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Augmented #1 (review)

Augmented #1 (review)
Tenacious Comics, 2016
Writer: Bill Stoddard

Science fiction writer William Gibson’s most famous work, “Neuromancer” (1982, Doubleday Books) featured a character named Molly. Molly was an mercenary who had various technological implants – accelerated reflexes, night vision, and retractable razors built into her fingertips. In a sequel, “Mona Lisa Overdrive” (1988), Molly has come off second best in a cage fight and bears a long abdominal scar from when she was gutted by a younger, quicker adversary.

This title has a similar premise. In many ways it is a natural extrapolation on the global popularity of mixed martial arts and advances in biotechnology. The title is described in its promotional copy as follows:

“The Augmented Fighters League, or AFL, has become the number one source of entertainment in the United States. Athletes from all over the world are sought after by rich individuals to be physically enhanced and turned into modern day gladiators. Ex-MMA fighter and current prison inmate Marcus Chambers is offered just that; a chance to fight in the AFL and escape his prison sentence through the sponsorship of tech company CEO Marshall Wylen. Bestowed with the state of the art S.P.I.N.E. apparatus, Marcus is turned into a fearsome fighter with skills beyond the likes of which the AFL has ever seen. Unfortunately for him, there is more to Wylen than he thinks…”

The story is actually more sinister than that. Marcus is not aware of two pertinent things prior to being operated upon and enhanced:

a. His predecessor was decapitated in combat when his robotics froze mid-bout. Clearly there are some bugs in the technology;

b. Marcus’ new nanite-enabled nervous system is subject to a slave switch. When Marcus challenges his new boss upon being told that the cage fighting is without end, Marcus is reduced to being a pit bull. The press of a button causes Marcus agony.

This is an entertaining science fiction adventure with a straightforward premise and unfolding of the plot, but one which is deeply rooted in a contemporary ethical issue. Inserting magnets into a finger is neither here nor there, and in-built defibrillators and carbon fibre implants are positively helpful, the ethics of elective body modification are a live issue. At the end of this first issue, Marcus realised that there is no going back: the expensive implants are permanent and life-shaping. Would anyone voluntarily engage in elective body enhancement within the parameters that, like any machine, things can foul up and might not be able to be replaced?

There is one last, very tangential thing to note. In Australia, the most popular sport is a peculiar form of football called “Australian Rules”. The national league is called the Australian Football League, or “AFL”. No players in that antipodean version of the AFL appear to benefit from surgically implanted technology, nor have there ever been any beheadings.