Future Progressive, Past Regressive:

Livewires

Adam Warren’s Livewires is Perfection.

This is not a word I use lightly, especially when the thing involved is a one-off project by a person who is often considered a not-very-major-creator[1] ™ but Livewires: Clockwork Thugs, Yo – is just that. I would not add or remove a single thing from this comic, I would not a change a word of dialogue, a line of drawing or a smidge of color. It is, no exaggeration, one of the best things ever published by Marvel Comics.

There was a point, early in the 2000′s, when the common perception was that Continuity (as practiced by the two major publishers in their Superhero lines) was a dirty, dirty, word. This was the beginning of the Ultimate Line[2]; the time when superstar writers and artists were allowed to take their time and publish as many (or as few) issues a year they desired (by its end, Mark Millar’s The Ultimates II was basically an annual book). It was thought the history of the fictional universe was something that held the new writers back, that if only they were let loose from the shackles of the past they would be able to re-make Iron Fist as the Great American Novel. As internet reviewer / commenter Paul O’Brian noted at the time:

creative trends tend to work in a pendulum, which is why we’ve had a string of books that seem to take perverse pride in going excessively in the other direction – trashing history for no particular end, screwing up continuity to no creative benefit, and generally acting as if this was the way all true art would be created, were it not for the silly traditions of the genre. If that sort of thing irritates the readers, well, that just shows how flawed the readers are, doesn’t it?[3]

But the simple fact is that observing what most would consider to be the highlights of Superhero comics would reveal creators who do not reject the past but embrace it – be it Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing, Grant Morison’s JLA, or James Robinson’s Starman etc. Sure, each of these comics, and creators, had a different way to relate to Continuity, but none of them shunned it. For these writers (and others), it was a useful tool to have around; not something you need to hang around to all the time but definitely not something you discard simply because it is not useful at the moment.

Think of Continuity as the march of progress – it was Issac Newton who once said “If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of giants”[4] – all the achievements of the modern world are made not possible not by some wisdom not-possessed by our forefathers, but by the accumulation of knowledge. The process is not fool proof (nothing is, really) – a piece of wisdom can be accepted as truth without proper consideration simply because someone who was considered smart said it before – but it is what allow humanity to advance.

Bad writers use Continuity as a crutch – clinging back to old ideas and characters because they have nothing fresh to offer. But good writers takes all this back matter and turns into a launching pad – Watchmen and The Dark Knight Returns could not have happened without continuity. They stand, also, on the shoulders of giants.

Project: Livewires is a bunch of robots (or, as they prefer, Mecha – the “R-Word”, you see, is very demeaning) created by a nameless government faction with its own simple task – to find out other rouge government factions that deal in mad-science stuff and eliminate them. That, in itself, is a great high concept – but one that would require the writer to do a great deal of heavy lifting in the world building department (setting up dozens of mad-science organizations, explaining many of the concepts, setting up world history). But, because the story is set in the already made Marvel Universe this work is made (almost completely) redundant: The Marvel U already has its share of strange organizations (AIM, SHIELD, HYDRA), mechanical marvels and rampaging A.I.’s

In fact, at the middle of issue 3, the designated new team member is given a virtual tour through the history of android development in the Marvel Universe – from little remembered embarrassments the Mannites to the omnipresent LMD’s[5] – which led all the way to the creation of Project: Livewire. One need not be very astute to notice the lateralization of the metaphor – Project: Livewire was made possible by the (fictional) history of the universe, just as the (comics series) Livewires was made possible by the publication history of the Marvel Comics Company. But what makes this better is that there is the third, combined, meaning: Livewires is the end product of three types of progress – fictional, metafictional and technological.

It is little coincidence that the “villain” of the piece is a throwback – on all three levels that I’ve mentioned – he is a representation of the past hunting down the future. He is the symbol of what-was trying to kill what-could-be. He is, in short, a symbol of a certain type of fan, the kind that won’t give something like Livewires a chance simply because it is not part of his childhood, it is new, and therefore it is scary[6].

And so Livewires finds itself between the hammer and the anvil – between those who deny the past to those who refuse to look beyond it. Likewise, its main character, poor beggared newbie death machine Stem Cell[7] – who finds herself alone, surrounded by enemies on all sides and must decide whether to dig deep inside herself (in more ways than one) and release her full potential her future self. She is scared, because the unknown is scary, but in the end you’ve either make that leap or you die.


[1] Outside of, perhaps, Christopher Priest, there is not a single comics creator whose works has been so unfairly marginalized than poor-ol’ Adam Warren – you would think that the man who was (partly) responsible for bringing manga sensibilities to Western comics would get at least some respect as an innovator. But the plain fact is that other than his most recent work (Empowered) you can hardly get your hands on a new printing of Warren’s stuff – Gen 13, The Dirty Pair, Iron Man: Hypervelocity… all out of print for the last eternity-and-a-half. That is a damm shame.

[2] Younger readers might not be aware of this – but the original point of the Ultimate Line, before it got remarked as Ultimate Comics (which lead to one of the stupidest title in choices history with Ultimate Comics New Ultimates), was to provide a fresh, continuity-free, jumping on point for new readers. It was reasoned that the Marvel Universe was no longer The-world-outside-your-window so a new world had to be constructed to provide proper verisimilitude for the lay reader. Considering the line now has ten years of continuing history across multiply titles, had the entire city of New York drowned in a mutant attack (but don’t worry – they rebuilt it, the whole freaking city – how’s that for realism) and that Captain America was the president we can chunk that mandate clear out of the window.

[3] The full review can be found at http://www.thexaxis.com/misc/blackpanther8.htm and is well worth your time.

[4] Yes – he wasn’t the first to use the metaphor, and yes – some have attributed the saying to sarcasm (he was mocking some opponents who was less-than-tall).. I know this, but the point still stands.

[5] Life Model Decoy – a writers gift if you wanna kill someone only to regret it. “It wasn’t me who died – it was my robot double!” compare and contrast – the Doombot.

[6] As Douglas Adams said – “Anything invented before your fifteenth birthday is the order of nature. That’s how it should be. Anything invented between your 15th and 35th birthday is new and exciting, and you might get a career there. Anything invented after that day, however, is against nature and should be prohibited.”

[7] Nobody today comes with a good super hero nom-de-plume like Warren – “Stem Cell” signifying something that is both new and filled with potential.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Tom Shapira is a carbon-based life from the planet earth. He was formed in the year 1985 AD by two loving parents. He is also an MA student of English Lit. at Tel-Aviv University, Israel, where he feels proud to be the first student to graduate with a BA by writing a paper about the works of Grant Morison. In his native tongue, Tom is a staff writer for Israel's leading comics blog Alilon.net and an occasional participant in the blog's bi-weekly podcast. He spends too much time, money and thought on Comics (especially the works of Grant Morison, Alan Moore, Warren Ellis and Garth Ennis) and his friends and family wish he would stop. He is not going to.

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