The Dues of Machinima: ‘Cyclops’ vs ‘Insurrection V3.6’

A failing of Cyclops thus far (to be charitable, perhaps we simply have not seen it appear as yet), has been the lack of emotional resonance. Especially when compared with their earlier Archaia series, the Killer. Matz’ earlier protagonist was a singularly capable of taking action in a world that had hastily been cobbled together by truces, half-alliances, blood-oaths and threats of mutually assured destruction. It was hard not to find the Killer captivating. Remorseless and unrepentant, he simply executed what needed execution; relationships, contracts, people. It wouldn’t be unfair to say as readers, we were caught in a kind of Stockholm Syndrome-thrall. Here was a character who owed no allegiance to any authority or power, and simply acted out of a highly-developed and incredibly intelligent sense of self-interest.

But to be fair to the Killer very little needed to be explained about the protagonist’s world. His world was ours, and almost everything we needed to know could be intuited, inferred. The problem with Cyclops of course is almost exactly the reverse. Almost nothing can be know off-hand, nothing can be guessed at. The world of Doug Pistoia, the world of “television loves war”, is an utter black box. Even the idea of Doug’s celebrity, something that on its surface seems shared between our world and his, on deeper inspection appears hyper-mediated through social politics we can scarcely understand.

Matz and Jacamon then seem to offer two neat, but wholly different equations. In the Killer we find emotional resonance with a completely disagreeable protagonist. In Cyclops that polarity seems to have been reversed. Simple, easy things, objects and practices that make up our world, seem to carry an emotional dissonance. Marriage, money, a home, family, an affair with a television news powerbroker seems somehow simply to hold no emotional pull.

Interior Art from ‘Cyclops: The Hero’

The question for Cyclops then is, why litter the story with recognizable institutions. And primarily, why rally around mass media? The idea that television can as a medium be rejuvenated by war is not a new one. Particularly in the last decade, we’ve come to learn that what is happening is only true if it happens in public. FIFA 2010, the 2008 election, the summer games at Beijing, Operation Iraqi Freedom, all point to a vibrant and vital television that reaches beyond the traditional genre of cop show, drama, et al.

But Matz and Jacamon’s handling of television already feels onerous, dated in many ways. Their technique visualizing the contesting POV between actor (soldier, really), anchor and audience, while technically masterful, leaves the issue of emotional connection on the table. Can we really, truly care about Doug Pistoia risking his life? Or are even his acts of heroism simply, win or lose, another mechanism to drive the plot forward?

Matz and Jacamon’s ostensible refusal to deal with the explosion of social media, a prevailing social condition that has been wrestled with in books as dissimilar as Potter’s Field and The Last Days of American Crime, seems to back-date the entire project from immediate relevance.

Interior Art from ‘Insurrection V3.6’

Alternatively, Insurrection V3.6, although lacking that sleek, lavish visual styling that comes primarily from Jacamon’s artwork, is slow and patient and methodical. Behind the pure experience of glamor, the high life of crime, that Cyclops provides, Insurrection V3.6 is easier to connect with emotionally. Tim 3.6 is a character who’s first steps into self-determination is deep and profound and ultimately, incredibly readable. I’m involved in it, and you will be too.

So which book taps the ideals of machinima to a greater degree?

Cyclops is a Ferrari, which is to say it’s a badge of honor. It’s the kind of book you’d want to have around just to show to your friends. To explain to them, in deep and low tones, the complete meaningfulness for comics as a medium. It’s a Masters dissertation, a generation of scholarship on the horizon. But like any Ferrari, its natural home is under a cloth in your garage. Cyclops is magnificent, but it’s also the book you won’t be returning to, once read it remains read. It’s smooth puzzles and unique visual conundrums, once left behind, remain left behind. Cyclops is a showpiece, but once shown, there’s almost no reason to attempt immersing yourself in those waters once more.

Insurrection V3.6 on the other hand, is Coca-Cola. Anyone, anywhere in the world can easily reach for it and enjoy a delicious soft drink. The sense that Michael Alan Nelson is holding back rather than cutting loose creates this profound and profoundly meaningful experience of a rebellion brooding on the horizon. It’s the book that needs no explanation, and in the final analysis, it’s the book you’ll reach for more than once. Like that old Stones record from when you were young, or the Van Halen tee you snagged from your brother’s cupboard, it feels very much like the thing to reach for.

RATING 8 / 10