Today, Shelby and Patrick are discussing Tokyo Ghost 2, originally released October 21st, 2015.
Shelby: We got Internet at my house when I was in high school. I had experienced it before then, of course, but I was old enough to remember that moment my farm in rural northern Wisconsin was plugged in and online. Those of us in our late 20s/early 30s are probably the last generation to remember life before the internet, when life and plans had to be scheduled ahead of time instead of on the fly, when the thought of connecting to someone a world away was unheard of, when there was just some information you didn’t have constant access to. As someone who feels too old be a Millenial and too young to be a Gen-Xer (or whatever came before the current generation), I feel of two minds about our near constant plugged in state, but Rick Remender, Sean Murphy, and Matt Hollingsworth sure don’t. The future they’ve envisioned in Tokyo Ghost is a world where the worst parts of the Internet have taken over, and it is somehow grimmer and more fascinating than you’d imagine.
Issue 2 sees our resident luddite Debbie and her constantly plugged in boyfriend/partner Led Dent (aka Teddy) receiving their next assignment: head to Tokyo and eliminate the new warlord who’s made the world lush and green so bossman Flak can take it for himself. One catch: someone has set up an EMP field around Tokyo, so the only people who can reach it are those who are not plugged in. This is secretly exactly what Debbie wanted all along, which makes it highly suspicious, but the two take the job with the promise it will be the end of their contracts. Once they arrive, Led, still struggling with withdrawal from going tech cold turkey, is discovered by a ninja, who leads him and Debbie on a merry chase to his master.
I was in love with the premise of this book after issue 1, but I was a little worried. The first issue is non-stop, operating at the speed of the Internet, and while I understood that the pace was setting the scene, that the overwhelming nature of that first issue was a reflection of the overwhelming nature of the world the book is set in, I was concerned the whole series would run at that breakneck pace. Happily, Remender is much smarter than that, and takes some time this issue to give us a little backstory on the world and, more importantly, on Debbie and Teddy. Debbie’s story seems strangely familiar: her father was an unplugged cop, trying his best to live an unplugged life. Her mother, on the other hand, succumbed to the constant, instant gratification the Internet had to offer.
Murphy’s art is beautiful and harsh and expressive, but where he really shines is in the little details. Sitting next to Debbie’s mom is a side table with a glass of wine and a dead rat; that is what her life has become. Even better, look in the corner of that top panel: a drum of “fried dildoes.” That’s a hilarious and sad state to get to; why keep your vices and pleasures segregated when you can just fry up your sex toys and eat/fuck/whatever to your heart’s content? That’s really what this world has come to. Everybody has access to everything instantly, so everything is rendered meaningless. The world is divided into the Haves and the Have Nothings; either you have the actual world at your finger tips, like Flak, or you can plug in and experience what the Haves dole out at their discretion.
As fascinating as it is to dissect this world of the dregs of the Internet made real, it’s Debbie and Teddy’s story that really tugs at my heartstrings. It’s hard to not think of this story in terms of hashtags, and Teddy’s story is #MasculinitySoFragile to an extreme state. It’s heartbreaking that it was the video of Debbie fighting the voyeurs off that threatened his manliness, that the sensitivity Debbie found so endearing was ultimately what brought him to his current, plugged in state. He was content living his unplugged life with Debbie, until he was forced to participate. The life he wanted was taken from him, filmed, and uploaded, so the only way he saw fit to exist was to plug in himself. It’s the classic story of someone trying to go against society just to do their own thing, only to have society interject and tell them how they are supposed to live. Debbie was lucky; she had her father’s lessons on an unplugged life to fall back on when things got challenging. Teddy’s parents didn’t want him around at all, and retreated to the Internet to get away from him, it’s really no wonder he turned to it as well.
How is Debbie and her love for Teddy supposed to stand up to that? This is a story about a society gone sour, and a story about a woman who loves an addict. Oh, and also a story about Japanese warlords and the fight for resources and wealth in a tech-heavy dystopian future, I suppose. Patrick, what did you think? You gonna order up a couple drums of fried dildoes to munch on (or whatever) while you read?
Patrick: No, but I’ll definitely string up an IV bag of pizza, and then hook it directly into my veins. Hey, if we’re frying dildos, then we might as well shoot up pizza, right?
That whole theme of unchecked appetites is so powerful, and even though it sounds an awful lot like it’s being wildly exaggerated for effect, we’re really only talking about a few degrees different from what we experience now. Debbie’s mom is a good example of the kind of instant pleasure we can actually access currently. Sure, we might not have underpants with very-Sean-Murphy-steam-punk vibrators built into them yet, but we do have on-demand access to all the pornography we could ever imagine. We see the results of that kind of access earlier in the issue, when Mr. Flak offers Dent a “tug and tonic” — which I would guess is a hand job and seltzer water? — as casually as you or I would offer a glass of wine. But at least that sorta makes sense from a biological perspective: he’s being offered a refreshment and sexual pleasure, both of which read as things a human being might want. As Debbie, Dent and Flak walk away, however, the casual cruelty that stems from increasingly bizarre appetites shows itself.
Those are Flak’s prostitute-slaves slurping up the water they were just bathing and fucking (and evidently, pissing) in. That’s not an indulgence that is rooted in anything other than a desire to out-taboo the taboo. There have been studies that suggest the abundance of free, accessible pornography has turned the sexual appetites of teenagers toward the more extreme, violent and cruel. Which, is of course, heartbreaking, but not terribly surprising. If all pornography does is meet the most basic, carnal demands of the human brain, then it stands to reason that those same impulses would be reinforced over and over again, driving the wants of man further away from more civil pursuits.
I’m using the word “civil” there intentionally. It sounds kind of hoity-toity, doesn’t it? Like you want to punch me in the mouth for even using it. And yet, no one will argue that “civilization” is a bad thing – human beings are objectively better off appealing to something other than their appetites for food and sex. Emotions, logic, curiosity, aesthetic beauty, intelligence – these are more abstract concepts that humans had to learn to value, and Remender and Murphy are showing us a world that forgot.
Or, most of the world, anyway. The idea of this Japanese garden is so delightfully idyllic, it’s no wonder Shelby sounded suspicious of it a few paragraphs back. (Plus, Eden imagery works to both soothe and subtly panic people like me and Shelby.) I do find it fascinating that Remender and Murphy look for salvation by fetishizing a foreign culture — even in trying to escape the thrill of chasing constant novelty, their characters (you guessed it) have to chase something novel. Once they get to the garden, Remender and Murphy’s perspective on the cultural differences becomes clear. What does a private pool look like in Los Angeles? Dicks and titties and guns and gross. What does it look like in Tokyo?
Oh, enlightenment and tranquility. Got it.
Shelby mentioned her own childhood growing up with / without the internet and that speaks to my experience pretty accurately. We both have a more balanced view of the internet than what this issue seems to present, but I think it’s important to take the series’ perspective to heart. There is so little pushing back against the idea that we should be taking in entertainment and pleasure 24/7. Even this site, which I like to think is less corporate and shitty than most of the internet, encourages near constant consumption of media. Sure, we can ask our readers to be thoughtful about it — sort of making ourselves out to be some kind of virtual comic book club — but are we merely taking time and attention away from the people and activities that are right in front of you?
For a complete list of what we’re reading, head on over to our Pull List page. Whenever possible, buy your comics from your local mom and pop comic bookstore. If you want to rock digital copies, head on over to Comixology and download issues there. There’s no need to pirate, right?