for instance, was fully traditional, if done digitally, and the word balloons and bold, stentorian typeface really fail to take advantage of the purported depth of the 3-D modelling which formed the foundation of the book. Likewise, the sound effects could have been lifted from any 90s Marvel comic, and shortened the depth of field, so the figures came to better resemble balloon animals infiltrating a Viewmaster slide.

Most disappointingly – in the back of the book, Saenz's character sketches were presented for review. They ended up looking much better than the finished characters within the book, which seemed to imply that there was not only a cannier design sense at work in the book than the technology allowed for, but a sense of design that probably would have been better served by having been in the service of a more fully-aware storyteller.

Donna Matrix is, after all, a story about a human(oid) being reduced to an object for the purposes of physical pleasure who then inverts her obligation to serve and becomes a deadly threat – at the very least, it’s a story that reveals volumes about contemporary American male middle class entitlement and its puritanical dread of retribution. Or, in the case of what actually happens in Donna Matrix, Blat Blat Blat CHOM.

That's not a nice thing to say, fat and tired Steven Seagal-lookin' guy!

1 comment:

neofishboy said...

Oh man, Shatter! I bought the first issue of that and then almost immediately ceased to care. The stippling .... oh, God the stippling.

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