Some pop stars appear on the world stage fully formed. Remember how it happened with Justin Bieber? One moment we were enjoying a little peace and quiet, sipping our lattes and thinking about world peace, and the next moment Justin Bieber was singing a Christmas song for Barack Obama and rockin’ in the new year with Dick Clark. He was suddenly everywhere; we couldn’t escape; like it or not we were all Beliebers. He didn’t rise from the Deep South like Elvis or invade from Britain like the Beatles. We didn’t watch him grow from child to man-child like Michael Jackson. He was just there: fully formed, androgynous, universal.
Curt Pires and Jason Copland delve into the mysterious origins of pop stars in their new miniseries from Dark Horse Comics, Pop. It seems that Justin Bieber and his ilk really do have no histories, at least not the kind of normal, human histories that the rest of us share. Instead, they are, as some shrewd observers might already have guessed, created by design, developed in a laboratory, grown in a test tube, produced for one purpose only: to have their fifteen minutes, or fifteen seconds, of fame and to demand our attention just long enough to line the pockets of their investors. Pires and Copland also show us what happens when these stars try to cut the strings manipulated by their puppet masters, show us the violence that is always just under the surface of all that money and sex and power.
Pop is the story of Elle Ray who was grown in a big blue bubble in Spike Vandall’s pop star laboratory, where she was just waiting to be born fully-grown, waiting to be the next big thing, waiting to be tomorrow’s overnight sensation, where she was waiting for the bubble to pop and send her hurtling onto the world stage.
Pop is the story of her escape and of the efforts those in control go to in order to get her back. She flees, half naked, from vicious attack dogs and runs into the arms of Coop, a man at the other end of the pop culture spectrum, a lonely consumer of vinyl records and old pulp paper comicbooks, high on pot and thinking seriously of suicide. He probably makes jokes about Justin Bieber. Had Elle Ray not been born so premature, Coop would likely have laughed at her music as well, while ogling her sure to be controversial Video Music Awards performance over and over again on his laptop. In this situation, Coop does the right thing. He takes Elle home, gives her clothes to put on, offers her food from his kitchen, and uses a knife to dig a tracking device out of her arm.
Overall, there is promise in this first issue. Jason Copland’s art is suitably dark and disturbing, expressive enough to capture both the violence of this story as well as the faces that are at the heart of it. He is at his weakest with science and technology, a shortcoming that may or may not hinder this tale as it goes forward. The story itself is interesting, though we have not yet seen enough of either Elle or Coop to truly know where their characters may take us. We have seen plenty of Vandall and of his willingness to kill and to maim, however. Elle or Coop will have to be strong to stand against his evil.
The story is a critical look at the world of pop entertainment. What it is not, however, is a Donna Harraway dream, despite what a nameless technician at the pop star plant would have us believe. Harraway’s cyborg, as it is described in her essay “A Cyborg Manifiesto: Science, Technology and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century,” is an ironic myth – a being that overcomes dualities, specifically the duality between human and machine, the very duality that seems to be at the heart of this story. Harraway’s cyborg is meant as a contrast to the trope of the female as an empowered nature goddess, victimized by the forces of technology. So far, Elle is no such cyborg, with her flight from her technological womb into the hands of a waiting man, a savior who will protect her from the threats of science and its hardware. But this is only a first issue and perhaps my first reading is wrong. Elle may yet be the hero of the piece, rather than the victim; she may yet embrace her role as a cyborg and accept the fact that cyborgs are not born in gardens.