Outsourcing War and Profiteer Heroism in the Jacamons’ Cyclops

Cyclops Vol. 1
Written by Matz (Alexis Nolent)
Art by Luc Jacamon
Published by Archaia Studios
December 2010 – August 2011

I was in the teacher’s lounge chatting with irascible english teachers (you’d be surprised at how much profanity goes on behind closed doors) when the subject drifted away from our particular bands of cellphone-junkies and toward safer shores, that of the modern world and how it has begun to look a lot like science-fiction. We made some elementary points (for high school teachers): obviously humanity hasn’t colonized space or met extraterrestrials made of silicon, but society does have facial-recognition software, mind-controlled prosthetics, and smart-chips that can dissolve into skin. Seeing as this conversation took place in Texas, most of my fellow teachers regarded these advancements as omens of the impending Biblical apocalypse, but that’s not here or now. The ‘take-away’ was that we live in a much different age than that of our forefathers, or our fathers, or even our childhoods.

One of my colleagues, Mr. Beale, an older man with a white beard and who I-kid-you-not wears hawaiian shirts on a daily basis, brought up ‘future shock,’ a prediction by futurologist Alvin Toffler in the 1970s that people will one day find themselves so overwhelmed by the hyper-progress of technology that they’ll be unable to cope, leading to all sorts of crippling disorders. Here’s the book:

Mr. Beale’s position, however, was that the human race has reached Toffler’s anticipated status quo; humanity is undergoing what theorist Douglas Rushkoff calls ‘present shock,’ or a society so stunned by its progress that it’s completely focused on the now and unable to contemplate the future. Here’s that book, with a bit more of an updated design than Toffler’s:

“This world is going by so fast,” Mr. Beale concluded before the bell sent us scurrying in separate directions, “that if our students want to figure out what the heck is going on, they’re going to need science-fiction. It’s the only relevant genre left.”

While the stringent might take Mr. Beale to task on the differences between science-fiction and speculative fiction, and while ‘Santa Claus on Vacation’ was clearly resorting to hyperbole and personal preference, there were some digestible giblets in his argument to be mulled over, maybe gnawed on for awhile. So, when I encountered Matz and Luc Jacamons’ Cyclops a few months later, I was prepared in advance to look for instances where its use of technology and societal structures might revel in realism and revelation. I was not to be disappointed.

Cyclops is a sophisticated war series about a world suffering from a global recession, and therefore reliant on trans-corporations to fight its battles. In-story, the United Nations outsources a civil war in Turkey to a massive private security firm called Multicorps Inc. The firm deploys mercenaries called Cyclops, so-called because their helmets are outfitted with micro-cameras that create the appearance of one central eye unit. The footage from these soldiers’ broadcasts is distributed as glorified war reporting, creating the illusion of accountability and supposedly removing the necessity for journalists. As the series progresses, Douglas Pistoia, a mercenary-celebrity and spokesperson for Multicorps, begins to feel unsettled by the fraying boundaries between peace-keeping and profiteering, between news reporting and entertainment, while he slowly untangles a murky conspiracy within the company.

Despite being set in 2054, Cyclops is very much the direct consequence of the United States’ wars in Iraq and Afghanistan; in fact, the world of Cyclops is an amalgamation of the controversies that arose from those conflicts taken to the fringes of reason. One of the issues was a military overuse of mercenaries, now relabeled ‘private military contractors’ in a transition George Carlin would call the ‘softening of language.’ As Matz explained in a CBR interview, the Western powers “place very sensitive powers and means into the hands of forces that [they] cannot control very well (Dueben).” The forces that Matz is describing are defense contractors and private security consultants, basically rebranded corporations whose services purportedly manufacture peace, and yet whose profits depend on the perpetuation of violence. These defense firms have come under-fire by perceptive commentators, especially in light of recent reports of ethical and financial abuse undertaken in foreign conflicts. But defense contractors are also a well-moneyed specter. Par example, back in 2009, defense contractors spent over $27 million lobbying the federal government during Obama’s infamous Afghan surge (Hattem).

In response, the Jacamons depict a world reliant on the use of military contractors, even to the extent of delegating entire wars to the private sector. With this reliance comes the rise of planet-wide trans-corporations, as well as the dangers of having these corporations own both entertainment and private military companies. Although not necessarily a new form of institution, as the East India Company attests, these trans-corporations can afford a certain control over its consumer-citizens never fully realized before. Furthermore, the Jacamons predict that as corpo-political responsibilities increase, the abilities once monopolized by geographically-bound governments will decrease. The decline in government, especially that of democracies, could lead to an inability to hold trans-corporations accountable to any unethical behavior. Naturally, this leads to a lot of maniacal cackling:

Another contention from the Iraq and Afghanistan conflicts was the rise of “embedded” journalism, a trend in which media coverage would come from journalists attached to military units. Literally, as Luc Jacamon deconstructed for CBR, ‘embedded’ means ‘in the same bed with,’ implying a lack of objectivity (Dueben). In response, the Jacamons remove the middle man, putting journalism directly into the hands of military powers. To create the illusion of accountability, the Cyclops’ broadcasts are live. However, they’re carefully monitored by an elite team of public relations experts, and later re-distribution undergoes careful post-production editing. This aspect, in which information is controlled by a corporate agenda, is not-so-distant from current trends in journalism.

In regards to style or structure, Cyclops has a simple, maybe subtle presence. It’s not edgy or entirely complex, although the pacing of its surprises make it appear so. Character development and plot are present, but subdued, with realism taking precedent over what might be a ‘guns, guts, & grenades’ action-adventure. Douglas Pistoia, acting as a consummate everyman, is neither righteous nor insidious, neither paladin or blackguard. His character reminds me of old Twilight Zone episodes, where the character is created to fit the narrative, and consequently, the narrative’s ulterior morals. Douglas fails where he should fail; he exhibits compassion and honor naturally and responsively as any human being would. Ultimately, the series stands testament to the skills of both its writer and artist.

But where the Jacamons are truly remarkable, and this harks back to Mr. Beale’s spiel on the relevancy of science-fiction, is in how terribly meditative Cyclops can be of our own world. Perhaps the conspiracy within Multicorps is just fanciful fear-mongering, similar to the Terminator’s correlation with advancements in robot technology. Perhaps there is a reality to military firms sustaining conflict for additional profit. Whatever the case, the ideologies present within Cyclops are not fabrications, but synchronous to contemporary geopolitics. Narrative aside, the series makes for an excellent commentary on how Western society fights its wars. Aesthetics aside (as one reviewer noted, the illustration looks like “Halo gameplay”), Cyclops is a message – an anxious message – about the ways things are and how they might be if mankind cannot look past the now and see where things are going (Long).

Couldn’t you imagine a day when science-fiction is published as contemporary non-fiction? Or is immediately obsolete by the time it hits digital bookshelves? Let’s just hope that for now, the events in Cyclops remain constrained within its ink-stained pages.

Works Cited:

Boot, Max. “The Mercenary Debate.” The American Interest, 1 May 2009. Web. 18 July 2014.

Dueben, Alex. “Matz & Jacamon Envision Future War in Cyclops.” Comic Book Resources, 11 January 2011. Web. 22 March 2014.

Hattem, Julian. “Top Defense Contractors Spent $27 Million Lobbying at Time of Afghan Surge Announcement.” Huffington Post, 23 March 2010. Web. 17 July 2014.

Long, Aaron. “Aaron’s Comic Review: Cyclops #2 From Archaia Comics.” Gotham News, 18 January 2011. Web. 22 March 2014.

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When Desmond White is not blogging out of both ends, he’s stunt doubling for a bear or actually doing his job -- teaching literature at a Texas high school. A loose definition of genius, Desmond’s goals in life include making yerba mate sound appetizing (“It’s grass... that you drink!”) and writing about comics. Check out his blog, which is dedicated to bad writing advice for the aspiring bad writer.

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