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The Monolith #1

(DC Comics; US: Feb 2004)

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One of the unpleasant truths about modern America is that it has been built on the blood, sweat, and suffering of untold masses. Chinese railroad workers, African slaves, Native Americans, Irish, Italians, Jews, and millions of others worked, and died, for the infrastructure of this country.


The success at reaping the rewards of this labor varies from group to group. Some have managed to assimilate into the largely WASP culture that continues to dominate after two centuries of statehood. Other groups, perhaps most notably Native Americans and African-Americans, have to a large extent been exempted from the largesse of modern society. While reducing any so-called “racial” or “ethnic” group in a broad statement is dangerous and perhaps even derogatory, the fact remains that a large portion of both peoples, as well as subsets of just about any other group you can mention, have been “ghetto-fied”, placed in a system of largely self-perpetuating poverty and disenfranchisement.


With the gap between the highest levels and lowest levels of society gradually widening, and that lowest level becoming ever larger, more and more Americans are joining the disenfranchised, which creates a paradox in an allegedly democratic society: the largest segment of society is seemingly the least powerful. But, what should happen if that group awakens to the reality of the power that it wields? Enter The Monolith, a new ongoing series by 21 Down writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray.


Alice Cohen is a young junkie living in the slums of New York. She lives day to day, trying to score and avoid a vicious thug named Prince, who has few compunctions about using force to get what he thinks he is owed. A third-generation American, Alice is offered what so few in the ghetto ever get: a way out. Her grandmother, a Jewish immigrant from Prague, has left Alice an inheritance and a new home, and in return, Alice must leave her old life behind, and take charge of a terrible and awesome power.


That power is the Monolith, a golem created during the depths of the Depression from the collected rage and frustration of the poor, huddled masses. The creature was a way to strike back at the gangster petty capitalists that ran the streets and controlled opportunities, the raw power of the diverse and disgruntled people who suffered daily in factories and sweatshops for less than pennies. Now, reawaken in modern day New York, it is a chance at redemption for Alice and those like her: the cast-offs.


The Monolith represents everything that is both terrifying and empowering about democracy. It possesses incredible strength, enough raw power to crush nearly anything in its way. Should anyone ever truly mobilize the currently disenfranchised classes in the U.S., they would be a force to be reckoned with. But as that old comic book saying goes, “With great power comes great responsibility”. What terrified the Framers of the Constitution was the specter of mob rule, of a country in which the majority is unchecked and runs rampant over anything or anyone that dares oppose it. The French Reign of Terror comes to mind as a prime example of the democratic experiment devolved into a violent dictatorship of the many.


And so the Monolith is everything that terrifies the elite about the masses. Created by a Rabbi, a young girl, and an immigrant Chinese worker, it is a force neither inherently good nor evil. Rather, it is power—political power, military power, economic power—in need of guidance. Like any tool, it is subject to the morality of its user, but as another saying goes, “Power corrupts”. How can anyone expect a junkie to responsibly control such a monstrous force? How can anyone expect any group of people, who have been kept undereducated and alienated, to responsibly take part in the greater issues of society?


Some would say it is impossible, and would prefer to keep such power out of their hands. But by even posing the question, and if nothing else, The Monolith poses that question, Palmiotti and Gray acknowledge that such an attitude is at best naïve and at worst reactionary and elitist. If the democratic experiment that is the U.S. is to succeed (and believe me, we are still firmly in the stages of experiment), then everyone needs to both accept and understand their power. Palmiotti and Gray have set out to explore the issue of power and disenfranchisement within the alienated and excluded communities of American society, and their metaphor, the Monolith, is a truly apt, and truly frightening, proposition.

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