Surviving A Science Fictional Year: The Terminators

The Terminator (1984) • Terminator 2: Judgment Day (1991)Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines (2003) • Terminator Salvation (2009)

 

I only ever saw the first Terminator movie once, when I was five or six. It scared the crap out of me (as a lot of the movies on my list seem to have a habit of doing, except for Predator, oddly enough). As a kid, I remember not having a firm grasp on the difference between actors and the characters they play. I knew, obviously, that movies weren’t portraying real events, but that (to some extent) the actors were having genuine experiences. It’s a difficult concept to track and lacks internal logic: evidence of it as the idea of a five year-old mind. But if you can humor the me of 1988, the moment where the T-1 is performing self-surgery, my brain interpreted that as the moment where the real life Arnold Schwarzenegger (his name is in Google’s dictionary. Weird.) was discovering that he, the actor, was in fact a robot. What terrified me more than this nonsense-relization was that he seemed to be so unfazed by this realization. As such, I never saw it again and it was crystallized in my mind as one of the scariest things possible.

Fast forward twenty years later and, with my views on James Cameron having so drastically shifted, I was concerned the movies (the first and second, the second of which was a long time favorite) wouldn’t be any good any more. I was glad to find that was not the case and the movies largely continued to hold up. I did find that for my purposes, however, the first one was a little philosophically empty and, therefore, difficult to deal with.

My initial thoughts were regarding the fear that machines will somehow spring to life and make the annihilation of human life its primary concern. Going back to What Technology Wants, the book by Kevin Kelly from my previous post, it is argued that the world of technology (or the technium as he coins it) is the seventh kingdom in the animal world. This sort of stuff makes you feel like a madman to discuss in polite company, but if you read his book (you should), he makes a compelling argument. Kelly discusses in his book how, like prior kingdoms, the technium is rising on the backs of mammals. He also argues that, like has yet to happen in real life, no new life form appears with the express desire of eliminating a prior life form. He acknowledges that sometimes it happens as an unfortunate side effect – such as with ice age humans and the evidence that they hunted the mammoth to extinction, or with the cyanobacteria annihilation of many anaerobic species – but for a species to make a willful attempt at annihilation of an entire other species or kingdom would be unthinkable.

Related is Roko’s Basilisk, which briefly summed is the idea that a hypothetical all-knowing machine might decide to punish those that didn’t help create it and reward those that helped it greatly. Though I think science fiction movies have yet to really explore this notion: machines are here to punish us for our sins.

And this is where the second one comes in. The first movie is a tightly told horror story, and it should be appreciated for the serious way in which it approaches a concept that, with any lesser candor, would be goofy (oh hai Terminator 3). But the second one informs us what these movies are really about: Judgment Day.

The new face of God.

For some of us, Judgment Day has been separated from its ominous roots, making it a judgment day, but the phrase and the idea is strictly a religious one. It’s the day Jesus comes back to judge the works of humanity (spoiler alert: we are found wanting) and takes up the ones who have earned favor. This reflects Roko’s Basilisk in a way where “hypothetical all-knowing machine” is replaced with “hypothetical all-knowing man-deity,” and “punishes those that didn’t help create it” is replaced with “punishes those that don’t believe.”

The problem in the world of The Terminator is that these aren’t simply events that happen, something that occurs and the fallout of which must be dealt. Judgment Day is specific punishment. This is where Kevin Kelly’s (perhaps unprovable) assertion runs aground: whether or not machines become aware and assume a state of benevolence doesn’t matter because we as humans feel like we deserve punishment. It’s perhaps our own guilt coming through these movies than any kind of rational fear. Fearing bears when one is slathered in beef jerky in the woods is a rational fear, but fearing that robots would like to murder us because our phones are getting fancier is not.

The first two Terminator movies are, I think, probably Cameron’s best. The philosophy is the most tightly contained, and the running times least insufferable. And it’s perhaps thanks in part to that fear he was trying to voice: robots probably won’t rise up, but we deserve it for our sins. Numerous sins we knowingly continue to perpetrate: sins of cruelty against each other; sins of exploitation against our resources; sins of abuse against our environment; the sin of refusing to acknowledge other creatures’ right to life. These movies aren’t, perhaps, expressing a fear, but a desire we fearfully crave: the desire of the guilty to be punished and the relief that comes after penance. The problem, however, is who will punish us when god is dead? Cameron tells us that it will be the thing most like god (second to God himself, and a little higher than ourselves perhaps), the thing that is everywhere on the planet at once, has near omnipotent knowledge, and, if hundreds of years of philosophers are correct, a child of our own creation like god.

 

Stick around (by which I mean click the page 2 button) for parts three and four.

Comic Book Reviews 12-04-13

Burn the Orphanage - Born to Lose #2, our pick of the week
Burn the Orphanage – Born to Lose #2, our pick of the week

Pick of the Week:

Burn the Orphanage: Born to Lose #2 (DC Comics) – A

It’s about time we had a fun, over the top Jean-Claude Vanne Dammey comic come out. Full of total guy nerd references and comedy, this over-the-top book is about a local hero who has extracted revenge on the man who burned down the orphanage he lived in as a kid. It might feel like a rip off of 90’s nerdom, but that’s because it is – and the creators have no shame in admitting that. The character looks just like Ken from Street Fighter and he is entered into a Mortal Kombat-style tourney in another realm. Independent comics are still alive and well here in this unapologetically witty and fun book, and that’s what should make you want to keep coming back.

Other Reviews:

Action Comics #26 (DC Comics) – B-

Finally, an enjoyable Superman title that isn’t carried by the best tag team in comics (Superman: Unchained). With Lana Lang in danger, Superman must try to rescue her and the other civilians in the area from a giant monster dog thing. It’s more than meets the eye when we realize that maybe the monster isn’t the alien after all. Superman gets frustrated with the civilians and the military for attacking the alien instead of being the unwavering Blue Boy Scout. It’s a change that’s pretty enjoyable to see in the Superman comics.

Amazing Spiderman #700.1 (Marvel Comics) B+

Amazing Spiderman #700.1 is a reversion back to the Steve Ditko and Stan Lee’s classic comic series. It is been a year since the “superior” Spiderman murdered Peter Parker, so his homecoming is much welcomed! I was thrilled to see David Morrell as the writer on this project, not only because his novel First Blood was transformed into the blockbuster Rambo movie franchise, but for his writing for 2007’s Captain America series: Chosen, which I thoroughly enjoyed. This Spidey book entitled “Frost” and follows the emotional and physical struggles of a young man gifted with incredible abilities after a science experiment gone terribly wrong. He seems more civil-servant than flashy superhero. This has always been the draw to Spiderman. In the early days he found himself more of a policeman walking a beat than he did A-lister superhero. Klaus Johnson’s artwork only contributes to this nostalgic feel, bringing a scene of Spiderman saving a gondola off the 59th Street Bridge to life. Reading this book took me back to a simpler time when superheroes felt closer to home. This book has everything the old-school Spidey fan loves, J.J. Jameson, Aunt May and an ordinary kid given extraordinary powers.

Amazing X-Men #2 (Marvel Comics) – B-

After the revelation of the debut issue that Nightcrawler is alive… kinda, this issue shows our X-Men being sucked into heaven and hell. It was a good issue, with Iceman’s humor really stealing the show. The book reads a little slow, as Nightcrawler is constantly narrating what the pictures explain, and describe teammates like Wolverine and Storm like you’ve never heard of them before. Not a whole lot was explained story-wise, but we can guess that the team isn’t in a good place when they were transported. With Nightcrawler poised to make a move on his father, Azazel, the next issue is sure to be a little more exciting.

Batman/Superman #6 (DC Comics) – C-

All bets are off: the heroes are being controlled by videogame players (really, who wouldn’t want to do that?), the entire comic is in landscape format (really, who would want to do that?) and Batman has a freakin’ hole in his chest. What began as a well-crafted story with freakishly good art from Jae Lee has become a jumbled mess of a book. While the Toymaker angle is interesting, there’s nothing cohesive enough to call this book “good.”

Deadpool #20 (Marvel Comics) – F

Oh, good. For a second there, I was worried that the Deadpool book had standards. Silly me. After a sincere and comical story arc had finished about the Weapons X program in North Korea, they drop this trash about Deadpool shooting and blowing up inter-galactic monsters in Wakanda. In 90’s print. For no damn reason. Growing up, Deadpool had always been the mischievous, “do what I want” misunderstood merc with a mouth. With the success he has garnered in pop culture, it seems writers are literally willing to do whatever they want. It’s not cute, and I don’t even think that every die-hard Poolians (I just made that up) should give this series a shot anymore.

Green Arrow #26 (DC Comics) – B

Thanks to the CW’s Arrow, Oliver Queen and company have enjoyed some much deserved attention in the comics. Throw in tremendously talented writer Jeff Lemire and artist Andrea Sorrentino, and you have the next face of your brand. The start of the Outsiders War arc was not full of action, but full of ambiance. Arrow’s return to the island was charged with emotion as he reflects on his time there. It’s looking like this arc is gearing up to be fun and exciting.

Indestructible Hulk: Annual #1 (Marvel Comics) – B-

Ever since Tony Stark and Bruce Banner teamed up for S.H.I.E.L.D its been non stop action. Banner is motivated by a desire to repair his reputation as the world’s leading scientist and not a raging green monster, while Stark is motivated by…whatever motivates a genius, billionaire, playboy philanthropist. The pair run errands for the clandestine organization and we are thankful for it.  Indestructible, penciled by Mahmud Asrar is filled with epic battle panels with Iron-Man and Hulk. If this buddy-cop match up is one you’ve been waiting for, Indestructible Hulk won’t disappoint.

Inhumanity #1 (Marvel Comics) – B+

Every Marvel event comes with a certain level of gravity. The world, galaxy or universe is always in danger and it’s the duty of our heroes to sacrifice and blah blah blah – sound familiar? This story, though, has an awesome feel to it. Unless you read or saw the animated version of Inhumans, you would not know that Inhumans are awakened through Terrigen Mists that activate super powers in normal humans. Karnak walks readers through the story of Black Bolt and what the fall of Attilan has to do with Thanos. It’s an epic event in the Marvel U that actually deserves the description.

Marvel Knights: X-Men #2 (Marvel Comics) – B-

With all the complicated twists and turns of the other X-books, it’s nice to see a book go to the simplest of times. Knights debut ended with Wolverine finding his buddy Sabretooth in a tiny town in the middle of nowhere. Continuing the story, which had a very pulpy, Scooby-Dooish vibe, we find another lonely and confused mutant with the ability to project memories (good thing this wasn’t a teenage boy). It has a bit of social commentary that has been absent in X-Men recently. This is definitely a short series worth checking out.

Superior Spiderman #23 (Marvel Comics) – B

Man, just when you think you can get used to Octavius as Spiderman, he pulls a major jerk move and messes with our pal Flash Thompson AKA Venom. We saw him go too far with his black & white justice approach with Cardiac earlier in the series, and now he’s really fighting with fire, tricking Flash into undergoing surgery to help him walk again, but extracting the Venom symbiote from Flash altogether, who now has Darth Maul legs. Once free, it latches onto the most suitable host in the room. I’m pretty excited to see how Otto thinks he can get himself out of this one, if he even wants to.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Micro-Series (The Shredder) #8 (IDW Comics) – C

When you really think about it, Oroku Saki aka The Shredder never really talks. I mean, he never really has to. A few speeches about how much he hates Splinter and the turtles or how disappointed he is in the Foot, sure, but when it comes to actually talking, it just doesn’t happen. This whole issue focuses on Shredder’s journey through the after-life, which is on its own, pretty entertaining and well-drawn. However, his lack of personality really put a damper on what could be a pretty cool Japanese folklore-based story.

Terminator: Salvation – The Final Battle #1 (Dark Horse Comics) – B+

This Terminator comic begins almost exactly like the first three terminator movies. Human and Terminator alike come back in time, Terminator kills people for clothes and the human runs from the police. The story fluctuates between the present day timeline and the future of 2029. Being a continuation of the movie, it is actually necessary that you watch the film in order to understand who a few characters are. That being said I am very excited to see where they take this series. Being a major fan of the series, I am very interested to see how they finally end the saga.

Trillium #5 (Vertigo Comics) – A-

The dimensions of a comic book page are 6-7/8″ x 10-1/2″ and Jeff Lemire seems to fill up every square inch with quality work. Issue #5 is split horizontally into two stories, read from opposite ends of the book to give the impression of two different stories. Swapped places in time and space, Billy and Nika are losing their minds trying to figure out how they got there. Right off the bat, things are out of place. There will be nobody named Clayton in the future of outer space; I simply refuse to believe it. I don’t know where this wild ride is going, but we have three issues to save the world and get these star-crossed lovers back to each other.

Velvet #2 (Image Comics) – B+

James Bond meets La Femme Nikita in this spy thriller. Only two issues in and we are uncovering a web of lies and a screw job within a secret government organization. Full of action and espionage, the second issue digs a bit deeper. Velvet boasts a strong female lead and a deep storyline to explore. If you haven’t picked up on Velvet yet, I strongly suggest getting into this spy thriller.

Funniest Panel of the Week:

Bobby breaks the ice in Amazing X-Men #2
Bobby breaks the ice in Amazing X-Men #2

Epic Panel of the Week:

The real Peter Parker saves  the day in Amazing Spiderman #700.1
The real Peter Parker saves the day in Amazing Spiderman #700.1

Cover of the Week:

TMNT Villain Micro-Series #8, written by Paul Allor and drawn by Dan Duncan
TMNT Villain Micro-Series #8, written by Paul Allor and drawn by Dan Duncan

That about wraps it up for our reviews this week! Look for next week’s previews coming soon. Any comic books you didn’t see reviewed that you want reviewed? Any grades you didn’t agree on? Let us know in the comments!

All images taken from ComiXology app and the credit for them goes to the respective publishers; thanks to IDW Comics, image Comics, Dark Horse, DC and Marvel for putting out great books.

Written by Sherif Elkhatib, John Soweto and Robert Michael