By Ben Boruff
Each year, I teach George Orwell’s 1984 to high school seniors. We compare 1984 to a number of dystopian stories, including novels like Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, Huxley’s Brave New World, and Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale. We watch trailers for dystopian movies like Gattaca, V for Vendetta, and Snowpiercer, Joon-ho Bong’s post-apocalyptic parable about the socioeconomically divided inhabitants of a globe-traveling train. Though it is not as nuanced as 1984, Andrew M. Jackson’s Halfworld: The New Pioneers is an intriguing addition to this socially and politically charged genre. Dystopian stories are, in essence, cautionary tales. The New Yorker’s Laura Miller published an article about dystopian fiction in which she argues, in part, that young adult dystopian stories like Divergent and The Hunger Games do not operate as cautionary tales in the same way as adult novels like 1984 and Brave New World, but the point remains: dystopian tales warn audiences about possible social or cultural pitfalls. Halfworld: The New Pioneers paints a bold picture of collective apathy against a backdrop of cyberpunk debauchery, and it portrays hope—faith in humanity’s ability to overcome its own flaws—as an accident. The characters in Halfworld: The New Pioneers have given up.
Andrew M. Jackson’s comic offers a tasteful futuristic social commentary—bits of Transmetropolitan’s wit and despair sprinkled over the doughy plot of Syfy’s Ascension. Halfworld: The New Pioneers operates less like a casual narrative and more like an urgent allegory, which means that the plot moves quickly from one symbolic moment to the next. Jackson’s dialogue is lean, and the characters operate like pieces on a chess board, moved only by Jackson’s invisible hand as he plays against the ideological target of his comic: hope.
Like many effective dystopian narratives, the first issue of Halfworld: The New Pioneers lacks hope, but Jackson’s comic does not include the typical emotional relief that audiences of other dystopian stories enjoy. The first issue of this comic offers more sticks than carrots, a fact that is visually rendered by artist Christopher Wright as a series of appropriately dark, shaded panels that contain the thin, straight lines of the comic’s characters. Readers are told that Halfworld, a superstructure that keeps the world somewhat intact, is decaying—and no one can fix it. In one particularly expository panel, the comic’s protagonist—a somewhat depressed version of Fix-It Felix—says, “It’s a slow rust up there. We can delay it, but we can’t fix it.” Ominousness drips from this comic.
The first issue of Halfworld: The New Pioneers is intriguing, but it is not captivating—not yet. Much of the comic’s social commentary has been made before. Brave New World and Fahrenheit 451 warn us about the dangers of technology and escapism, and Spike Jonze’s Her explores the extent to which artificiality invades our reality. This issue of Halfworld: The New Pioneers offers only fragments of an intellectually stimulating dystopian world, and my hope is that these fragments will come together in future issues. I am interested in Halfworld, but I am not yet concerned about its citizens.
Halfworld: The New Pioneers #1
Writer: Andrew M. Jackson
Artist: Christopher Wright
Publisher: New Pioneer Comics