PopMatters is moving to WordPress in December. We will continue to publish on this site as we work on the move. We aim to make it a seamless experience for readers.


"Spaceman" Reveals the True Horror at the Heart of Dystopian Fiction

The Gang's All Here: Azzarello reunites with the full 100 Bullets team; the chivalric Eduardo Risso on artwork, the heraldic Dave Johnson on covers, the witchy Trish Mulvhill on inks and wizened editor Will Dennis.

In Brian Azzarello's heartrendingly insightful Spaceman, a true heart of horror is revealed. Society doesn't breakdown because it fails. It breaks down because it succeeds.

Spaceman #1

Publisher: DC
Length: 22 pages
Writer: Brian Azzarello, Eduardo Risso
Price: $1
Publication Date: 2011-11

It's a throwaway line from a long time ago, but it's also a wake-up call from the collective unconscious. It's telling us it's time to face the facts, things cannot go on this way.

The line in question is from Home Alone 2: Lost in New York. It goes almost unnoticed at the time. "Another Christmas in the trenches", Macaulay Culkin says. There's a strange brio in his voice. Almost unrecognizable, at first. This is his second time facing off against the bandit-pair of Joe Pesci and Daniel Stern. He's had to contend with them breaking into homes in his neighborhood two Christmases ago. And now, by quirk of plot, he's trapped in New York, and his old adversaries have surfaced once again. They're about to steal from FAO Schwarz's donation to hundreds of orphanages across the city. They're about to steal Christmas. And it's up to Macaulay Culkin to stop them, using the skills he developed in the original movie. He needs a starting pistol to draw NYPD's attention. A brick through a storefront window will do. With a slight worm's eye on him, Macaulay looks to the right and sighs just a little. "Another Christmas in the trenches".

And it's absolutely the perfect movie. Home Alone 2 really becomes the parable for the post-Enron condition. The canary in the coal mine that warned us about the pending economic collapse. Separated from his parents at the outset of the movie, Culkin finds himself in New York, but rather than live like a pauper he maxes out his dad's Amex card and gets a suite at the Hilton.

And that line is just perfect, too. "Another Christmas in the trenches". "I've been here before", he's saying to us. "I've been here before, and this still isn't right. There ought to be a time when Christmas can be Christmas again". It's that sense of "ought to be" that is so heartrendingly powerful. We can all understand Christmas. We all know how it should be. The drama Macaulay taps is the powerful narrative of the workaday life that interrupts the universal bliss that bookends our lives as childhood and retirement. This is the mythology of the Boomers, writ large.

And if there's sufficient genius in Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso's Spaceman to see the book added to the list of all-time classics (and there is), it's because Azzarello articulates the precise way in which Boomer culture is facing its death throes. This really is the end, and Brian will be your Shakespeare for the evening.

Spaceman is the story of Orson, a genetically-engineered astronaut that never left the Earth. Genetically-engineered because we don't have the right kind of bodies to survive the trip to Mars. The arrogance of Cold War ambition-science extends into the early twenty first century and the solution to the problem becomes simple--build a human that can withstand the pressures of the trip.

But Orson never made the trip, Orson got stuck that increased in social complexity so rapidly that no one person can fully comprehend its entire working any longer. This is the real heart of dystopian fiction, not cities sunk under waves, not viruses unleashed turning humans into zombies or vampires. Macaulay articulates this beautiful romance where everyone understands the Important Things. Christmas ought to be special. Childhood is magical, retirement is a well-deserved break. Working life is hell. Brian Azzarello's mastery of dystopian fiction lies in that fact that he is able to deconstruct these happy romances we've come to accept as universal truths.

In Home Alone 2 there's a normal to get back to. Brian's Spaceman reminds us that we're living through an era when the very concept of normal is changing. Thrown into the mix of dull-witted Orson making his way through the world (why would NASA engineer a physically superior human and also endow a superior intellect?), is a world in which the Brangelina of the day host a reality TV show to adopt a third-world orphan. And the story of a cop who cannot interrogate suspects without herself being fingerprinted and background checked.

I talk with Brian over the phone, courtesy of his publisher, DC, and across timezones. Central, by way of Eastern Standard, and then on to me. But I shouldn't. I should be talking with him in one of the great historical settings, but just off to the side. Boston near the harbor, having a coffee the morning after the Tea Party. The last night of the Fire of London, on a pub crawl with Isaac Newton. Downtown Chicago at the building that would eventually become Chess Records' studios, on the morning Lincoln read the Proclamation of Emancipation.

Brian's got a way of circling around he. Like his writing in 100 Bullets he's points are deeply incisive, deeply compassionate, but never about what you think you're supposed to be thinking about. Imagine having a conversation Raymond Chandler after having the mind-altering experience of having traveled from the distant future. A conversation with Brian Azzarello is even cooler than that. Cool to the point where he begins engaging me directly, and outside of the scope of just fiction. Interviewer becoming interviewed.

"I can't say I didn't see it coming", I reply when asked about Kim Kardashian's announcement of her divorce. "Exactly", Brian exclaims. Something deep is stirring, an excitement in his usually evenly-modulated tone. "Why should you have seen it coming", he continues, "Why should you even know who she is?". There's a fervored crescendo as I realize I've hit upon the cusp of something. This is what Spaceman is really about. About the breakdown of society, that comes from its extension. This isn't Escape From New York where loss of technology will see us backslide into barbarism. This is far worse. In Spaceman society doesn't breakdown because it fails. Society breaks down because it succeeds.

Paper-thin and weighing less than a deck of cards, Spaceman feels solid in my hands. This is the weight of substance. Of meaning, of value. Azzarello doesn't simply communicate a unique creative vision, he retools the entire genre of science fiction to achieve this end. Just twenty-two pages in and I'm already deeply involved the drama of Spaceman. Deeply involved and I don't want to leave. It's visiting a distant soil, only to realize this was the home you never thought you could deserve. Spaceman so extraordinarily surpasses other works of science fiction that I'm locked into a spiral of regret in having read those books to be able to form a context for this one. The bad books I can't recall. But also, the greats like The Man in the High Castle and Dune.

Commercially though, I should say, if you like Hugh Laurie's House, you'll love Brian Azzarello's Spaceman. But you'd need to like House for the right reasons. Not because he's acerbic and cantankerous and always seems to win. But because he's Eric Cartman, or Yul Brynner in The Magnificent Seven, or Dostoyevsky's Prince Lev from The Idiot or Marshall Mathers' Eminem. He's the perfect foil to a world gone crazy. The character that reminds us that breakdown isn't always decay, and that control is more often than not, an illusion.

Spaceman is an entire world. Beautifully rendered, lovingly realized. It simply deserves to be owned. And with the hardcopy selling for $1, and the digital (it's the first time DC's done original content as a digital release) for just 99c, go ahead and spoil yourself.

The full interview with Brian Azzarello appears as next week's Iconographies.


Please Donate to Help Save PopMatters

PopMatters have been informed by our current technology provider that we have until December to move off their service. We are moving to WordPress and a new host, but we really need your help to fund the move and further development.





Artemis Is the Latest Jazz Supergroup

A Blue Note supergroup happens to be made up of women, exclusively. Artemis is an inconsistent outing, but it dazzles just often enough.


Horrors in the Closet: A Closet Full of Monsters

A closet full of monsters is a scary place where "straight people" can safely negotiate and articulate their fascination and/or dread of "difference" in sexuality.


'Wildflowers & All the Rest' Is Tom Petty's Masterpiece

Wildflowers is a masterpiece because Tom Petty was a good enough songwriter by that point to communicate exactly what was on his mind in the most devastating way possible.


Jazz Composer Maria Schneider Takes on the "Data Lords" in Song

Grammy-winning jazz composer Maria Schneider released Data Lords partly as a reaction to her outrage that streaming music services are harvesting the data of listeners even as they pay musicians so little that creativity is at risk. She speaks with us about the project.


The 100 Best Albums of the 2000s: 100-81

PopMatters' best albums of the 2000s begin with a series of records that span epic metal, ornate indie folk, and a terrifying work of electronic music.


The Power of Restraint in Sophie Yanow, Paco Roca, and Elisa Macellari's New Graphic Novels

The magical quality that makes or breaks a graphic novel lies somewhere in that liminal space in which art and literature intersect.


'People of the City' Is an Unrelenting Critique of Colonial Ideology and Praxis

Cyprian Ekwensi's People of the City is a vivid tale of class struggle and identity reclamation in the shadows of colonialism's reign.


1979's 'This Heat' Remains a Lodestone for Avant-Rock Adventure

On their self-titled debut, available for the first time on digital formats, This Heat delivered an all-time classic stitched together from several years of experiments.


'The Edge of Democracy' and Parallels of Political Crises

Academy Award-nominated documentary The Edge of Democracy, now streaming on Netflix, lays bare the political parallels of the rise of Bolsonaro's Brazil with Trump's America.


The Pogues' 'The BBC Sessions 1984-1986' Honors Working-Class Heroes

The Pogues' BBC Sessions 1984-1986 is a welcome chapter in the musical story of these working-class heroes, who reminded listeners of the beauty and dignity of the strong, sooty backs upon which our industrialized world was built.


Mary Halvorson Creates Cacophony to Aestheticize on 'Artlessly Falling'

Mary Halvorson's Artlessly Falling is a challenging album with tracks comprised of improvisational fragments more than based on compositional theory. Halvorson uses the various elements to aestheticize the confusing world around her.


15 Overlooked and Underrated Albums of the 1990s

With every "Best of the '90s" retrospective comes a predictable list of entries. Here are 15 albums that are often overlooked as worthy of placing in these lists, and are too often underrated as some of the best records from the decade.


'A Peculiar Indifference' Takes on Violence in Black America

Pulitzer Prize finalist Elliott Currie's scrupulous investigation of the impacts of violence on Black Americans, A Peculiar Indifference, shows the damaging effect of widespread suffering and identifies an achievable solution.


20 Songs From the 1990s That Time Forgot

Rather than listening to Spotify's latest playlist, give the tunes from this reminiscence of lost '90s singles a spin.


Delightful 'Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day' Is Good Escapism

Now streaming on Amazon Prime, Bharat Nalluri's 2008 romantic comedy, Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day, provides pleasant respite in these times of doom and gloom.


The 10 Best Horror Movie Remakes

The horror genre has produced some remake junk. In the case of these ten treats, the update delivers something definitive.


Flirting with Demons at Home, or, When TV Movies Were Evil

Just in time for Halloween, a new Blu-ray from Kino Lorber presents sparkling 2K digital restorations of TV movies that have been missing for decades: Fear No Evil (1969) and its sequel, Ritual of Evil (1970).


Magick Mountain Are Having a Party But Is the Audience Invited?

Garage rockers Magick Mountain debut with Weird Feelings, an album big on fuzz but light on hooks.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features

PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.