Philip K. Dick's Electric Ant #1

Obviously we can't treat you here: Far worse than the loss of a limb is the loss of Garson Poole's history, and identity.

Another steady dread begins to build; if the limb is missing where is there no pain? PKD's classic story becomes classic art in the recent Marvel adapation.

Philip K. Dick's Electric Ant (1 of 5)

Publisher: Marvel (Electric Sheep Productions)
Length: 22 pages
Writer: David Mack
Price: $3.99
Contributors: Pascal Alixe (artist)
Publication Date: 2010-05

Now granted...

"The Electric Ant" was far from Philip K. Dick's most reality-bending, mind-blowing (I mean that literally) acid trip of a story. Those honors would have to be saved for how ever PKD stories are prioritized by individual readers. Something with a grand sweeping, historical scope, the Gone With The Wind of paranoia sci-fi, would pull up Man In The High Castle. Something urban and gritty, a grim and daunting battle against tomorrow would call for a Do Androids Dream....

"Electric Ant" has its own rhythm, its own slow grind towards Dick's proselytizing of reality as a sustained and consensual hallucination. In broad strokes, Garson Poole wakes after an horrendous accident. It's the near future, and yet. The loss of a hand, something Garson has ostensibly suffered, is still a setback. A slow dread mounts as Garson prepares himself for living with the best prosthesis future-money can buy. And yet, the absence of pain, and the absence of phantom-limb complex allows for an entirely other kind of dread to steadily mount. Why is there no pain?

Garson Poole of course is the titular Electric Ant, parlance for an organic robot. In a Byzantine, near-Kafka-esque conspiracy, Poole's wealth and resources, his position as CEO, his friends, are simply deleted from his recognition of the world. Garson Poole is an object, property that is owned, that has been traded, positioned into an artificial life, and ultimately is replaceable. His steady relationship with his partner (his choice not to pursue a conventional marriage), his friendship with his corporation's CFO; these are nothing more than controls implemented by Poole's perennially unseen owners.

How scary is having to reconfigure your life after the loss of a limb? It really is nothing compared with the deletion of a history. It was 1969 and PKD crafted a tale of pure terror. "Electric Ant" was and remains a white-knuckle ride into fear. It was and remains Kafka's "Metamorphosis" where change in basic identity is fear and pain, or Poe's "Pit and the Pendulum" where manipulation by gloating, perpetually unseen forces dehumanize the human spirit.

And yet.

Yet, "Electric Ant" has more than a good measure of Theodore LeSieg's Oh The Places You'll Go. "Electric Ant" is also the unfurling of the human spirit. Taking his existence into his own hands, Garson Poole begins to manipulate the paper reel that runs his punch-card code that controls his reality. Garson Poole, on the terms of his new existence, begins to edit the code that represents his reality. And he slips anonymously away from objecthood into personhood. Very literally, Garson Poole re-humanizes himself. There is an indomitable refrain that appears. Not just in Poole's courage to manipulate reality, but in PKD also. It is 1969. And PKD's idea of reality being locked into place as a perception of a wide spectrum of possibility, narrowed to one code that must constantly re-run is 15 years ahead of Kanerva's famous algorithm of distributed memory.

So the impact of PKD's work is immense. It is a wave. Reaching backward in time just as it crests forward. There is almost too much to live up to. Why even bother rendering the story as comics?

Well, because.

Not because the secret hero of this story is the comics medium itself. not because comics is really a medium that is more natural to a PKD translation than film. Not because comics bends time like a ride in a rocketship. Not comics, although all those reasons are valid.

Not comics but David Mack.

David Mack who reinvented the way comics stories need to be told after the 1994 debuting of his Kabuki book. David Mack because his sensibilities are so particular, so focused that there's almost no scope for working with another artist. And yet, Mack writes but does no artwork (save a variant cover) on the adaptation of "Electric Ant".

There is a garish dissonance to Pascal Alixe's artwork. A vast and terrible array of missed opportunities. An anti-tandem. A disjunction, a rupture. Alixe and Mack seem to want accommodate each other's styles. And yet this disconnect is exactly the strength of Marvel's adaptation. Whatever forces, economic or creative, drove Mack to work with Alixe really produced the finest caliber of work. The cognitive gap between their styles and sensibilities and their accommodations of those styles are exactly the profound strengths of the work.

Really, what better metaphor for PKD's seminal story of reality-as-locked-by-language than its creators not entirely reconciled to each other. It is in this way that Marvel's adaptation of "The Electric Ant", like the original story, transcends entertainment and becomes art.

Electric Ant must be read. Whoever you are.





The 60 Best Albums of 2007

From tech house to Radiohead and Americana to indie and everything in between, the 60 best albums of 2007 included many of the 2000s' best albums.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Solitude Stands in the Window: Thoreau's 'Walden'

Henry David Thoreau's Walden as a 19th century model for 21st century COVID-19 quarantine.

Love in the Time of Coronavirus

Will COVID-19 Kill Movie Theaters?

Streaming services and large TV screens have really hurt movie theaters and now the coronavirus pandemic has shuttered multiplexes and arthouses. The author of The Perils of Moviegoing in America, however, is optimistic.

Gary D. Rhodes, Ph.D

Fleabag's Hot Priest and Love as Longing

In season two of Fleabag, The Priest's inaccessibility turns him into a sort of god, powerful enough for Fleabag to suddenly find herself spending hours in church with no religious motivation.


Annabelle's Curse's 'Vast Oceans' Meditates on a Groundswell of Human Emotions (premiere)

Inspired by love and life, and of persistent present-day issues, indie folk band Annabelle's Curse expand their sound while keeping the emotive core of their work with Vast Oceans.


Americana's Sarah Peacock Finds Beauty Beneath Surface With "Mojave" (premiere + interview)

Born from personal pain, "Mojave" is evidence of Sarah Peacock's perseverance and resilience. "When we go through some of the dry seasons in our life, when we do the most growing, is often when we're in pain. It's a reminder of how alive you really are", she says.


Power Struggle in Beauty Pageants: On 'Mrs. America' and 'Miss Americana'

Television min-series Mrs. America and Taylor Swift documentary Miss Americana make vivid how beauty pageants are more multi-dimensional than many assume, offering a platform to some (attractive) women to pursue higher education, politics, and more.

Hilary Levey Friedman

Pere Ubu 'Comes Alive' on Their New, Live Album

David Thomas guides another version of Pere Ubu through a selection of material from their early years, dusting off the "hits" and throwing new light on some forgotten gems.


Woods Explore Darkness on 'Strange to Explain'

Folk rock's Woods create a superb new album, Strange to Explain, that mines the subconscious in search of answers to life's unsettling realities.


The 1975's 'Notes on a Conditional Form' Is Laudably Thought-Provoking and Thrilling

The 1975 follow A Brief Inquiry... with an even more intriguing, sprawling, and chameleonic song suite. Notes on a Conditional Form shows a level of unquenchable ambition, creativity, and outspoken curiosity that's rarely felt in popular music today.


Dustbowl Revival's "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)" Is a Cheeky Reproach of COVID-19 (premiere)

Inspired by John Prine, Dustbowl Revival's latest single, "Queen Quarantine (A Home Recording)", approaches the COVID-19 pandemic with wit and good humor.


The 2020 US Presidential Election Is Going to Be Wild but We've Seen Wild Before

Americans are approaching a historical US presidential election in unprecedented times. Or are they? Chris Barsanti's The Ballot Box: 10 Presidential Elections That Changed American History gives us a brief historical perspective.

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

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