Tag Archives: Apocalypse

Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Powers of X #6

When assessing the greatness of a particular story arc in comics, there are many factors to consider. There’s the quality of the writing, the strength of the characterization, the cohesiveness of the plot, the vibrancy of the artwork, and how it all fits together in terms of the greater narrative. Many comics succeed in some of these areas and are worth reading. Very few manage to succeed in most.

I usually try to avoid spoiling too much of a great story, but I will spoil one thing. “Powers of X #6,” and the overall story arc it capped off, is among those select few. In the history of X-Men comics, Marvel Comics, and superhero comics in general, this is one of those stories that will likely stand out as an example of what’s possible when all the right story elements are in place.

Writer Jonathan Hickman has always been someone with big ideas who builds even bigger stories around them. He starts with a concept. Then, he positions the characters around it in such a way that requires them to evolve in ways that they’ve never dared. From there, the story only gets bigger in terms of scope, scale, and impact.

He did it with the Avengers. He did it with the Fantastic Four. Now, he’s done it again with the X-Men. As a lifelong X-Men fan, who has seen some pretty awful runs and some exceedingly dark times, I cannot overstate how refreshing this story is. I honestly cannot think of a time when an X-Men story arc felt so meaningful and relevant.

I’ve highlighted and praised various issues of House of X and Powers of X before, but “Powers of X #6” faces a unique challenge that many story arcs fail to overcome. It can’t just end the story on a particular note. It has to fill in some lingering plot holes while leaving just enough unfilled for future stories to build on. It’s a difficult balance to strike and one past X-Men story arcs have come up short.

That balance never falters in “Powers of X #6.” It fills in a few key plot holes, most notably the events of Moira MacTaggart’s mysterious sixth life. At the core of this story, and everything that stems from it, is the impact of Moira MacTaggart. It’s not hyperbole to state that she is now the most important character in the X-Men mythos.

Her role doesn’t just involve revealing what worked and didn’t work in terms of mutants trying to survive in a world that hates and fears them. In “Powers of X #6,” she witnesses the ultimate endgame for the human/mutant conflict. She sees the inevitable result of this conflict, regardless of which side she takes.

It doesn’t matter if someone sides with Magneto.

It doesn’t matter if someone sides with Professor Charles Xavier.

It doesn’t even matter if someone swears allegiance to Apocalypse and fights by his side.

The events in “Powers of X #6” establish that none of these conflicting groups, who have been clashing in X-Men comics since the Kennedy Administration, will be vindicated in the long run. Ultimately, they will be defeated, but not by the forces they think.

It’s a point that Hickman makes clearly by building on key moments established in past issues of Powers of X and House of X. Within these moments, harsh truths are dropped and fateful choices are made. They help give the achievements that played out in “House of X #6” even more weight. They also establish the stakes the X-men, and the entire mutant race in general, face moving forward.

These are powerful moments that impact the past, present, and future of the X-Men. Through Moira, the greatest threats facing mutants takes a very different form. It’s not a menacing new Sentinel. It’s not some mutant tyrant, either. It’s not even some bigoted human who thinks interment camps are still a good idea. I won’t spoil the particulars, but c makes clear that the X-Men have an uphill battle.

That’s saying a lot, considering the mutant race is more united than it has ever been. They have a home in Krakoa. Teammates who have been dead or missing for many years are back. They have valuable resources that the world wants. They’ve even won over their greatest enemies, like Apocalypse.

However, even with Moira’s foresight, that still might not be enough.

It might be the greatest achievement of “Powers of X #6.” It is an ending to a bold new beginning for the X-Men, but it also redefines the challenges they face. Through Hickman’s skilled world-building and artist R. B. Silva’s brilliant renderings, it genuinely feels like a true paradigm shift for X-Men comics.

They’re still mutants. They’re still the same superheroes they’ve always been. Their goals haven’t fundamentally changed that much. What has changed are the stakes, the forces opposing them, and their approach to dealing with them. It feels both hopeful and dire at the same time.

Whereas “House of X #6” establishes the promise of a brighter future for mutants, “Powers of X #6” reveals the ultimate barrier to that future. It’s not something they can shoot, blast, stab, or punch. If they want to succeed, then they have to fundamentally change how they go about Charles Xavier’s dream. Moreover, the dream itself needs to evolve.

Years from now, X-Men fans will likely look back on “Powers of X #6” as a defining moment for a narrative that has been unfolding for over 50 years. Those moments are few, far between, and precious. This one in particular may go down as one of the most uncanny.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House Of X #6

There’s an unwritten rule in superhero comics. Heroes can enjoy a happy ending every now and then. However, it can only go so far. For every happy ending, there must also be a setup for the next conflict. It also can’t be too happy. The struggle can never stop or slow down. More epic battles must follow. Where else will Marvel and their Disney overlords get ideas for new billion-dollar movies?

Sometimes, the happy endings are as short-lived as they are shallow. This is especially true of X-Men comics. Their struggle is more complicated than fighting hordes of Hydra soldiers or battling invading Chitari armies. Sure, they regularly battle killer robots, but the primary source of their problems come from hatred and fear. There’s only so much they can triumph over that. A typical internet comments section is proof of that.

As a result, any victory the X-Men enjoy seems fleeting. Any semblance of a happy ending or true progress comes off as shallow or temporary. That has been my experience, as a lifelong X-Men fan. Then, “House of X #6” comes along and in the span of a single book, those unwritten are bent, broken, and redefined.

Throughout the X-Men’s colorful history, there have been many defining moments. Unfortunately, most of them often involve tragedy, destruction, and decimation. The moments that involve a triumphant, happy ending that feels like real progress in their struggles are few and far between. That only makes “House of X #6” more precious in the grand scheme of things.

This epic, world-building narrative began with a simple proclamation from Charles Xavier. While humanity slept, the world changed. In “House of X #6,” the sheer breadth of that change becomes clear. Xavier doesn’t just announce to the world that things are different. He explains why and how they got to this critical point.

It’s the kind of speech that leaves you anxious, astonished, concerned, and elated, all at the same time. He doesn’t talk around the truth or rely on alternative facts. He lays out clearly what mutants have been through. Even if you haven’t been following the X-Men comics for the past several decades, you get a clear understanding of how they got to this point.

They’ve been bullied, attacked, ignored, and driven to the brink of extinction more than once. They’ve clashed with other superheroes while being held to a different standard. In a world where so many other people have superpowers and aren’t subject to constant killer robot attacks, mutants are seen as a menace.

Now, they’re not just outcasts fighting for their lives and working towards impossible dreams. They’re a full-fledged society. They now have a home in Krakoa, which is now a full-fledged nation. They have their own culture and identity that they’re willing to fight for. These all feel like changes that are exceedingly overdue. Writer Jonathan Hickman finally put it into words while artist Pepe Larraz gave it vibrant visuals.

It’s a beautiful, cathartic moment that X-Men fans of all kinds can appreciate. On top of this momentous announcement, Hickman adds a few more details to the world-building. Now that mutants have their own nation, they have to go about governing it. It’s the kind of detail that tends to get overlooked in most superhero narratives, but it’s those same details that give depth to this emerging status quo.

The government of Krakoa is not overly complicated, but it’s still comprehensive in its vision. Hickman does not skimp on the details. We even get to see how Krakoa handles difficult issues, such as major laws and what to do with those who break them. It’s not quite like watching a mutant version of C-SPAN, but it gets the point across.

This isn’t just mutants consolidating their power. They’re trying to function as a real nation with real connections in the international community. They’re not going to be some isolated enclave. They actually have something to offer the world with the miracle drugs Krakoa produces. However, they’re not treating them as bargaining chips or gifts. They’re real assets with which to create standing in the world.

It’s uncharted territory for mutants. It also opens the door to a new host of complications, but for once, they don’t involve drawing battle lines between humans and mutants. Xavier still seeks peace, but not through impossible dreams anymore.

This is a huge shift for Charles Xavier’s character. It’s a huge shift for the X-Men, as well. They’re not just a team of mutant superheroes anymore. They’re something greater and “House of X #6” is their way of announcing that to the world.

I won’t spoil the many other ways Hickman and Larraz explore this exciting new world. There are plenty of moments that set the stage for a very different kind of struggle with the X-Men. There are also a few hints that they’ll be dealing with a few threats down the line, some more familiar than others. That’s unavoidable, both for superheroes and blossoming nations.

However, I will spoil one critical detail. “House of X #6” gives the X-Men, mutants, and long-time fans a reason to celebrate. It wasn’t that long ago that the X-Men were in a dire state. Marvel was going out of their way marginalized them in favor of propping up the Inhumans. Major characters were being killed off, left and right. Now, in wake of this issue, those dark days feel like distant memories.

The events of “House of X #6” feel like the end of a long, tumultuous period of tribulations and the beginning of a new era. It’s not all doom and gloom, for once. There’s reason to be happy. There’s reason to grab a beer and celebrate. If the X-Men comics were to end with this issue, it would be a damn good ending.

A new world has been built. A new era has arrived for the X-Men. It’s as satisfying as it is overdue. To X-Men fans of all kinds, get some friends, grab a cold beer, and have a party. Hickman has given us a reason to celebrate.

 

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Why Biological Weapons Will Be A (MUCH) Bigger Threat In The Future

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It wasn’t too long ago that the biggest existential threat facing humanity was nuclear war. I’ve noted before how distressingly close we’ve come to a nuclear disaster and how the threat of a nuclear holocaust is still present. However, that threat has abated in recent decades, especially as nuclear weapons have gotten so destructive that their use is somewhat redundant.

More recently, people have become more concerned about the threat posed by advanced artificial intelligence. The idea is that at some point, an AI will become so intelligent and capable that we won’t be able to stop it in the event it decides that humanity must go extinct. It’s the basis of every Terminator movie, as well as an Avengers movie.

While I certainly have my concerns about the dangers of advanced artificial intelligence, it’s not the threat that worries me most these days. We still have some measure of control over the development of AI and we’re in a good position to guide that technology down a path that won’t destroy the human race. The same cannot be said for biological weapons.

If there’s one true threat that worries me more with each passing day, it’s that. Biological weapons are one of those major threats that does not slip under the radar, as evidenced by plenty of movies, books, and TV shows. However, the extent of that threat has become more understated in recent years and has the potential to be something more powerful than nuclear weapons.

By powerful, I don’t necessarily mean deadlier. At the end of the day, nuclear weapons are still more capable of rendering the human race extinct and turning the whole planet into a radioactive wasteland. The true power of biological weapons less about how deadly they can be and more about how useful they could be to potential governments, tyrants, or extremists.

For most of human history, that power has been limited. There’s no question that disease has shaped the course of human history. Some plagues are so influential that they mark major turning points for entire continents. The same can be said for our ability to treat such diseases. However, all these diseases had one fatal flaw that kept them from wiping out the human race.

Thanks to the fundamental forces of evolution, a deadly pathogen can only be so deadly and still survive. After all, an organism’s ultimate goal isn’t to kill everything it encounters. It’s to survive and reproduce. It can’t do that if it kills a carrier too quickly. If it’s too benign, however, then the carrier’s immune system will wipe it out.

That’s why even diseases as deadly as Ebola and Influenza can only be so infectious. If they kill all their hosts, then they die with them. That’s why, much to the chagrin of creationists, evolution doesn’t favor the natural emergence of apocalyptic diseases. They can still devastate the human race, but they can’t necessarily wipe it out. It would only wipe itself out in the process and most lifeforms avoid that.

It’s also why the large-scale biological weapons programs of the 20th century could only be so effective. Even if a country manufactured enough doses of an existing disease to infect every person on the planet, it won’t necessarily be deadly enough to kill everyone. Even at its worst, smallpox and bubonic plague never killed more than two-thirds of those it infected.

That’s not even factoring in how difficult it is to distribute these pathogens to everyone without anyone noticing. It’s even harder today because powerful governments invest significant resources into preventing and containing an outbreak. If large numbers of people start getting sick and dropping dead at a rapid rate, then someone will notice and take action.

That’s why, for the most part, biological weapons are both ethically untenable and not very useful as weapons of mass destruction. They’re difficult to control, difficult to distribute, and have unpredictable effects. They also require immense resources, considerable technical know-how, and a keen understanding of science. Thankfully, these are all things that extreme religious zealots tend to lack.

For the most part, these powerful constraints have kept biological weapons from being too great a threat. However, recent advances in biotechnology could change that and it’s here where I really start to worry. With recent advances in gene-editing and the emergence of tools like CRISPR, those limitations that kept biological weapons in check may no longer be insurmountable.

While I’ve done plenty to highlight all the good that tools like CRISPR could do, I don’t deny that there are potential dangers. Like nuclear weapons, this technology is undeniably powerful and powerful technology always carries great risks. With CRISPR, the risks aren’t as overt as obvious as fiery mushroom clouds, but they can be every bit as deadly.

In theory, CRISPR makes it possible to cut and paste genetic material with the same ease as arranging scattered puzzle pieces. With right materials and tools, this technology could be used to create genetic combinations in organisms that could never occur naturally or even with artificial selection.

Imagine a strain of smallpox that was lethal 100 percent of the time and just as infectious.

Imagine a strain of the flu that was as easy to spread as the common cold, but as deadly as bubonic plague.

Imagine a strain of an entirely new pathogen that is extremely lethal and completely immune to all modern medicine.

These are all possible, albeit exceedingly difficult, with genetic editing. Unlike nuclear weapons, it doesn’t require the procurement of expensive and dangerous elements. It just needs DNA, RNA, and a lab with which to produce them. It’s a scary idea, but that’s actually not the worst of it, nor is it the one that worries me most.

A doomsday bioweapon like that might be appealing to generic super-villains, but like nuclear weapons, they’re not very strategic because they kill everyone and everything. For those with a more strategic form of blood-lust, advanced biological weapons offer advantages that sets them apart from any other weapon.

Instead of a pathogen infecting everyone it comes into contact with, what if it only infected a certain group of people that carry a specifics traits associated with a particular race or ethnic group? What if someone wanted to be even more strategic than that and craft a pathogen that attacked only one specific person?

In principle, this is possible if you can manipulate the genetics of a disease in just the right way. Granted, it’s extremely difficult, but the potential utility makes it more useful than a nuclear bomb will ever be.

Suddenly, a government or terrorist organization doesn’t need a skilled assassin on the level of James Bond to target a specific person or group. They just need the right genetic material and a working knowledge of how to program it into a synthetic pathogen. It could even be made to look like a completely different disease, which ensured it didn’t raise any red flags.

It’s not the ultimate weapon, but it’s pretty darn close. Biological weapons with this level of refinement could potentially target entire groups of people and never put the attackers at risk. As a strategy, it can effectively end an entire conflict without a shot being fired. Those infected wouldn’t even know it was fired if the pathogen were effectively distributed.

It’s one of those weapons that both terrorists and governments would be tempted to use. The most distressing part is they could use it in a way that’s difficult to detect, let alone counter. Even after all the death and destruction has been wrought, how do you even prove that it was a result of a bioweapon? Even if you could prove that, how would you know who made it?

These are the kinds of questions that only have disturbing answers. They’re also the reasons why I believe biological weapons are poised to become a far bigger issue in the coming years. Even if it’s unlikely they’ll wipe out the human race, they can still cause a special kind of destruction that’s almost impossible to counter.

Unlike any other weapon, though, the destruction could be targeted, undetectable, and unstoppable. Those who wield this technology would have the power to spread death with a level of precision and tact unprecedented in human history. While I believe that humanity will eventually be able to handle dangerous technology like artificial intelligence, I doubt it’ll ever be capable of handling a weapon like that.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: House of X #2

What would you do if you could live your entire life over again with all the memories of your previous life? What if you could do that more than once and come into the world with knowledge and experience equivalent to multiple lives? Movies like “Groundhog Day” and “Edge of Tomorrow” attempted to answer that question in part. Jonathan Hickman tries to answer that question more fully in “House of X #2.”

As someone who has been reading comics for a sizable chunk of his life, I know how rare it is to see a single issue come along that both redefines a character and explores a host of new, exciting concepts. I thought “House of X #1” was one of those once-in-a-decade comics that wasn’t going to be matched for a good long while. I was wrong.

I’m glad I was wrong too because what Hickman accomplishes in “House of X #2” is as remarkable as it is engaging. It doesn’t just give context to the previous events that were revealed in both “House of X #1” and “Powers of X #1.” It completely redefines the entire history of the X-Men.

For a series that includes multiple time travel plots and multiple dystopian timelines, that’s quite an accomplishment. It’s how Hickman and artist Pepe Larraz go about it that makes “House of X #2” so impactful. It begins and ends with how the story rewrites the role of Moira MacTaggart.

It’s not hyperbole to say that this single issue makes Moira the most important character in the history of the X-Men, the mutant race, and their future. For a character who was either a love interest for Charles Xavier or a side-character who often got overshadowed by other mutants, that’s quite an accomplishment.

This is not the same Moira from the “X-Men First Class” movie. This version of Moira is a mutant with a very unique power. It doesn’t involve shooting lasers out of her eyes, reading minds, or shape-shifting. Her power is basically a more complete version of the abilities that Bill Murray and Tom Cruise enjoyed in the aforementioned movies.

In essence, Moira lives her entire life, dies, and is reborn with all her memories and experiences intact. It’s not restricted to a single day. It’s not indefinite, either. Like an old Mario game, she has a limit to the number of lives she can live. What she does with them is up to her. Knowing what happens to mutants, humans, the X-Men, and Charles Xavier informs her choices.

It raises many profound questions about Moira’s role in the history of the X-Men and the Marvel universe in general. It also expands on how Moira came to influence the events of “House of X #1” and “Powers of X #1.”

The story, itself, is built around the multiple lives that Moira has lived. I won’t spoil the details, since this is one of those comics that needs to be read to appreciate the impact. I’ll simply confirm that she tries multiple approaches to averting yet another dystopian future for the X-Men, mutants, and humanity as a whole.

Some of those approaches involve working with Charles Xavier. Others involve actively opposing him. In all the lives leading up to her tenth, there are a few common themes. When two competing species inhabit the same world, there’s bound to be conflict. Efforts to escape or preemptively win that conflict rarely pan out.

Like Phil Connors constantly waking up on Groundhog Day, no matter what he does, Moira keeps hitting a proverbial wall. No matter what she attempts, there doesn’t seem to be a way around this conflict. It’s not until her 10th life that she comes to the realization that leads to “House of X #1.”

It’s hard to overstate how much “House of X #2” changes the overall context of the X-Men comic. Suddenly, Moira MacTaggart is the most influential character in the history of the X-Men, mutants, and everything in between. What she does, why she does it, and how she goes about it changes how we see the past, as well as the present.

The benefits of hindsight make it seem simple, but it isn’t. It also raises a great many questions. If Moira has all this knowledge, why didn’t she use it to achieve more? What made her choose the path that led to the most recent events for the X-Men and the Marvel universe, as a whole? Most of these questions go unanswered, but there are some telling clues that add even more intrigue.

Hickman and Larraz achieve something truly uncanny with “House of X #2.” I know I said the same thing about “House of X #1,” but that comic now has a greater meaning thanks to this one. The stakes for every other X-Men story that unfolds after this has a new meaning as well. Few comics can boast that kind of impact without being written by Jack Kirby, but “House of X #2” is definitely one of them.

Even for those unfamiliar with the convoluted history of the X-Men can appreciate the concepts this comic explores. We see someone who has lived multiple lives, cursed with knowing how things play out for those she cares for. She wants to make that life better for herself and the world as a whole. She’s in a unique position to pursue that change, but it’s fraught with more complications than any “Groundhog Day” rip-off could convey.

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Jack Fisher’s Weekly Quick Pick Comic: Age of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5

For comic book fans, Wednesdays are basically our weekly holy days. It’s the day when we take a moment to stop obsessing over the latest casting rumors for the MCU and just enjoy a stack of new comics. After all, superhero movies wouldn’t be the multi-billion dollar draw they are without these comics.

The over-arching narrative of superhero comics is powerful. They embody the best parts of the classic hero’s journey that often finds their way into our most iconic stories. They can inspire, as well as guide people down a particular path. In “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5,” however, someone finds a way to weaponize that narrative.

For the past several months, the X-Men comics have undergone a strange, yet colorful upheaval. Nate Grey, an overpowered mutant capable of warping reality on a level that makes “The Matrix” look lazy, basically lost his mind and decided to go out with a bang. That bang involved taking nearly every major X-Men character with him and putting them in an entirely new reality with an entirely different history.

On the surface, it’s a utopia. Granted, love and intimacy are outlawed, but there are no mutant internment camps so that counts as an upgrade for the X-men. Everyone lives in peace and the X-Men aren’t just celebrated. They’re basically real-life holy figures. There are no more killer robots to fight or extinctions to avoid. They basically won.

However, that’s just the primary narrative of this world. That finally starts to unravel in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”

Since the whole Age of X-Man story began, Nate Grey has basically been the architect of his own world. He’s built the society, crafted its history, and completely changed the life story of every individual. This isn’t just another case of wiping someone’s mind to think they once dated Taylor Swift. This is an entirely new world, but to the X-Men, it’s the only world they’ve always known.

This huge gut-punch to reality isn’t something Nate did out of malice. Writers Zac Thompson and Lonnie Nadler establish from the beginning that Nate’s intentions are good, albeit tragic. There’s never a sense that he created this world for selfish reasons. He genuinely believes that this world is one in which mutants can live in peace and everyone he loves can be happy.

Even his power and the narratives he weaves around them have limits, though. While investigating the murder of Moneta, the X-Men finally uncover unambiguous clues as to just how much Nate has been manipulating things. The signs have been there throughout the Age of X-Man story, but now there’s no avoiding the truth. They know the story he’s trying to tell and the lies he’s using to tell it.

When Nate wrote the history of this world, he did so knowing that it wasn’t enough to make everyone happy. Even in a world without killer robots or convoluted movie rights, people need something to strive for. That means it’s not enough to give the heroes a good story. He has to give the villains a story, as well.

That means that even Apocalypse, Nate’s biggest enemy, has to be part of this narrative. His role is very different from the murder-happy social Darwinist he’s always been, but he still acts as this powerful threat to this utopian world. He makes the X-Men necessary and creates discord that requires more than just fighting.

Even as Thompson and Nadler finally peel back the curtain, Nate’s efforts to maintain this narrative never waiver. In some parts of the issue, Nate acts as the narrator, trying to justify the story of this world. There’s still no mustache-twirling evil in his story, but it’s clear there are a few plot holes that he just can’t plug.

Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” isn’t entirely built around the X-Men uncovering the truth. There’s no existential crisis or mental breakdown upon learning the truth. Instead, there’s a sense of anger and betrayal. Nate isn’t just some unhinged, overpowered mutant. He’s their friend. He’s family. To them, he was a hero before he tried telling this bigger story.

In many respects, that’s what has made Age of X-Man such an engaging story. “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5” effectively doubles down on the tragic elements of that story. This is very different from the Scarlet Witch going crazy and committing mass genocide. Nate comes off as disturbingly sane as he tries to protect and maintain this world that he’s created.

In any superhero narrative, intentions matter. Villains, by definition, tend to have selfish and destructive motives. By that standard, Nate is not a villain. He is certainly misguided, though. The extend of just how misguided he is finally plays out in “Age Of X-Man: Marvelous X-Men #5.”

For many of the characters involved, especially characters like Jean Grey, Storm, and Nightcrawler, it’s devastating in ways that go beyond having their lives manipulated. Nate Grey is their friend. He’s helped them in the past. Hell, he goes by the code-name, X-Man. He’s supposed to embody the best aspects of who they are.

Now, they have to take him down. After learning about what he did and how much he warped their lives, the X-Men have to be the ones to end Nate’s story. It’s tragic, but fitting. In terms of ending a story, though, that can be a potent combination.

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The Strange Appeal Of The Apocalypse (According To “Rick And Morty”)

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What is it about the apocalypse that fascinates us so much? Why do movies about zombies, machine uprisings, and overall societal collapse appeal to us? Is it just the dramatic, action-packed stories they evoke that thrills us? Could there be something more to that appeal?

While I enjoy a good apocalyptic tale every now and then, I don’t consider myself a fan of the genre. In general, I opt for more hopeful and optimistic stories about the future and the present. I can still appreciate movies like “World War Z” and TV shows like “The Walking Dead,” but it’s not the kind of story that appeals to me, in general.

Even so, I don’t deny that there is a certain appeal to it. I’m not just talking about apocalyptic stories either. For some, the idea of a world in which civilization has collapsed has an innate allure that goes beyond zombies, killer robots, or even invading aliens. To some extent, that appeal is directly related to the flaws of civilization itself.

To appreciate those flaws and where the apocalypse fits in, it’s necessary to reference a show that has a knack for conveying complex philosophical insights in a way that’s both entertaining and hilarious. Yes, I’m referring to “Rick and Morty” again. No, I’m not apologizing for that.

In the same way this show has conveyed complexities of nihilism and the burdens of genius, this show also does a better job than most at conveying the unique appeal of the collapse of civilization. It does this through two episodes, “Rick Potion Number 9” and “Rickmancing The Stone.” While the details are subtle, as is often the case with “Rick and Morty,” the message is clear.

Simply put, the fruits of modern civilization are debilitating, dehumanizing, and soul-crushing for the vast majority of people. If you’re rich, good looking, and well-connected, then civilization is fantastic for you. You can get pretty much whatever you want and you can get other people to do all the hard stuff you don’t want to do.

If you’re everyone else, though, you’re kind of stuck. Throughout “Rick and Morty,” Rick Sanchez doesn’t hide from that fact. His nihilistic commentary on life, death, and everything in between makes clear that civilization is just a few extra inconveniences to an undisputed super-genius who can build a nuclear reactor out of pond scum.

However, it’s through characters like Jerry Smith, Rick’s perpetually mediocre son-in-law, that the true weight of modern civilization becomes clear. To some extent, Jerry represents all the non-Ricks of the world. They don’t have the benefits of good looks, deep pockets, or god-like genius navigate civilization. They’re basically stuck working for the scraps.

Both myself and most people reading this probably have more in common with Jerry than they care to admit. We work jobs we don’t like to make just enough money to survive in a society where simply living is both overly-complicated and expensive by modern infrastructure, law, and economics. For most people, just living in a decent place with a manageable mortgage payment and good WiFi is the most they can hope for.

In the apocalypse, though, everything is simpler. All those complexities of modern civilization go out the window. Life is no longer defined by your ability to find a job, pay the bills, stay out of jail, and not piss off the wrong people. It’s defined by your ability to survive day-by-day. It basically resets our society back to its tribal roots.

For some, that’s a horrible setback because it means they actually have to work, sweat, and toil for their survival rather than relying on underpaid peasants. For most, though, it’s a massive equalizer. Suddenly, your money, your fancy clothes, and your tax bracket don’t matter. All that matters is your ability to survive another day.

In “Rick Potion Number 9,” Rick and Morty’s antics bring about the complete collapse of civilization. In the process, Jerry Smith gets a chance to be something other than the guy that modern society walks all over because of his inherent mediocrity. Suddenly, he doesn’t need genius, looks, or connections to thrive. He just needs an ability to hold a crow bar and fight monsters.

In “Rickmancing The Stone,” this breakdown of civilization and equalization of stakes gets an even greater push, albeit without Jerry. He still plays a part in the story, but only to the extent that it’s clear just how much modern civilization crushes people like Jerry whose skills are too limited to thrive. Conversely, a “Mad Max: Fury Road” style apocalypse simplifies the types of necessary skills.

In that world, and nearly every other apocalyptic narrative for that matter, you don’t need to go to a fancy college, invest in complex industry, or network with rich elites. You just need to be willing and able to learn basic survival skills, like hunting, foraging, self-defense, and basic crafts. Most people with moderate hand-eye coordination and a little grit can learn those skills.

These are skills that go back to the basics of our hunter/gatherer past. They’re skills that still manifest today, both with rugged outdoor-lovers and in societies that have collapsed, albeit on a non-zombie, non-global scale. Whatever the circumstances, though, the end results are the same. The apocalypse doesn’t just simplify the stakes. It requires us to be egalitarian in the most pragmatic way possible.

Think of all the petty divisions we currently deal with, from identity politics to philosophical debates to never-ending feud between “Star Wars” fans and “Star Trek” fans. In the face of an apocalypse, all that stuff becomes meaningless. Disagreements over feminism and masculinity don’t matter. Clashes between liberals and conservatives don’t matter. Complex economic theories don’t matter.

To some extent, that is appealing. Sure, it also means no internet, no TV, no movies, no social media, and no media of any kind. It also means no air conditioning, no electricity, no modern medicine, and no modern comforts. That may limit the appeal, but at the same time, it removes the complications that comes with those amenities.

Let’s face it. They are complications that get pretty infuriating. In the modern world, you can’t just survive. You have to have a career. You have to have some sort of profitable skill. Even if you do, that’s no guarantee you’ll gain the respect you want, attract the mates you want, or establish yourself as a productive member of your community.

In the world of the apocalypse, it doesn’t matter how many Twitter followers you had or likes you got on FaceBook. It doesn’t matter how many friends you had in high school, how many matches you won on “Overwatch,” or how many dumb things you did as a kid. When society, civilization, and infrastructure collapse, none of that matters. You’re essentially free to just live and survive.

For the Jerry Smiths of the world, the apocalypse would be the perfect make-or-break scenario. You either show that you’re willing to work, fight, and survive or you die. That’s all there is to it. It’s simple, blunt, and uncomplicated. You have just as much an opportunity as some guy who went to an overpriced prep school. Even if you fail, you fail on your own accord.

That said, there’s also a dark side to that appeal. While “Rick and Morty” double down on the dehumanizing, degrading nature of modern civilization, other shows like “The Walking Dead” show how it can take people who would be unremarkable in a civilized society and turn them into monsters. That’s how a high school football coach can become a tyrannical, but charismatic dictator.

Like modern civilization, the apocalypse affects people in different ways. Some, like Jerry Smith and Negan, might actually thrive in it. Others won’t be able to handle it, having become too comfortable with the trappings of civilization. That’s something that modern survivalist groups bank on and, should the apocalypse ever come, we’ll see how much or how little that pays off.

Personally, I hope that day never comes. It’s not just because I probably wouldn’t last long in an apocalypse. I’ve never gone camping, I don’t have any survival training, and I’m not sure how I’ll react to a zombie. I think that while modern civilization has its flaws, it has more long-term potential than any apocalypse, by default.

Since much of that potential is still unrealized, although we are making progress, the apocalypse will still have more appeal to the vast majority of people who feel trapped by the rigid complexity of modern civilization. They can only do so much with their lives and there’s only so much they have to risk.

Then again, maybe that’s something both civilization and the apocalypse have in common. As Rick Sanchez once said, “To live is to risk it all. Otherwise, you’re just an inert chunk of randomly assembled molecules drifting wherever the universe blows you.” It’s just easier to do that in the apocalypse because, with or without zombies, the stakes are simpler and clearer for everyone.

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In Memory Of Stanislav Petrov: The Man Who (Literally) Saved The World

Stanislav Petrov

Today is an important day, one that became even more important this past year. You probably didn’t realize it and for good reason. Until recently, the significance of this day had been lost to history, but it’s a day that deserves recognition, albeit for a very sobering reason.

This day became one of the most significant days not affiliated with a holiday sale at the mall on September 26, 1983. On that day, the world as we know it almost ended. That’s not a hyperbole. That’s not a conspiracy theory out of a an Alex Jones fever dream either. It’s painfully true. The world almost died in a nuclear fire on that day, but it didn’t because of a decision made by one man.

That man’s name is Stanislav Yevgrafovich Petrov and if you were alive on that day, or were born after it, then you owe your existence to this man. For a brief moment on that day, 35 years ago, he literally held the fate of the world in his hand and he made the decision that saved it. As someone who regularly lauds superheroes and the values espoused in comics, even I can’t overstate the significance of what that man did.

The incident that almost ended the world and made Stanislav Petrov a man for the ages widely known about until the mid-2000s. It involved an incident in the former Soviet Union that brought the world to the brink of nuclear annihilation. In terms of worst case scenarios, this ranked right up there with an invasion by aliens armed with atomic anal probes.

At the time, Petrov was a lieutenant colonel in the Soviet Air Defense Forces and had been on duty at the Serpukhov-15 bunker near Moscow. In terms of Soviet defense strategy, his role in that bunker was pretty damn important. It was tasked with monitoring Soviet air space to detect an incoming nuclear attack.

It’s worth mentioning that this was a time of heightened tension. President Reagan, at the time, was going long and hard on anti-communist rhetoric. Being a former Hollywood actor who’d just been elected President, the Soviets had no idea if this guy was just going to shoot nuclear missiles at them because he thought it would make a great movie.

In a sense, this was the worst possible time for the systems at the Serpukhov-15 bunker to give a false alarm, but that’s exactly what happened. In the middle of Petrov’s shift, the systems began blaring every alarm it was possible to blare, telling them that America’s new Hollywood President had done just what they’d feared. He launched a full-scale nuclear attack to wipe out the Soviet Union.

I’d say it’s a nightmare scenario, but no amount of killer clowns armed with chainsaws can do justice to this kind of horror. As far as the men in that bunker knew, their country and everyone they loved was about to die in a nuclear inferno. It was the policy of the USSR and the Red Army to respond to any nuclear attack with a devastating retaliation, as specified in the doctrine of mutual assured destruction.

It was Stanislav Petrov’s job/duty to inform the Soviet high command of the detection. Every bit of his military training demanded that he inform his superiors to retaliate, thereby destroying the United States and Western Europe in reign of nuclear fire. In a state of such heightened tensions, he might have been justified in doing so.

All it took was one call to his superiors. That would’ve been it. That would’ve ended the world, as we knew it. Try and think about that for a second. In that moment, the fate of the world and billions of lives lay on the shoulders of Stanislav Petrov. If he makes that call, then the world as we know it is over.

However, in that moment when he literally had the world on his shoulders, he didn’t make that call. In that moment, he made a decision that saved the world and its future. He did it by not following the protocol that he’d been trained to follow and by the Soviet Union, no less, who were not known for being understanding to disobedience.

Petrov, with his duty and the weight of the situation bearing down on him, believed it to be a false alarm. He had good reason for believing this. The systems were detecting only several missiles, which was pretty small, given the sheer size of America’s nuclear arsenal. If America’s Hollywood President really wanted to wipe out the Soviet Union, he definitely would’ve used more.

Even so, his training and his duty told him to inform his superiors. He only had 15 minutes to do so because that’s how long it took for a detectable missile to reach its target. That’s right. In the time it takes to watch an episode of “Robot Chicken,” Stanislav Petrov had to make a decision that would’ve determined the fate of this entire planet.

The fact that no nuclear bombs went off and billions of people didn’t die is proof that he made the right decision. It was later determined that the false alarms were caused by a rare alignment of sunlight on high-altitude clouds and the erratic orbits of the Soviet’s satellites.

It seems so trivial now, but keep in mind that these were tense times during the Cold War. It really didn’t take much to spook either America or the USSR. It could’ve easily become a perfect storm, of sorts, for accidental nuclear annihilation and nobody would’ve been left on this planet to admit they screwed up.

It’s because of Petrov’s decision that day, to not follow protocol and trust his instinct, that we avoided Armageddon. For that decision, Petrov received no metal, commendation, or recognition for his decision. He just got a pat on the back, which was the most anyone could hope for in the Soviet Union at that time.

This man literally saved the world in the most painfully literal sense, but was quickly forgotten. There were no parades, movies, or free tickets to a Madonna concert. Petrov just went back to living his life until he retired from the military.

It really wasn’t until 2004 that Petrov began getting recognized for his actions, that day. By then, though, the weight of that moment had lost its place in the public consciousness. The fact I have to write about it on this blog shows just how little awareness this man and that fateful day have in the annuls of history.

Well, in this year, that day became a lot more important because back in May, Stanislav Petrov passed away at age 77. It wasn’t widely reported. It didn’t even get mentioned on any of the major news outlets in America or Russia. This man who saved billions of lives isn’t even alive anymore to appreciate.

He lived a quiet, unremarkable life towards the end. He never considered himself a hero. He never even tried to put that label on himself. He was just the right man in the right place to make the right decision. In doing so, he saved billions of lives and preserved the future of this planet.

It’s impossible to overstate the importance of the decision that this man made on that fateful day 35 years ago. Some may brag that they saved the world or are arrogant enough to think that they can. Stanislav Petrov didn’t need to brag because he did it. He saved this world and most people will never know what he did.

Now that he’s passed, let’s all take a moment to appreciate what this man did. By trusting his instinct and his humanity, not wanting to make the decision that would destroy this world, he proved just how heroic a person could be in the worst of circumstances.

From the bottom of my heart, and on behalf of all those who are alive because of the decision made that day, thank you Mr. Petrov. Thank you for doing the right thing in the worst of circumstances. This world is still spinning because of you. Rest in peace knowing you saved it.

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Filed under Celebrities and Celebrity Culture, Jack Fisher's Insights