The plug for Four Tet’s “Morning/Evening” in the VMP member store went something like “Four Tet is a brilliant artist who does consistently brilliant work and you should buy his records because they’re brilliant.” Pretty sure I butchered it, but you get the idea.
The same idea applies to Rick Remender, a superstar comic author who recently left Marvel to focus on his family life and a stable of top-notch creator-owned titles with Image Comics. These include Black Science, Low, Deadly Class (my personal favorite), and the brand new Tokyo Ghost, a white knuckle cyber-punk (emphasis on punk) thrill ride through the year 2089. Hopefully, the first issue is still on the stands at your local comic shop right now when you read this. Get it while you can.
In Tokyo Ghost, humanity’s reliance on technology has grown exponentially to the point where it has become a literal drug. People are fed a constant flow of content through Heads-Up-Displays, and their blood vessels are home to billions of tiny nano robots that alter both mind and body at will. Those with money never go a nano second without being entertained. Those without are always scrounging for their next tech fix. Either way, everyone is an addict. Everyone except our protagonist, Debbie Decay. Debbie is totally tech-free, and claims she is the only straight-edge (Minor Threat anyone?) person in all of the Isles of Los Angeles.
Led Dent is the muscle to Debbie’s brains. He is “net-blank;” totally engrossed in his HUD with so many nanites in his blood that he looks like an Unreal Tournament character on steroids (and every character in those games already look like they are on steroids to begin with). Together, they hunt down undesirables for Flak, the ominous corporation fueling society’s tech addiction. Debbie claims that after “this one last job” taking down mind-piloting psychopath Davey Trauma, she plans on taking Led to Tokyo, the last tech-free place on Earth. There she hopes she can get Led detoxed of all the tech in his system and back to his old self. We won’t know for sure until the next issues come out, but I have a feeling it’s not going to be that cut and dry, and as the issue unfolds, we find out Debbie suffers from some addictions of her own.
The day I came home from the comic shop with Tokyo Ghost #1, my VMP package with Four Tet’s “Pink” was waiting for me on my doorstep. Of course, I spun it immediately and cracked open my new comic. I started to see patterns, not unlike the beautiful ones that some Four Tet tracks make when pressed into fresh black wax. (The first panel of Tokyo Ghost is also a record playing in a dystopian universe. It was almost too perfect.)
For those who didn’t already know, “Pink” is a Four Tet singles collection, but to me, it sure doesn’t feel like a singles collection. Every song is its own self contained digital symphony, but the way it all fits together is just… right! Everything feels thematically connected, even if it’s an instrumental album and these themes I’m feeling are totally pulled from the spaces where my I let my mind wander in between “Locked” on side A to “Pinnacles” on side D. In the same vein, Tokyo Ghost #1 is the rare issue that works both as a self-contained single issue and a giant hook for an exciting new ongoing series.
When Tokyo Ghost #1 ended, its closing punchline recontextualizes all of the character beats that came before it. It lays down the gauntlet, promising both a wealth of tasty back-story for later issues to explore and a blank canvas for the sure-to-be-unexpected events in the future. Every time I re-read the issue, I pick up on a detail that seemed inconsequential at first, but held all the weight in the world when viewed under a different lens. A Four Tet track never really “lay down the gauntlet”, but the effect is still the same. The subtle permutations that Kieran Hebden builds into his seemingly sterile symphonies have a way of sneaking up on me. Everytime I listen to any of the songs on “Pink”, I find myself focusing on something new. While the song never changes, I can always count on a new detail to stick with me, or the same detail to stick to me in a different way than it had before.
Four Tet makes electronic music that feels organic and alive in a time where I feel electronic music is becoming more and more pre-programmed around climaxes and “drops.” With Tokyo Ghost, Remender tells a story that comments on how our lives are increasingly revolving around technology when maybe we should learn to take a step back and let it revolve around us for a change.
Hell, I have a lot of trouble unplugging myself everyday, but that’s why I’m so grateful to have a writer like Rick Remender kick me in the ass once or twice a month. His characters always remind me that no matter how much bad the bad guy is, our worst enemy is often ourselves. This idea pervades Remender’s best protagonists, including Grant McKay’s self-destructive quest to exploit Black Science, Marcus Lopez’s downward spiral into his own insecurities at Kings Dominion School of the Deadly Arts, the Caine family’s struggle to survive in the world that offers no hope of future life, or whatever hellish technological comedown that awaits our “heroes” in Tokyo Ghost.
Just as much, I’m so grateful for a musician like Four Tet who reminds me of the wonders of getting lost in my own mind twenty minutes at a time. In fact, twenty minutes is approximately how long it takes “Morning Side” to pass by, filling the air with its sonic sunrise and letting my own musings paint my mind’s sky. When Morning/Evening dropped, it floored me flat on my back in the most gentle and loving way possible. I had no idea that was something that Four Tet would make, and I have no idea what he will make next. I also have no idea where Remender is going to go with Tokyo Ghost, but I can’t wait to read more. Technology has to be programmed, and therefore it has to be predictable in order to function correctly, but Kieran Hebden and Rick Remender are human. They are unpredictable.