Author: cskeldon

Deja Vu

The most creative idea included in the graphic novel Anti-Gone is the invention of drugs that are meant to be taken while watching movies to heighten the cinematic experience. These can be used to help fully immerse people in the film, so that they forget they are only watching a movie and enter a strange sort of virtual reality.

The effects of these drugs can also explain the ending. Lynxa takes a drug which will make her feel like she is close to death, though it is certainly not actually supposed to kill her. Unfortunately, the boardwalk collapses while she is under the drug’s influence. Because she is high we do not know if it really collapses under the weight of police and protestors, but it is not there from Spyda’s perspective, so its collapse is certain. This appears to cause Lynxa to drown.

The last scene shows Spyda alone in the boat. This scene clearly takes place after the other events in the story, as he can be seen wearing the new clothes that he bought and eating the candy and taking the drugs that the dealer sold him. The only drug that he can be seen taking is a packet with an “N” on it, which is meant to give the user a strong sense of nostalgia. This suggests that he is mourning Lynxa and is taking the drug to remember her. As a result, he is remembering the last couple days he spent with her, which makes up the rest of the book. When he throws the remaining round black pill into the water, its reflection makes the symbol that in music tells the player to repeat a line. This tells the reader to return to the beginning of the book, because this is what Spyda is doing. He is caught in a cycle of rewatching his last day with Lynxa and taking drugs to start it again.

This is very fitting with his character. Throughout the story he is constantly talking, even when others wish he would stop. This shows that he is likely uncomfortable being alone in silence, a silence which is highlighted in the last few pages by the complete absence of dialogue but the inclusion of very slight noises. He and Lynxa also mention that he has seen some movies many times, which is similar to rewatching a memory over and over again. To Spyda, his memory is just like one of his favorite movies.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat…

Although it is not yet clear exactly how the graphic novel Anti-Gone fits in with the subject of virtual realities, its art so far seems very reminiscent of a dream. The art is very simple, and most panels show the background as very indistinct, as if only a very small area of the world is real. Much of the time the two characters are also on the ocean, so it looks like they are floating on endless whiteness. The structure of the boat also adds to this effect; although it is shaped like a boat and has a sail, it does not have any of the usual details that a boat would have, and neither character seems to actually be controlling it. The inside seems to be padded with cushions, so that it closely resembles a bed or a sofa, where a person could sleep comfortably.

The pair also meets a very strange merchant, who seems to have eyes but no head and just happens to have a small bag filled with many objects, which could not possibly fit inside. The man, who seems to be named Spyda, buys a pile of movies, of all things. This seems ridiculous, as there is no way for him to actually watch them. All of these details create the sort of strange randomness that is often encountered in dreams.

Suffering with Others

The protagonist in The Handmaid’s Tale lives in a society with many other people, yet feels lonely because she cannot trust anyone else. She is forced to spend long periods of time in her room by herself and grows so bored that she starts to investigate every little detail of her room. This leads her to find a message carved into the corner, which says Nolite te bastardes carborundorum. The protagonist does not even know what this means but is comforted by the fact that someone who did not agree with their society once lived in the same room. This gives the protagonist courage.

This scene reminds me of the graphic novel V for Vendetta, in which one of the main characters, Evey, is taken prisoner. She finds a rolled-up piece of toilet paper hidden in her cell by a woman named Valerie, who wrote her life story on it. Valerie writes about growing up as a lesbian, and about being arrested and tortured by the government because of it. Yet even though she was in an unwinnable situation, she still never gave up her integrity, her last inch of freedom. This story inspires Evey to resist her captors’ torture, and she becomes willing to give up her life instead of that last inch of freedom.

Both of these characters are inspired by small, simple messages that require a fair amount of interpretation. Yet these messages still give them the strength to continue. Neither Evey nor the handmaid is able to actually talk to anyone else who disagrees with the current system, yet because of their very limited messages form other people, they at least know that they are not anomalies. This shows exactly why free speech must be limited in dystopian societies; these systems thrive when people are unhappy, isolated, and unable to comfort each other and share their problems. Even a small scrap of empathy can be dangerous.

The Reverse Superhero


In comics, most characters with powers generally try to keep their abilities a secret, which is a difficult but possible task. However, the character Element Girl, and a somewhat similar Marvel character, Beast, have impossible times trying to keep their identities a secret because of their appearances. Element girl is turned into different elements by the god Ra, making her appear hideous, while although Beast originally looks like a normal person (aside from his massive feet), an untested serum that he uses on himself turns him blue/grey and furry. What made me link these two characters together is the fact that they both make some attempt to live their old lives even after their drastic changes by wearing masks that look like their original faces. I find this a fascinating concept, as masks are generally used to keep one’s identity a secret, while in this case they are used for the exact opposite purpose.

Or are they? Could their new powers and appearances actually suddenly change who they are? In both cases, the answer seems to be sort of. Element Girl was once a very daring, strong-willed woman before her transformation, whereas afterwards she is barely brave enough to leave the apartment. Whether you could simply say this is because of her change is unclear though, as her depression is more because of her fear of society’s reaction to her appearance. The Beast actually goes through the opposite transformation; although he is at first ashamed of who he has become and wears a mask of his old face, he soon embraces who he is. In the old X-Men comics, Beast was well-known for using large words. After his transformation he realizes that this was not because of his intelligence, but because of his insecurity due to the uncivilized, brutish nature of his powers. But after the transformation he stops this (and his uniform that once used to cover his whole body becomes a mere speedo), because his complete change seems to have made him more comfortable with who he is. This change in dress is another similarity between the two characters, as although Element Girl completely covers herself in public, she hardly wears anything at home, probably so she can finally be who she is, and not have to hide anything.

Unfortunately, Element Girl is ultimately unable to align her old and new selves and chooses to die. This could be because while Beast lives in the massive, ever-expanding Marvel universe where many people have powers and strange appearances, Element Girl lives in a far more isolated world with no one remotely like her. For this reason, she is hopelessly lonely.

On an unrelated note, I love that Gaiman features a reference to The Prisoner on the third until last panel.


Preacher and Sandman: Two of a Kind


Having read several somewhat similar series of comic books, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Sandman: Dream Country. Probably the most similar comic book I can think of is Preacher, another violent series with a dark sense of humor.

What I like about these two series is that they are about characters with overpowered, god-like abilities. They do not succumb to the generic comic book plot of a hero fights a bad guy, loses, tries again, and wins (and then imprisons the villain, so the cycle can continue). These two characters overall seem to dominate in many unique situations, which is what makes them so fun to read. Both have the power to really shape the world around them; Morpheus, with his manipulation of dreams, and Preacher, with his ability to control others’ actions. This leads to endless possibilities of unique plots, none of which feel like cheap filler material.

Both comics border on the genre of superhero, but do not quite fit into this category, despite the fact that both protagonists do have powers and generally use them to help others. Perhaps this is because their actions can be at times selfish or ambiguous. For example, Preacher sometimes uses his powers to illegally get money, while Morpheus telling the cat the truth about Earth’s history may seem like a benevolent act in the story, but in reality, would be terrible for all of humankind. In short, despite their extreme powers, they still act quite human, working for their own interests in addition to those of others. This is at odds with the usual, unrealistically selfless hero such as Superman, who would never dream of using his powers for any purpose other than the objective good of the innocent. Another key detail which operates them from the classical superhero genre is the lack of any secret identity. Morpheus is simply an eternal being who has no need to hide, while Jesse has the most ambitious goal of all, finding God, and does not care who knows it.

I am very intrigued by these stories in Dream Country, and plan on reading the series in its entirety. Hopefully it will be as fun a read as Preacher was.

The Island’s Augmented Reality

So far (up through page 55), Adolfo Bioy Casares’s novel, The Invention of Morel, has raised far more questions than it has answered. Specifically, these questions include, what is the protagonist’s crime, and who/what are the people on the island.

My best guess at the protagonist’s crime crime is some sort of brain surgery gone awry, based on what he says about overcoming death by keeping consciousness alive instead of the whole body (Casares, 14). The protagonist was likely a doctor or mad scientist who tested this theory by trying to remove someone’s brain (or else extract their consciousness by other means) and killed the person by mistake. This explains why he seems to feel unfairly persecuted; he feels the risk was worth taking for immortality.

The reason for the resort’s construction is probably related to the people on the island, who appear suddenly without any warning. The paranoid protagonist believes that if they see him, they will recognize him as a fugitive, so he hides. As a result of this, it takes him a while to see learn what is strange about them; they cannot see or hear him, which seems to indicate that they are on a different plane of existence form him. The protagonist at first thinks they are merely ignoring him, but later begins to think that the island is some sort of purgatory for him, and he is dead, while they are alive. This is actually a fairly impressive thought, as people in books where this sort of thing actually could be the case are usually pretty slow to think of this idea. He also decides that all bugs and lizards on the island are also dead, which is why he can interact with them.

However, this conclusion overlooks a few details. At one point he sees them socializing outside in a rain storm, as if the storm is not occurring. It seems strange that both groups in the same place would have different weather, as this observation seems to indicate. His assumption also ignores the fact that the people repeat themselves precisely in a loop, which would not happen if they were ordinary people. He assumes that people are just prone to repeating themselves, but the words and actions are to exact to be habitual repetition.

I believe that the origin of these people has more of a science-fiction than fantasy origin. They are likely related to the mysterious chamber in the basement of the museum, in which the protagonist’s footsteps echo. It could be that this chamber echoes not only sounds, but also sights lasting for several days. It could repeat the entire events of several days, projecting them over and over again over what is real. This would make the island not exactly a virtual reality, but an augmented one. This would also explain why no one is in the museum when the power is off, but everyone suddenly appears, acting like they had been there for a while, when the power returns (Casares, 44). If these holograms area caused by the machine in the basement, then it is possible that Morel built this entire resort just to test this new invention.

A Modern Retelling of Plato’s Allegory

               I recently saw the movie The Truman Show for the first time, and although we have not watched it in this class, it is very similar to some of our readings, especially Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. This movie is about a man named Truman who is fairly ordinary in every way. But what’s different is that his whole life is a scripted T.V show which takes place in a massive studio, and all of the people he knows are actors. He is completely unaware of this, as his real reactions to fake situations is what draws people to the show.

His situation within the studio is very similar to that of the prisoners in Plato’s allegory. He has never known any life other than the one he lives, so he does not notice the ways in which his life is different from that of normal people. For example, the constant product placement in his life is a regular occurrence that he does not seem to notice, and when a light from the studio crashes on the sidewalk, he believes the radio when it says the light came from a satellite (he also does not think it is strange how responsive the radio seems to be to his comments). This distorted view of life is similar to that of the prisoners, who view the shadows on the cave’s walls as the real objects, rather than the things that cast them. He is even held physically in place like the prisoners; thanks to a scripted traumatic childhood event, he is afraid of the open water, so he cannot leave the town (which is located on an island within the studio).

Throughout the movie Truman starts to figure out what is going on, and must learn to distinguish what is real and fake all by himself. It is an excellent, rare kind of movie; a comedy that has a real plot and purpose, and is suspenseful enough that you cannot help but cheer for Truman. And, as is typical of this course’s material, it leaves you a bit unsettled about whether or not you could be in the same situation.

Is Oz Real?

               In the movie of The Wizard of Oz, it is quite obvious that Oz is a dream; Dorothy wakes up in the end in the very same house that she flew in to Oz, surrounded by people who saw her sleeping the whole time. Many of these people took part in her dream as different characters, which is a fairly common feature of dreams. The ending of the book surprised me, as it indicates that Dorothy was awake, and Oz is real. The house was actually blown away by the cyclone, and based on Aunt Em’s surprised reaction, Dorothy was probably in it. She was not in plain view of her family the whole time, but had actually gone missing.

               There were also aspects of Oz itself that would be unusual for a dream. Dorothy needs to sleep and eat to stay alive, which is generally unnecessary in dreams. And while Dorothy is asleep, events in Oz do not stop happening. She sleeps through much of chapter nine, but that does not stop the Tin Woodman and the Scarecrow from having their own adventure with the Field Mice. She is also not present when the Wicked Witch of the West watches Dorothy as she and her friends travel on the witch’s land, or when her companions meet the Wizard of Oz. If Dorothy was sleeping, then it seems like she would only be aware of the events happening around her, so there would be nothing happening elsewhere. The main piece of evidence against Oz being a dream world is that there are many sequels which do not include Dorothy, so unless her dream has taken on a life of its own somehow, it would be impossible for other people to enter it.

               There are few details that support the idea that Dorothy’s adventure is a dream, and I initially thought it was simply because of the movie. In the end, Dorothy does seem to be left without any objects from Oz to support her story, which is a little strange. But Baum does explicitly say that she lost her shows during the flight back home. Other than this, there is little indication that what Dorothy experienced was anything but real.