“The Art of War” Merges History with Science Fiction

Image Courtesy of Kelly Roman

Roman’s “The Art of War” is set in a near future where the Chinese dominate the American economy, as well as that of most of the rest of the world. This title is built on political and economic intrigue. However, even if you are not the economic/political intrigue type, there should be plenty of action and gore to keep you interested. The title is illustrated by Michael DeWeese in black and white with red highlights, to give the classic violent black and white comic look to great effect. True to its namesake, this graphic novel is laced with Sun Tzu’s sayings throughout (For those of you who skipped that day in school, Sun Tzu was a warlord in medieval China. He was widely regarded as a tactical genius and compiled his knowledge in a book of sayings titled “The Art of War.” There, now you are caught up.) The protagonist of “The Art of War,” also named Kelly Roman, is seeking to avenge his brother, who was killed in mysterious circumstances while working for a Chinese corporation.

It is not the setting itself is not that makes “The Art of War” unique, but the fictional events that lead up to the creation of that distopia. In the novel, China takes over the United States through economics, not military invasion. This has the result of devastating the country side and killing civilians through starvation and lack of medical care rather than bullets and bombs. Only major economic centers (such as New York) are spared the devastation due to their usefulness to the invading Chinese corporations. Through malicious investing through corporate proxies, the Chinese government is able to seize control of American food supplies, health care, military forces, and other key assets.

Additionally, as a result of the Chinese economic invasion of the United States, corporations remain the only functioning institutions in society. They conduct their own semi-religious services, bury their employees in private grave yards, and dole out marital discipline on employees and violent attacks on competitors without fear of legal repercussion.

Great science fiction presents either a utopian or distopian vision of the future; this is as equally true in comics as it is in film or prose. In tying a medieval Chinese warlord with a corporate CEO, the author is making a clear statement regarding the ruthless nature of corporations. In addition to criticizing corporations for being heartless entities being concerned with nothing else but profit, (Which has been done by other authors.) Roman makes a powerful statement about the future of war. In the author’s vision, the future of war will be at least partially economic. While there are political disagreements over the issue, the possibilities of Chinese economic or militarydomination sometime this century are certainly being discussed. In closing, what makes “The Art of War” most intriguing is the plausibility of its scenario.


As I Go Along: The Sandman #8: Worlds’ End

Note: “As I Go Along” is a new feature in which I review and discuss the best graphic novels and series that I haven’t yet had a chance to read. These are the titles your comic-loving friends have been trying to push into your hands for years, only now I’ll be doing the pushing (or telling you not to bother). The post will include spoilers for those who have not yet read the work.

When a world ends, there’s always something left over. A story, perhaps, or a vision, or a hope. This inn is a refuge, after the lights go out. For a while.

After the action-packed collection “Brief Lives,” which revealed some oft-mentioned but (previously) never spoken history of the “lives” of The Endless, we took another step back in “Worlds’ End,” which was a collection of semi-related short stories set in the “Sandman” universe, much like “Dream Country” and “Fables and Reflections.” What sets “World’s End” apart from those collections however, is that it builds to a specific endpoint. From the beginning of the story, we know that something momentous is brewing, and that all the interesting stories we’re hearing are almost meant to distract us and prevent us from remembering that fact.

“Worlds’ End” begins with two travelers from the world we’re all familiar with, Brant Tucker and Charlene Mooney, getting into a car crash when it mysteriously begins snowing in the middle of summer. While still in a daze, a mysterious hedgehog directs Brant to an inn unlike any he (or we) are familiar with—the “Worlds’ End, a free house.”

It’s later discovered that the inn is one of four where those travelling between dimensions, can stowaway during “reality storms,” which come as the result of particularly significant events. What sets “World’s End” apart from the early short story collections is that it builds to a specific endpoint. From early on, we know that something momentous is brewing, and that all the interesting stories we’re hearing are almost meant to distract and prevent us from remembering that fact. That endpoint is the inn’s guests gathering at a window to watch an enormous funeral procession in the sky, which is led by Desire and includes most of The Endless, more than a few residents of The Dreaming, and a number of other characters Morpheus has interacted with over the course of the series. As such, the most prevalent guess as to who lies in the coffin is Morpheus himself. The procession ends with Death stopping and looking through the inn’s window as the crescent moon behind her is covered in what is likely blood.

The thing is, it’s never actually confirmed that it’s Dream’s funeral we’re seeing. At least not yet. Although that big ending is forever chugging towards us, “Worlds’ End” might just be all about Neil Gaiman reminding the reader that what’s important in a really good story is the distance, not the destination (the telling, not the ending or the stakes). Instead of telling us why people (beings is more accurate) from so many realms are caught in a reality storm (or why we should give a shit), the whole “the world is coming to an end” thing is really just a backdrop for the stories the travelers are telling.

In the end, we learn that Brant is actually recounting the stories he heard at the Worlds’ End to a regular bartender, and that Charlene has ceased to exist (as she chose to stay and work at the inn). So it turns out, what originally appeared to be the frame story, all the travelers gathering, was actually wrapped up in another frame story. Frameception.

Although the stories within “Worlds’ End” have little impact on the main arc, they’re still an incredibly diverse, fantastic read. Despite the distinctiveness that each story (and fictional storyteller) brings, these six separate issues ultimately feel like one complete volume. Somehow, the pieces of the puzzle all fit. My two favorites were indubitably the first, “A Tale of Two Cities,” which Gaiman has admitted is utterly Lovecraftian, and “Hob’s Leviathan,” just because I’ve been captivated by Hob Gadling since we first heard his life story in “The Doll’s House.”

“Worlds’ End” had its fantastic moments, but at the end of the day, the stories I most want to hear are those of The Endless. As such, I’m looking forward to “The Kindly Ones,” the longest “Sandman” collection, which fixes the spotlight back on Dream.




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