In the world of Analog, a bunch of angry, apparently pro-privacy activists have turned the entire web into an open book. It’s how they got back at a Mark Zuckerberg wannabe who wanted to harvest people’s private information and use it for his own sinister ends. Now, nefarious forces want to get in on the offline information sharing trade that has popped up in place of the web. The protagonists responsible for this all will go to morally questionable lengths for their survival…
The last issue doubled down on the latter point, eventually asking us to consider whether those who acted out of supposed morality actually have any morality themselves. At what point is someone playing God, even if the intentions are noble? And are our two protagonists actually noble, or are they just hypocrites of the worst kind? In this issue, that question is expanded further and encompasses all of us. Are we, as humans, as good as we think we are, or are we just all hypocrites?
Jack McGinnis, the “hero” of the series, makes his way to Tokyo to deliver another briefcase, after a brief interruption in the last issue involving his partner-in-crime Oona. It’s entertaining to see the main villain, Uncle Sam, and her organization turned into the chumps they should be in rather quick order, as they are trying to infiltrate the paper courier business and gain access to those secrets that Jack and others like him are tasked to transport in the post-Internet era. Unfortunately for them, Jack detects their representative on his flight and makes quick work of him, and this all happens discreetly, before the flight lands. With Uncle Sam and her organization out of the way, Jack is greeted by his mysterious client and is attacked right away by other forces that are eventually dispatched. As the group arrives at the “drop point” and Jack unburdens himself of what appears to be a tape reel, he is taken to meet something called the “Project” by special request.
Here’s where it gets really interesting. The “Project” turns out to be a massive artificial intelligence life form that takes up residence inside a floor in this office. It takes possession of numerous mechanical beings, including robotic dolls, robot cats, robot apes, and others, to evoke responses and gain information from humans, in this case Jack, as needed. It begins to ask curious, thoughtful questions of Jack, particularly about his involvement in the “unplugging” while the other engineers and/or residents of his client’s base watch nervously. It seems that somehow, the “Project” has gained significant importance with the crew that Jack is working with. Key among its questions is trying to understand why it was stopped from accessing the web after the unplugging. Yet at the same time, the crew lives in fear of it, to the point that when Jack points out this fear that “everyone” has to the AI, everyone else panics and the muscle decides to kick Jack out. While Jack is being tossed out, the AI makes an incredible statement: “it is not an ethical problem to use data that is freely given” that immediately reminds Jack of what got them in trouble in the first place. Before Jack can react, he is tossed into a van and informed he will be going home and won’t be allowed in Japan again.
Talk about a prime example of trying to “have your cake and eat it too.” Jack and Oona are certainly flawed individuals as we learned in the last issue. But if nothing else, they are driven by the same consistent factor: self-preservation. On the other hand, Jack’s Tokyo clients want to burn both ends of the candle when it comes to the core argument the story is trying to make. Compare these two parties further. Jack and Oona are content to go off the radar and have accomplished what they needed to, just running the courier jobs now. But the clients, while obviously supportive of the unplugging, can’t seem to extricate themselves from technology and have walked into the same scenario those that they strived against created — becoming fearful and enslaved by technology. Why would these folks tout the value of taking down the web to protect people’s human rights from being breached and in the same breath develop and nurture technology that threatens to do the same (even by their own admission)? It speaks to the human condition — we as humans cannot quell our curiosity — and with the AI scene, Duggan seems to suggest that even though we know that curiosity could put our lives and the lives of others in grave danger, we skirt close to the edge anyway. Privacy at all costs, while playing fast and loose with human freedom (that AI would theoretically put at risk)? The reader is left to decide for one’s self whether this seeming hypocrisy is okay, or deplorable. One concern with this approach that I have — Jack is a very simple, straightforward narrator, not getting into “deep thoughts,” so it’s a big risk to expect the reader to figure all this out with almost zero exposition (even though I feel like I was able to figure it out, I happen to have a personal passion for AI and its ethical implications).
There isn’t much drifting from Jack in this issue, unlike the last few episodes, which can be a bit of a downer. Naturally, you wonder what’s going on with Oona, with Jack’s dad, and even the Zuckerberg wannabe from issue #1. But Duggan has established by now that his technique relies on a serialization of sorts, where every issue almost feels self-contained even though we know it’s all part of a running story. And there’s still plenty to do; the concept of self-preservation fills in the “down time” in the form of fights that introduces another party to the mix. Last issue, we saw that Jack and Oona were willing to do whatever it takes to stay alive and protect each other, even kill if needed. Jack keeps that up on his flight through his encounter with Uncle Sam’s goon, but it becomes clear by the end of the book that the party that tried to accost his client before he met the Project likely feels the same way about AI and freedom as he and Oona felt about the Internet and privacy. While the contents of that reel are unclear, you can bet it has to do with this mysterious new entity.
The addition of cover colorist Jordie Bellaire to the interiors has really elevated the visuals on this book. After I noted that the art seemed to be thrown together pretty sloppily in issue #2, last issue and this issue have really restored some crispness that seems to be the result of O’Sullivan being able to focus primarily on pencils. There are a ton of fascinating moments that are almost cinematic in their presentation, notably when Jack and crew arrive in Tokyo and we see a motley band of assailants that try to stop them upon arrival (shoutout to the midget grandma). Then there’s the unforgettable abode of the Project, which allows O’Sullivan to play on his own art style by forcing everything to be blocky and choppy even more so than usual. The robotic animals, children and others have a creepy innocence to them that Jack takes in stride but the client personnel are fearful of. Capturing this variety in mood can be difficult but O’Sullivan does a great job of it.
After a few issues where the broader implications of an epic storyline took a back seat while we built out the villains and heroes as characters, Duggan, O’Sullivan and Bellaire drop the bombshell of a colorful and varied AI and its threat to human freedom into the mix of a stew of the web, privacy and corporate greed. We were already re-evaluating our opinion of the goodness of our heroes after the last issue, but now it’s totally unclear which side to root for as the players seem to all have questionable motivations. What a way to take us to the finish line.