Posts Tagged ‘business’

‘So here we are now… A world where corporations dominate the global economy. And they have more rights… more freedoms… more powers than we do.’ – Joe Casey, Wildcats 3.0

In among the other fictional businesses I mentioned yesterday was the Halo corporation, as featured in Joe Casey’s Wildcats 3.0. It’s such a good example, and such a favourite comic of mine, that I want to take a moment today to talk about one of the best comic books you’ve probably never read.

Wildcats 3.0 - even the cover's classy

Wildcats 3.0 – even the cover’s classy

Context

Somewhere around the turn of the century the folks running Wildstorm Comics suddenly got all adventurous. A brand previously devoted to superheroes who were supposedly edgy but actually about the eye candy, for a few years they turned into something more unusual. Warren Ellis shook up the world of superhero teams with the brutal and politicised Authority, as well as beginning his archaeological tour of modern culture in Planetary. Brubaker and Phillips proved the slickly malevolent power of superpowered noir with Sleeper. And Joe Casey cranked his long-running work on Wildcats up a notch with the relaunch as Wildcats 3.0.

Wildcats 3.0 was a superhero team book, and like many superheroes that team used a corporation as their cover. But unlike those other books, Wildcats 3.0 turned the corporation into a central feature of the book. This was superhero comics reflecting on the age of global corporate power, and still telling an exciting story along the way.

Big issues, big action

Wildcats 3.0 looked the growing power of corporations straight in the eye. It was the first place I read about the disturbing precedent set by Santa Clara County vs. Southern Pacific Railroad, giving corporations many of the rights of people. It showed the terrifying reach and potential of these entities.

But it didn’t get preachy. This was no anti-globalisation rant. The Wildcats took the power of the corporation and ran with it, using it as a way to transform the world, spreading technology and ideas through this most modern of institutions.

The concept was mind-blowing to me and gave the comic a whole different edge. That isn’t to say that Wildcats 3.0 was a one trick pony. There was corporate espionage, superhero action, and some wonderfully messy inter-character conflicts, as the interests of big business, benevolent world domination, crime and personal satisfaction all came into conflict. It was a book that said ‘look what corporations could do’, but also one that reflected the costs of their impersonal power.

It helps that the art was also great. Bold and dynamic throughout, Dustin Nguyen and Richard Friend’s early issues in particular showed that a scene of talking heads could be visually exciting.

Alas, poor Wildcats

Of course it was too good to last. The comic was cancelled after 24 issues, and the Wildcats went back to their old action adventures. But if you want to see what a fictional corporation can really be like then try to hunt out the first volume, entitled Brand Building. It really is a superior slice of superhero comic.

I love a good fictional business, especially in science fiction and fantasy. Kingdoms and nations are all well and good, but there’s something more fluid about a company, something about its aims and practices, the way it crosses borders and slides quietly into the corners of our lives, that makes it more interesting. Something that makes it, in many cases, more sinister.

What Batman made on his lunch break

What Batman made on his lunch break

Businesses of the future

Science fiction is the obvious home for this, whether it’s the corporate hegemonies of a William Gibson novel or the extreme hedge funds of Richard Morgan’s Market Forces. Corporations are the staple villains of techno-thrillers and cyberpunk, Big Brother. Its that insidious nature, that ubiquity, that focus on profit over principle that fits them so well to a world built on sci-fi and noir.

Superheroes and the business as mask

In the superhero genre corporations play a more benign and far less interesting role. They’re usually the cover operation for a superhero, whether it’s Batman, Green Arrow or Iron Man. Sometimes their nature as businesses might play into the plot, as Bruce Wayne uses his front companies to move technology around or Tony Stark faces a corporate takeover. But for the most part these are just companies as masks, empty of the stuff businesses do. Even Lex Luthor mostly uses super science for his nefarious schemes, not the more straightforward mechanism of investments and mergers.

A notable exception to the superhero pattern was Joe Casey’s last two years writing the Wildcats, under the title Wildcats 3.0. Teleporting android Spartan takes over running the Halo front company and starts using it to change the world. For the first time the alien technology the Wildcats have access to gets to change the world they live in. And then… poor sales, fascinating book cancelled due to lack of fist fights and lycra-clad women. Damn.

Monetising fantasy

There’s also a hint of business in Joe Abercrombie’s fantasy novels, with the occasional appearance by the sinister banking house of Valint and Balk. I love seeing business intrude in the unfamiliar space of a fantasy world, combining the innovations of Europe’s early banking houses with the implication of dark forces in the background. Because modern business didn’t just leap fully formed from the forehead of Adam Smith, and it’s interesting to see someone working with the grey world of their emergence.

So yes, I love a good fictional business, in all its myriad forms.

How about you? Can you think of classic examples of fictional businesses that I’ve missed? Do you enjoy their presence or see them as just one more part of the scenery? Leave a comment, let me know.

 

Picture by Images Money via Flickr creative commons