[14 April 2011]
PopMatters Comics Editor
The thing to remember is, that the bullets were in Dorwan Stoddard’s back.
It’s been hard not to get angry reading After Dark, the series written by comics veteran Peter Milligan about a world created by filmmaker Antoine Fuqua, and Hollywood action hero, Wesley Snipes. This was always the blasted world we should have seen in the sequels to 1999’s the Matrix. The slow, brooding atmosphere, the climatological catastrophe, the implosion of human society, the rallying around a single, last-stand city. And not angry at After Dark directly, but angry at everything else. Angry at the idea that here in my hands was a piece of perfected science fiction. A handheld ultimate vision of what sci-fi could always have been, always promised to have been. Almost everything prior to After Dark glowed with a kind of nuclear radiation of being just a little less than it promised.
And After Dark glowed.
Milligan made the story shine with a true and clear color of its own. His gift lay in marrying those small and personal dramas, Brood and General Lau, Omar and the merchant who betrayed him to the Solar City police, the crew aboard Brood’s ‘ship of fools’, with the seemingly in canvas of a 50-page single issue. The twist in the tale then, when reading the concluding issue, is how seamlessly Milligan is able to move into a condition of rapidly progressing events.
The story has always been easy to follow. In a post-climatological-apocalypse world, humanity has ensconced itself in a last-hope outpost, Solar City. But now, internal dissent threatens to destroy Solar City itself, and with it, all post-Industrial Revolution technology. The stakes are high. The military junta in control of Solar City appoints Colonel Brood to gather a team of military and civilian operatives (including the Bedouin Omar whose people can ‘read’ the newly weaponized darkness of the skies and navigate thereby) to track down Angel, the one woman who can bring peace to the city.
Angel herself is a populist icon, beloved by all factions in the city. Her face is everywhere. Should she ever return to Solar City, humanity’s continued existence would be secure. Issue 3 is the story of Brood, Omar and the rest of the crew’s successful location of Angel and their collective return to the city. But more than that, it is the story of Angel’s reinstallation into the life of Solar City.
After Dark is so wholly, beguilingly seductive, that it is hard not to find your Introduction To Philosophy roots, pickup up a copy of Plato’s Republic and read Angel as the Philosopher-King who left the Cave only to return in the hopes of liberating her people. But this move is cheap, and easy, and wrong. And it’s not worthy of you, and it’s not worthy of the clear work done by Milligan to comment on the political situation of today.
The thing to remember is, that when Jared Loughner began his shooting spree in January this year… the thing to remember is, the bullets ended up in Dorwan Stoddard’s back. Not because he was a coward, not because he was attempting to escape or to hide, but because, in the midst of the chaos, he rolled over and protected his wife.
Writing for TIME, David von Drehle makes a clear connection between the actions of the madmen, and the political environment of perpetual hype. “Right or left, their genius is for dramatizing trivial things”, von Drehle reminds us, “there is no other way than to remain outraged 24/7”. Von Drehle is writing about the political message machine, both left and right that retunes the world around us as a constantly politically-charged landscape.
When Angel returns, it feels like a time of hope again. But things quickly get darker. Milligan’s pen is direct firmly against the use of hope as a political currency. Because the dark side of that, and arguably the logical extension, is the dramatizing of the trivial. And it is with that dramatizing, that bullets fly.
After Dark #3 is $5 for 50 pages of story with gorgeous art lovingly supplied by the suspiciously skillful Leonardo Manco. But for the measured, somber, meaningful meditation on the state of the political landscape, $5 seems like too little to pay. After Dark’s story is wonderful, but at its heart, its political commentary is so clear, I want to pay more.