Jason Sacks: Elkin, we’ve been writing a lot about Nobrow books here on Comics Bulletin lately, with you, me and our inestimable pal Keith Silva digging deep into their line and particularly into their 17×23 series, which seems thus far to be characterized by outstanding production values, their contemplative nature, and their intriguing existential subtexts.
At first glance, Cyber Realm seems the outlier among the mix: a Circle Jerks album in the mix of Frank Sinatra albums, or maybe the kid with a Mohawk and leather jacket in the crowd of people wearing suits and ties. It’s weird, it feels improvised, and Wren McDonald’s art style doesn’t fit the elegant art style of the other books in this series.
But the deeper that I look into Cyber Realm, the more it feels like a wonderful fit for the 17×23 books – and even, perhaps, one of the most satisfying.
Because one of the most important common denominators that this book has compared with its peers is heart. Despite its (at first) off-putting art style that owes more to Johnny Ryan than to Chris Ware, in its heart this story is about a father seeking happiness. When his son is killed by a group of random mutant marauders, and he himself is mutilated in the fight, our protagonist is given a chance for revenge. He will do anything possible to find inner peace, even put on a robot arm and leg and a hat that shoots steam to find that peace. No matter that he’s essentially making a deal with the devil; the focus is on his inner life as much as his exterior life, and that pushes him onward.
So we get vicious fights and a Hitler-like master and swearing and blood some video game like violence here, but there’s a reason for it. It comes from a depth of character and a sense of world building and it all feels so very, very satisfying on multiple levels.
All of these Nobrow 17×23 books have felt like short drafts towards longer stories, but with Cyber Realm I found myself gasping and panting for more time in the world that Wren McDonald creates.
How about you, Daniel? Do you want to journey back to this realm?
Daniel Elkin: I’ve already got travel plans this summer, Sacks, but did I like this book?
But I’m not sure that I agree with you that this is a book about seeking happiness. A matter of fact the only happiness I see in Cyber Realm is cut short a page later by a bullet to the face.
What I see, rather, is a book about animus, retribution, vengeance.
There are those who are in control, and in Cyber Realm, control means brutality, intimidation, and slavery, and there are those who are controlled. And when individuals have no sense of control in their lives, they tend to lash out with violence.
We’ve been seeing that truth played out on the news quite a bit of late.
I’m reminded of a question my father asked me once a long time ago: “How much does it have to hurt before you make a change?” I think the answer varies given the individual and the constructs they inhabit. For some, it is a pivotal moment, like the murder of your child, that determines your next course of action. For others, it’s just the opportunity, happenstance, that brief instant the shackles are unlocked, doors are opened, or someone’s back is turned. McDonald suffuses Cyber Realm with this philosophy, and it ends with a frightening message about the lengths people will go to in order to ensure their freedom, how hatred only breeds more hatred,
I could easily draw parallels between Cyber Realm and the state of race relations in our country, or even use it as a soapbox to examine the Israeli/Palestinian situation, but I think McDonald would rather us keep our discussion on a more intimate, human level.
I think his art demands that as much as his story does too. There is, like you said Sacks, a depth to the main character here. Sure his motivations are painted in bright neon colors on his sleeve, and we don’t get a lot of inner turmoil or philosophical musings on his part, but his singular focus is familiar insomuch as it broadly reflects so much of the subtle frustrations we all feel on a daily basis. The frustrations we feel at work, in our day-to-day, and even, sometimes, in our own homes.
It was Nietzsche who posited that the “world is the will to power – and nothing besides!” Humans have a drive to control their lives as much as they do the world around them. When that is denied, they lose identity. In Cyber Realm, that loss of identity is physically manifested in the main character’s physical transformation and the fact that McDonald never gives him a name.
Perhaps Cyber Realm is, in its way, the prophecy of the Übermensch, but more likely, it’s just a damn fine comic book that’s fun to read and leaves you wanting to read more.