[12 February 2014]
PopMatters Comics Editor
Here’s a simple framing device:
Mike K. in the morning, long before coffee, looks as bright and as fresh as anything that you can imagine and with a cavalier Mike K. tilting-at-the-world kind of grin, he plows straight into why he likes Ikea. He attacks the problem of making the argument for Ikea head on with wit and charm and an intellectual sophistication that your Mom always tried to instill in you.
Not a conversation for me though. I like coffee, and in this unholy composite of a moment that is both predawn and post-game, I’d rather it were waves of coffee hitting me than waves of Mike K.‘s analysis of Ikea.
The beauty of Ikea, Mike holds, lies in their evolving an entirely new design ethic, to answer a problem of logistics. As a small company in the middle late 20th century, how does Ikea reduce shipping costs? They disassemble their products and ship the cost of installation, along with the parts, to the consumer. “It’s beautiful in it’s simplicity,” Mike enthuses.
But so what? And far more importantly, where’s my coffee?
The story of corporate folklore seems always to lead make to the stylings of Malcolm Gladwell—the epimyth being that something we never heard about happened at some point, and consequently all our lives were changed in a radical albeit invisible way. The far more interesting part of that cultural equation, is usually the latter. The former, the Gladwellism of how things came to be, is interesting in itself, but hits a terminal point. And that terminal point is always the same. “And then this happened…” (which is not that different in its logic from the Jim Jefferies joke on his I Swear to God where he jokes about people who don’t drink.)
The latter part though, the latter part is the more interesting. It’s that latter part that wrestles with the issue of consequence. Because this happened, what changed as a result? I want a writer of the skill and the insight and the compassion of Malcolm Gladwell to guide me down those narrow alleyways of consequence that reach from the present all the way through to the unpredictable future. But more often than not, it’s a journalist who conducts me on that voyage. And in this Ikea instance specifically, it’s behavioral economist Dan Ariely. (Check out the embedded YouTube.)
Ariely maps out the Ikea effect, which is a sociocultural scansion of the change that the decision to ship semi-assembled products has stimulated. Ariely suggests the Ikea effect as an increase in complexity of language of the instructions ultimately renders as an increase in love we demonstrate once we’ve executed those instructions (think of it as a kind of architectural Stockholm Syndrome).
So here we are, caught between where’s the most love? An a priori rendering in the Malcolm Gladwell style of how something that happened came to be, or an a posteriori account of how “things-will-be-worse-now” (to quote from Mike Mignola’s Hellboy: the Third Wish), how things have changed as a result.
Whose will be done?
Without coffee, we’ll never know. I’ll never be heard, but even if I had that opportunity to speak, I wouldn’t exactly want to anyway. Better by far to sublimate into a passive-aggressive rant about a priori versus a posteriori as a launchpad for discussing Jeff Parker’s taking the reins of Aquaman as series regular writer.
The point behind all of this however, is that “Life & Death,” Parker’s first issue as series regular, is wrestling with exactly that debate of a priori versus a posteriori at an incredibly sophisticated level.
At once, Parker shows Aquaman wrestling with his multiethnic past as a scion of both the human and Atlantean worlds. His memories of his father linger, his memories of his father haunt… Paul Pelletier’s artwork sets a mood that can only be compared with evocative French art cinema. But at the same time, Parker and Pelletier throw us headlong into the scifi psychopomp that is giant-monster-bashing tokusatsu.
The plot is simple and it is the same one from any episode of Ultraman: Moebius—giant monster attacks, hero saves the day. But what if the giant monster, in this case, the Karaqan, is a holy defender of Atlantis? And what if slaying the monster (which does in its death throes threaten to wipe out some large part of human civilization) only means more hardship for Aquaman as Atlantis’s unsure, but multiethnic king? It’s a hint at far greater things to come.
Aquaman #27 is worth reading, worth owning. Wrestle it down and it will keep rewarding you.