Wednesday, April 23, 2014

ELECTRIC WARRIOR


More than its primary competitor, DC Comics always had a willingness to invest in ongoing science fiction, and for the most part to allow that science fiction to reside outside and independent of its super-hero universe.

Since inter-continuity has been the rage dating back to the Crisis On Infinite Earths, that trend died down significantly from the Nineties onward (and, conceivably, in the wake of the excellent, underrated, and desperately-in-need-of-an-Absolute-Edition three-issue prestige format miniseries TWILIGHT, a sci-fi franchise mishmash scripted by Howard Chaykin and illustrated by the peerless Jose Luis Garcia-Lopez who, with all due respect, may have never been more on top of his game than with that one series), with the heyday of the truly independent story sci-fi arc being firmly set in the 1980s.

Slash Maraud, Sonic Disruptors, Tailgunner Jo, Spanner’s Galaxy, Conquerors of the Barren Earth, Lords of the Ultra-Realm, a plethora of licensed sci-fi from Atari Force to Spiral Zone (isolated from the main continuity by legal necessity there), the DC Graphic Novels which brought Demon With A Glass Hand and Metalzoic among others to life – a golden age of self-contained sci-fi nonsense in all its glory.

Of its many forays into self-contained science fiction, none was more straight prog-rock concept album than Electric Warrior, a dystopian eighteen-issue run written by Doug Moench – who, in the 1980s, was most famous for his Marvel work and was a real “get” for DC – and drawn by Jim Baikie, with soundtrack by Yes, Rush, an orchestra pit full of minimoogs and amplification by Hiwatt.

Well, perhaps it’s the second-most prog rock DC sci-fi comic after Sonic Disruptors, but of the two it’s the one which has a fully-finished story arc and is named after a T.Rex album.

Hope you like this taste of dialogue,
you'll be choking on it by issue three.
“When Machines Mutate” promises the cover blurb to the first issue, undoubtedly added by an editorial force unsure of how else to promote the odd assemblage of futuristic tropes in a comic which obviously borrowed a lot of influence from the then-still burgeoning school of British post-punk dystopian sci-fi comics. In fact, with its clear (if not particularly biting) social and humanist satire, reliance of coyly fabricated slang dialect, broad condemnation of inherent corruption in upper class tiers wedded with political power, plus a handful of grubby mutants and striated urban decay, it was really an occasional “-ou-”, a reference to chip shops and anything resembling a sense of humor away from being a direct descendant of Dredd.

 The absence of any humor was possibly the defining characteristic of Electric Warrior – it’s dire, full of dread, ominous, oppressive, everyone is miserable and the only laughter is rueful. It is a comic which – and, again, in the grand tradition of the prog rock concept album to which your humble editor cannot help but compare it – takes itself so goddamn seriously. Even the nature children who live at peace with the wild world and get to spend all day fucking and painting mope around like goddamn dicks.

The world of the Electric Warrior is divided into four prominent social groups; “Zigs” inhabit the gutters and slums at street level, bind their children’s heads into jellybean shapes so as to better squeeze through rat-holes and cubbies, and live on garbage and die in factories; There are The Elites, the wealthy and politically powerful upper-class who reside in high-rise luxury apartments (though not so high up that the Zigs can’t easily lob garbage up on their balconies, or climb up unaided when the story calls for it, so … two stories up? Is this suburban LA?) and who command the deadly Electric Warriors as an android police force and invading army when needed; the “Primmies” diminutive for “Primitives”, who lead a loincloth-clad existence in the unspoiled wild and which are an admittedly unintentionally insulting parody of aboriginal cultures but, you know, there it is. There are also the “Genetrix”, legit ghastly mutants who hang out on the edge of these other cultures, fucking around with beat-up cars and who I think we can all safely assume Moench invented with the idea that he’d figure out their purpose later in the book (he didn’t).

The basic premise of Electric Warrior involves one Electric Warrior – Lek 9-03 – developing a human consciousness during a raid on the Zig’s street-level community and becoming a sort of folk hero for the downtrodden bean-headed weirdos.  Meanwhile, out in the unspoiled natural land, the Primmies’ poster boy – Derek Two-Shadow, born a Zig but raised in the woods – just wants to paint by a lake all day, only he has to deal with the jealousy of his rival Simon Soaring and the unappreciated adoration of what appears to be the only woman in the tribe (let’s call her Smurfette).

For their part, the Elites notice that a space invasion fleet is bearing down on their world – in a stroke of narrative irony which is stretched out over six or eight issues and which I’d describe as a tetch over-played, we the audience get to see that the armada bearing down on planet Earth is bearing a joint US/USSR insignia – which encourages them to start converting untainted Primmies into a new generation of Electric Warriors designed to repel the invasion.

"...enh."
Simon Soaring and Derek Two-Shadows end up becoming new ‘Leks, but more than that, Two-Shadow is fused with the remains of the rebel Electric Warrior, Lek 9-03, and must reconcile their two identities and loves for different women, and basically all this is missing to distinguish it from a mid-seller on the Billboard ’74 chart is a song about the hero being put on trial for being a rock star.

When the series wraps up, Moench reveals that Electric Warrior had been envisioned as an ongoing series, which is ABSOLUTELY UNBELIEVABLE. Boggles the imagination, the idea of this book going on much longer – eighteen issues is already a remarkable achievement, considering that there might legitimately be about four issues’ worth of story in the whole shmear up to this point AND that the big “reveal” at the end of the book is a Mulligan…

The invasion fleet lands, reveals that the entire planet is actually a big experiment and everyone on it – Zigs, Elites, Primmies OH AND GENETRIX hey guys, what’ve you been up to for eighteen issues (“Nuffink, Zug-Breath!” one replies, Robo-Trooperly) – is actually a brainwashed human being from Earth who were brought to this planet no more than a generation ago to see how societies are built. In the future, you see, we don’t have Sociologists any more, we just have the limitless resources and the absolute absence of empathy required to fuck up a whole generation of humanity to see if we can make Judge Dredd happen on Mars.

If Electric Warrior doesn't have the same vim, verve and vigor of its ancestral precedents in the British newsprint progs, much of the blame can be laid at the feet of the universally unsympathetic characters and half-built environments; with the similar stories being built overseas, much of the appeal lay in the sometimes-perverse empathy the audience felt with the characters - cultural cannibals, obsessive-compulsives and grotty authoritarians. For all of its mid-Eighties palette, the world of Electric Warrior really is a world that feels populated with man-like machines and cities built just to see what happens when you walk away from them.

1 comment:

Bram said...

Ha! Spanner's Galaxy. Re-read that a while back; it's dated and predictable, but worthy of holding onto, I deemed.

Just finished my first-ever reading of Moench's Six From Sirius … with its somewhat overplayed yet underexplained mergings of human and machine. It was a bit of a slog.

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