Editorial: Tom King, Comic Books & American Foreign Policy

There’s been talk lately about comic book writer Tom King, his themes of depression, loss, PTSD, and ennui, and his past as a CIA analyst being a marketable asset. What follows is a short stream-of-consciousness article on the subject. Take a deep breath, kids, uncle Alex is going to talk politics again.

How do we feel about Tom King?

Considering that he started out writing spy and military comics his credentials were actually hugely important for credibility reasons. But I suppose you mean how we feel about the CIA?

Since my focus is on American foreign policy, I don’t have the best opinion of the CIA. It’s an often rogue element in a foreign security apparatus too often focused on short-term gains than long-term sustainability. It’s an issue with policy, not individual people. As part of the War on Terror, America has taken a severe step to the right anyway (or at least it’s become more noticeable) and the obsession over support for the troops and military intervention is already concerning.

Based on that structural background it’s simply good marketing. We don’t know what he did while in the service outside of being an analyst and that means he was in a support role. He wasn’t in a management position so unless this is part of a bigger discussion of dismantling that agency I don’t really know what the point of it all is.

Adding to the last point: I like most of what I’ve read of King’s work so far, the first half of his Batman run is legitimately great, Sheriff of Babylon is really good, and I enjoyed what I’ve read of Omega Men, but a lot of the backlash and mixed feelings about him come from the fact that he’s been churning out stories left and right over less than five years.

Writers return to the same themes over and over again anyway, that’s what they do, because there’s only a limited amount of stuff someone can be knowledgeable about anyway. This is, however, heightened by the fact that he’s been put on so many books. We notice the repetition more often than not. And it’s becoming problematic because he focuses a lot on loss, trauma, and ennui. Considering his deadlines and editorial mandates I’m surprised not more of of bibliography is a train wreck. Sometimes it works in his stories, sometimes it doesn’t, execution is incredibly difficult, though I’d wish he’d find something else to write about.

What also doesn’t help is that especially over the last two years left-wing Americans have become more critical of their security apparatus again even though policy was pretty much the same during the Obama administration: i.e. the absence of a coherent policy with indiscriminate drone strikes and counter-terrorism ops that don’t actually accomplish much of anything. I’m happy that people are critical of their security apparatus again but it’s clearly no good if it keep disappearing whenever someone friendly to your position is in charge and that certainly has nothing to do with King.


Review: “Artemis” by Andy Weir

Since I’m reading so much anyway lately, never mind the fact that I’m an aspiring writer, I should actually look at some books (the Shadow review also went over well so here goes nothing).

In the near future, Earth has colonized the moon with the city of Artemis, a sort of research base turned tourist trap for rich idiots. Our protagonist, Jazz Bashara, is a small time smuggler tasked with industrial sabotage for a big payout. Then things go sideways…

People who know me or have read my output know that I am a massive fan of Andy Weir’s first novel The Martian. It was a brilliant hard-scifi book that combined meticulous research with a beautiful characterization for Watney and humanity as a whole. The plot was throwaway, another version of Robinson Crusoe/Castaway like we’ve seen many times before.

Artemis is a fun hard-scifi book combining meticulous research with cheesy capers and a plot that might as well star the crew of the Ocean’s Eleven movies. Come to think of it, a Chinese acrobat flipping through a security system in 0.16G would be awesome.

But you already see that Andy Weir has a type of story he likes. And that is fine. There is currently no other popular science fiction author who does well-researched near-future scifi as well as he does. If all he does for the next few years is to write more books in this vain I won’t complain. Though you can see why some people might have been disappointed by the book.  Continue reading “Review: “Artemis” by Andy Weir”