By Patrick Larose
To put this simply: The Solar Grid is the best science fiction comic coming out of anywhere right now.
If you haven’t read either of the two issues yet and want to go in spoiler free or just want to escape before I start throwing around phrases like “consequential dissonance” let me just stress how good this comic is.
Our editor-in-chief, Dustin, gave the first issue a 5/5 in his review. I’m giving the second a 5/5 here. This is a comic that shares its lifeblood with books like Transmetropolitan and V for Vendetta—not just for its visual density in world-building but because of how it invites a conversation about environmentalism and the global politics of the here and now.
Too many current science fiction comics use the genre as set-dressing for bombastic narratives—opting for a particular aesthetic over addressing the social fiction nature of the genre. So in a lot of ways The Solar Grid has felt like a strong dose of medicine for all the issues I’ve been having with the industry as of late.
Each issue of The Solar Grid has held a density of visual information, a wealth of intelligent ideas to unpack underneath of layer of human and insightful stories. The narrative being weaved here isn’t a story chopped into pieces and spread across a nine issue series. Every issue has its own clear narrative purpose, its own moments and perspective to understand in a world to explore. Always still cohesive enough to avoid anthology but still condensed to be engaging.
There hasn’t been a comic so far this year that I’ve gone back to and reread as many times as I have the first two issues of this series. After every reading, my perspective on some aspect of the story changed. Rereading the first issue after the second changed how I saw and thought about that issue. Even just reading the quote that ends the second issue changed how I thought about that issue.
That’s partly what’s made this review so hard to write. The overall themes and perspective of corporate and government control and interventionism in both the social and environmental climate are clear but the subtle insides of this dark and apocalyptic future while the human narratives spin therein feel complex and real.
The stand-out sequence of the second issue involves the richest and smartest man in the world coming on TV and explaining why he’s going doom Earth to a desolate, garbage-filled wasteland future.
Most media would save their villain’s evil plot dump until the climax but most media would also make these villains wrong. Even when Alan Moore gave Ozymandias his “I did it thirty minutes ago” speech and had him explain how killing a few justified saving the whole, there was a clear moral argument to counter with. There’s always a philosophical or conceptual flaw in their plan.
The closest thing The Solar Grid currently has to a villain is Sharif Algebri and the problem is, he’s not wrong. Algebri is not only the richest and the oldest man in the world, he's also the smartest. Since his introduction, he works one step ahead of everyone in the room, able to predict the possibilities of riots before the hashtags are even trending on Twitter. He's a man who's almost always right.
He's right when he accuses the media of preying on Islamophobia to raise public sentiment against him and he's right when it came to tracking his company's whistleblower to China. Algebri is right as the page contorts to his figure sitting in his office, domineering over the people around him through his knowledge and speechifying.
When Algebri goes on television, however, the format of the paneling changes. Across both issues, Ganzeer has shown television broadcasts in these squared framed talking heads similar to how Frank Miller did it in The Dark Knight Returns. The newscasters are detached from their own word bubbles, isolated in a pristine and alien reality while their words are left to stand on their own. Their images are stiff pantomimes while their words shallow and hollow.
For Algebri, they’re something else entirely. The page and the panel cannot cave to his charisma, his intelligence, and wealth here. For the first time, the reader takes him and his words both separately and at their face value. The extended camera tracking reveals his micro-expressions and ticks, revealing a person who is shockingly genuine.
He’s calm, rationalized. He bares facts and when he explains his plan for Skyquench, the machine that will inevitably desolate the planet, and it all makes sense. Algebri is intelligent and advocates for a type of environmentalism but it’s an environmentalism that removes agency from those that need it most of all. He’s so used to being the smartest man in the room, so frustrated with everyone else always two steps behind him, Skyquench becomes his chance to fix everything by himself.
However, just because someone’s right doesn’t mean their plans will work. There’s always a gap between intention and reality that’s nestled in the heart of interventionism. Algebri’s frustrated breakdown on live TV transitions to the two kids picking for scraps across what’s left of the planet. They’re living in the billionaire’s prophesized “utopia.” They’re left wearing hazard suits and picking through garbage in a landscape they’ll never escape.
They’re the victims of a rich man from hundreds of years in the past and this forces us to confront the way international actions of the wealthy and powerful doom the people we’re deceiving ourselves as “saving.”
2016 marks the 25th year since the United States started the war in Iraq. Despite the war officially ending in 2014, American airstrikes and raids are still conducted across Afghanistan and the Middle East. The destruction and devastation this continues to cause for civilian life in these places go unmentioned by the candidates in the United States' current election cycle.
While this is definitely a US-centric reading, The Solar Grid opens a conversation to acknowledge the unwitting deeds of interventionism—of people who believe themselves as any type of superior over others. The effects of American interventionism are so easily ignored by us because of how abstracted it is. These are things happening “over there” to “others” and never us. How can we possibly predict the reverberations of our complicit silence and support of our politicians and the people above us?
And how were all of Algebri’s calculations and plans meant to accommodate two kids 400 years in the future?
The Solar Grid #2
Purchasable Here: http://thesolargrid.net/