Symmetry #1 (review)
(Image Comics/Top Cow, December 2015)
Writer: Matt Hawkins
This intelligent, compelling comic by writer (and editor) Matt Hawkins has its roots manifestly embedded in “The Time Machine”, a book written by H.G. Wells in 1895 (Heineman).
In “The Time Machine”, the nameless English voyager in his time travelling machine heads into a far future (802701 AD) where humans have evolved into two different species: the golden, beautiful, harmless and thoughtless Eloi, who live above the world’s surface, and the brutish subterranean Morlocks, who tend to machines, perform tasks the purpose of which is long forgotten, and who prey upon the frivolous Eloi. It was and remains a haunting tale which has not dated at all, but it carries a significant social message.
Mr Wells was making a radical point both about evolution and about class stratification. On evolution, Mr Wells argued by way of this text that not evolution leads to change and adaption, and not necessarily civilisational advancement: the application of Darwinian theory to humans could instead led to societal and cultural degeneration.
On class, Mr Wells deplored rigid class structures. a system where the workers supporting the elite, would lead to decay. The decadence of the bourgeoisie would lead to fraility and the lack of a need to reason. The generational exploitation of the working class would have different, but equally dreadful consequences.
“The Time Machine” was a revolutionary text in its day, stewing together the new theory of evolution and equally new Marxist theories of labour, class and oppression of workers. Perhaps the future envisaged by “Symmetry” is somewhere along this timeline, along a path towards the future of the Eloi and Morlocks. “Symmetry” is a glimpse of what on the face of it presents as an idyllic existence devoid of gender bias, sexual jealousy, capitalism, creativity, and crime. Humans are well-educated, have safe and parent-free childhoods, choose their own gender, and have open sexual relationships. It is a closed system, regulated by benign software and policed by empathetic robots. Each person has an omnipresent guardian artificial intelligence. People can choose mild adventure, or they can choose a career of leisure. The humans we see in this text are essentially proto-Eloi.
All seems golden perfect, aside from a violent incident in the introductory pages. A man is running, seemingly delusional. His internal monologue is desperate, fixated on what as become an alien concept: love. The man is chased through alarmed crowds by sinister-looking, fast and superhumanly strong androids in black suit and tie, with emotionless blue spherical visors for faces.
In a titanic leap a robot plummets out of the sky and lands heavily on a roof, and the man loses his balance and tumbles from the height. The pursuing robots stand about the dying msn, apparently bewildered by the rationale of the man’s terrified run, and the man bleeds out. His last words are, “Why, why were we never told the truth?” None of the frightened crowd, confronted with the strangeness of violent death, seem to notice that notwithstanding the androids’ puzzled dialogue between themselves, the man’s apparently accidental death was caused by the calculated impact of the robot.
A problem of systems stability, including societal stability, is that random or planned novelty can be utterly disruptive. There are many examples of this occurring On a civilisational level in Jared Diamond’s book, “Germs, Guns and Steel” (1997, W. Norton) . Famine, new interaction between civilisations, disease, and climate change, sometimes in combination, are the typical causes of change in human civilisations. The most successful disruptions of all time were the five successive, apocalyptic meteor strikes which eventually caused the extermination of the dinosaurs and the rise of mammals as (arguably) the planet’s lead species.
Mr Hawkins uses a cosmic disruptive trigger in his tale, towards the end of the first issue. A solar flare catastrophically affects an enormous stratospheric tower, causing mayhem as robots and AIs in the area are suddenly without power. It is an act of God delivered upon a godless society. A forbidden zone in the tower is revealed to Michael, the protagonist of the story. And he meets an unconscious and wounded black woman. It is apparent this is the first time has had encountered racial diversity in humans, as he is puzzled by her skin colour and questions whether she has been burned in the catastrophe. It then becomes clear that Michael is in fact the man in the opening sequence, and that he has both just met his love, and that he is, therefore, doomed.
The implications of this story is that the proto-Morlocks, to paraphrase Mr Wells’ term again, are actually black people. There is not just a class division, but also a racial one. In “Symmetry”‘s brave new world, it seems the machines benevolently guiding post-industrial humans might have decided that external appearances such as skin tone and racially distinctive features are also a cause of conflict between humans, and elected to go with Caucasians over all other racial groups. If that is where this story is leading to, then the world of this story.is an amoral utopia for one type of ethnicity, and a potential purgatory for all others.
This story is, when closely examined, a highly critical indictment of the contemporary lifestyles of white people and black people in Western society, or perhaps the Global North competing with the Global South, and where Mr Hawkins projects it will all lead. Mr Hawkins extrapolation has a disheartening conclusion.
In the tradition of millenial writers such as George Bernard Shaw, Mr Hawkins has also included a political manifesto in the last few pages of the issue. Mr Hawkins uses these pages to explain his research methodology on utopias, but also asks pointed questions about the nature of creativity, the impact of capital, and the nature of tribal community.
Mr Hawkins has demonstrated by this first issue alone that he is worthy to walk in the footsteps of Mr Wells. “Symmetry”#1 is insightful and brilliant, and over time we think – or at least hope – will become a classic 21st century fin de siecle text.