Faith 12

Today, Taylor. and Drew are discussing Faith 12, originally released June 7th, 2017. As always, this article contains SPOILERS.

Taylor: Perhaps the most well-known example of game gheory is something called the “prisoner’s dilemma.” If you’re not familiar with it, it goes something like this: two thieves are caught and interrogated separately by police. The police have separated the two thieves in order to get one or both thieves to confess to the crime since they lack the evidence to do so on their own. In doing this, the police must offer the thieves a clemency in order to get them to rat out their accomplice. In game theory, it makes the most logical sense for a thief to rat out their friend as opposed to confessing to the crime or not admitting anything. This is an interesting thought problem because it questions whether people can be trusted to work in their own best interest or in the interest of the group. For Faith, this theory is no game, but it may just be the thing that saves her life.

Faith has been captured by the Faithless. They’re made up of Sidney (a secretly alien movie star), Chris Chriswell (an actual human movie star), Darkstar (a telepathic cat), and Murder Mouse (an expert in dark magic). Together, they are celebrating the capture of Faith and pondering how best to kill her. However, will they be able to overcome their villainous tendencies in order to work together to actually do the deed?

The answer is no, and it’s all due to Faith’s ability to play each of her would-be killers off of each other. She does this using classic game theory, which causes each of her kidnappers to turn against each other because they think they aren’t being treated with the villainous respect they deserve. Faith accomplishes this by playing to the the very thing that has been the downfall of so many villains in the past — their egos.

Being a comicbook nerd, Faith is familiar with the psyche of the average villain. Villains tend to be narcissistic and above all else think they’re better or more important than the average man. Realizing this, Faith knows she can use it to her advantage. By questioning each villain individually about their role in the Faithless, Faith uncovers the very thing that so frequently is the downfall of a mighty villain: they don’t work well with others. Because of this, it’s all to easy for her to find the cracks in this super team and exploit them.

The instability of the Faithless’ evil alliance isn’t the only thing that primes their mission for failure. Indeed, one of the things that dooms them from the start of the issue is the very fact that they are acting, well, like villains. Soon after celebrating the capture of the Faith, the Faithless begin to argue about what exactly to do to her.

Chris Chriswell is feeling pretty high on himself and wants to celebrate and gloat about his evil triumph. This is textbook villain behavior and already endangers the Faithless’ mission. Sidney checks Chriswell on the error of her ways but soon makes another common, villainous error of her own: instead of simply killing Faith, Sidney opens the whole conversation about how they will her. It’s a well known trope that villains can’t simply kill superheroes. Instead they often opt for elaborate ways to end the life of their nemesis with some sort of poetic flair. However, it’s this very argument between the Faithless which allows for Faith’s escape.

This blend of game theory and comicbook villain tropes makes for an issue that is deceptively smart. Writer Jody Houser simultaneously subverts and comments on the very medium she is writing in. It’s one thing to have villains engage in stereotypical behavior while knowingly doing so, but it’s another thing to have them know they are acting villains yet unable to overcome their shortcomings in spite of that knowledge. It reminds me a bit of Nick Spencer’s run on Ant-Man. In that series, villains act like villains, allowing the characters and Spencer to offer commentary on the very genre they are a part of. Houser does that, but instead of having this blowup the issue in the way Spencer would, she folds her characters’ self-awareness back into the narrative of the story. It’s subtle, clever, elegant storytelling.

Drew, what did you think of this issue? Speaking of subtlety, what do you think of Joe Eisma’s art? I didn’t mention it because nothing really stood out to me. However, you have a better eye for subtle artistry than me, so I’m curious if you have anything to say. Also, if the two of us were in the prisoner’s dilemma, would you rat me out?

Drew: Tell you what: I’ve always been a big picture guy, so the prisoner’s dilemma has always frustrated me — I understand how the narrow, selfish focus of each actor motivates them to act against their compatriot, but it’s so clear that everyone would benefit more if they just shut up, I can’t help but feel disappointed (yes, disappointed in the imaginary actors of this hypothetical scenario). Also: I’ve seen enough crime dramas to know my best strategy is to just keep my mouth shut — freedom isn’t worth a whole lot if our other criminal associates are just going to kill me for snitching. All of which is to say, you’re safe with me, Taylor!

Fortunately for Faith, the Faithless don’t have the perspective necessary to be motivated by anything other than their own self-interest, so the “perfect win” scenario is completely off the table for them. Faith can push them in that direction, but it really doesn’t take much. Heck, it seems that Murder Mouse’s — er, Jeff’s — place on the team is at odds with his sense of self-worth.

Jeff and Faith chat

Taylor, you asked about Eisma’s subtle artistry, and this sequence is a fantastic example. Faith is still bound in her chair — still Jeff’s prisoner — but Eisma uses everything in his power to show that she’s actually the one with the power in this sequence. The choice to have Jeff sit on the ground not only suggests a casualness that makes them somewhat equal (he’s no longer the guard standing on duty), it also makes him physically lower than Faith, so that every shot has her lording over him. Eisma reinforces this with camera angles, giving us a straightforward shot/reverse-shot structure that forces us to look up at Faith (roughly from Jeff’s perspective) and down at Jeff (roughly from Faith’s perspective). We can see that she’s in control, even without the dialogue, but that wouldn’t be true at all if Eisma had made slightly different choices in the staging and camera placement for this scene.

But as Taylor suggested, we always knew how Faith was going to get out of this. Houser really drives that point home in having the Faithless come up with their plan by reading comics — that may give them some ideas, but they all ultimately fail in the end, too. And of course, Faith knows this. She’s read those comics, too, so she understands the exact strategy she needs to counter their plan, and is able to execute it almost instinctively. Pit the villains against one another, natch.

It helps that Faith’s nemeses are comically incompetent, making unforced errors like alienating their own teammates and not having a plan for when they capture faith. And feeding champagne to a cat! Actually, for all of my praise of Eisma’s directing the purest joy of his work on this issue might just be seeing his drunk Dark Star.

Drunk Star

A kitty stifling his own vomit like he’s a Tex Avery character? That’s hilarious (though, to be clear, I do NOT condone feeding alcohol to cats IRL).

Man, between the self-aware riffing on superhero mythology and little moments of humor like that, I’m really going to miss this series. I have little doubt Faith will continue to charm wherever she crops up next — she’ll be under Houser’s pen again in Faith and the Future Force 1 out next month — but it’ll be hard to top the charms of this series. I’ll spare everyone the strained pun about having “faith” in Valiant’s plans for her, and just commit to following her over to Faith and the Future Force.

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?

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5 comments on “Faith 12

  1. Speaking of the prisoner’s dilemma, have you guys ever seen that video from Golden Balls? It’s a British TV show that ends with a variation on the prisoner’s dilemma, where two contestants are faced with the choice to either “split” or “steal” the money they’ve accrued over the course of the episode. If they both choose “split” they get to split the money evenly, and if they both choose “steal” they get nothing. BUT: if I can convince you to pick “split” while I pick “steal,” I get 100% of the winnings. The strategy is generally for each player to convince the other that they’re going to pick “split” in hopes of getting the other to do the same (and then maybe choosing “steal,” anyway), but this guy came up with an alternative strategy: tell the other player that he’s definitely going to pick “steal,” but will share the winnings, so the other player has no choice but to pick “split.” The logic is flawless, but goes so against how the game is played, it’s actually really harrowing to watch:

    I first heard about that clip through as part of the “What’s Left When You’re Right?” episode of Radiolab, which I highly recommend.

    • We actually discussed this very video in my game theory class, because it is such a great example of some of the ways that the player’s can ‘play’ the game. What Nick essentially does is rewrites the entire game from a simultaneous move game to a sequential move game. Rewrites the rules of the game, and in doing so, lets Nick control the possible moves enough that he can ensure the best possible outcome.

      The Prisoner’s Dilemma, especially applying it to a work of fiction, is incredibly interesting. Because the truth, as Drew says, about the Prisoner’s Dilemma, as Drew says, is that the best option is for neither prisoner to rat out the other. Using the traditional numbers, that provides a net of 2 years of prison time, the lowest possible result. The socially optimum outcome is for both to say nothing. And because it is a game of Perfect Information, both sides know this. But the game is structured that, regardless of what the prisoner thinks the other player chooses, it is in the prisoner’s best interests to rat. Which leads to both prisoners ratting the other one out. If you look at the game and realise that the best choice is for both of you to be silent, and so choose to be silent, the other player is incentivised to rat. Because while it isn’t the best result for everyone, it is the best result for the other player to get no jail time while you suffer the whole sentence.
      And so, by having both players make the choice that exists in their best interests, they instead end up at the worst possible outcome.
      Which is exactly what you discuss here. The socially desirable outcome (y’know, for the forces of evil) is for the Faithless to work together. But each member has an incentive to screw the others, and so the game’s equilibrium is the worst possible outcome, Faith winning. Which is why Game Theory works so well when applied to storytelling. Because each player is making the right choices for them, personally, but in doing so, they screw themselves over. Everyone differences in priorities build the drama. Instant story, with a mathematical model.

      And yeah, I understand Drew’s frustrations at the prisoners. Game Theory was designed to understand how competitors compete against each other, and two prisoners creates a bunch of complicating situations that aren’t modelled, like the importance of reputation (this can be modelled by Game Theory, the Prisoner’s Dilemma just refuses to). Another example fo Game Theory leading to something so silly is this pirate riddle. Imagine how much better things would be for the pirates if they weren’t so bloodthirsty and untrustworthy? If you model the pirate’s gold while allowing collaboration, most of the pirates would be much happier. Which is to say, the biggest lesson Game Theory can teach us is how valuable collaboration can be to getting the best outcomes. And collaboration is a heroic trait, which is why the villains fell for the power of Game Theory in this issue

      • I 100% agree with your points on collaboration, but it’s worth pointing out that equity (or some approximation of it) can be reached by totally selfish actors if the rules are tweaked in the right way. That is, we don’t need to worry about making the people in these hypotheticals better at collaboration if we can make selfishness work in favor of equity. The obvious example is when two kids want to split a bag of candy (or whatever): the easy way to insure equity is that one makes up the two piles, and the other gets to pick which of the piles they want first — suddenly the first child is motivated to make the most even split possible, even though their motivations are still entirely selfish. I’ve been really interested in implementing approaches like that at a governmental level, because it doesn’t require people to change their behavior, it just puts their behavior to better use.

        • Oh yeah. A big part of Game Theory class was doing lots and lots of different games. The Prisoner’s Dilemma is a very specific game, designed to explain how the market’s equilibrium is not the socially optimum outcome, and to provide a basic view of what is expected in oligopolistic competiton. But there are so many other games that can also take place, and part of my class was looking at all the different sorts of games and seeing how the different rules can lead to different outcomes. Including outcomes where the Nash Equilibrium is the socially optimum outcome (like your example). In those games, acting selfishly gives the best possible outcome for everyone

          From a governmental level, we should work to create ‘games’ where the Nash equilibrium is the best possible outcome (technically, that is the case with the Prisoner’s Dilemma, as the fact that all the oligopolist businesses are incentivised to undercut each other’s prices instead of colluding means that prices are cheaper for the consumer, theoretically).

          But from a player’s perspective, you have to play the game you’ve been given. The players of the Prisoner’s Dilemma or the Pirate Riddle would be so much happier if they collaborated.

          Which is to say, anyone can win when the game is designed t have you win. But heroism is when the Nash Equilibrium isn’t the socially desirable outcome, but you fight for it anyway

  2. Also, the discussion of the staging and power in that scene between Faith and Jeff had me thinking of the “Who Wins the Scene” video from Every Frame a Painting:

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