Morituri Blog: Bloom on the Rose

Strikeforce: Morituri is largely concerned with its younger cast, and most of its Big Ideas are kind of couched in the ways in which they interact with young people, which makes sense. Everything often seems so much more intense at that age, as the entire world of Big Ideas seems to be settling on you. But none of those ideas is particularly exclusive to youth. And making it past that brash age and into what one might think of as “experienced” doesn’t save us from any of them.

Beth Luis Nion wasn’t meant to be a Morituri. She was their commander, meant to stand at a reserve and move the pawns. She had the skill. The experience. And she was just as vulnerable to the overwhelming nature of idealism as anyone.

Nion fell in love with one of “The Black Watch,” those experienced soldiers who were the first to undergo the Morituri process. In her exuberance, Nion made a brash choice, undergoing the Morituri process in order to share something unique and special with the man she loved. If I had a dollar for every time I underwent life-threatening scientific experimentation for a guy, amiright?

In any case, the age of The Black Watch soldiers meant that they lasted nearly no time at all before the energies within them consumed their bodies. Nion, however, their contemporary, lasted much longer. In-story, the theory is that her low-level ability (the power to make flowers bloom) kept the consuming energies from burning too quickly.

But if we look at her power outside the story, I think there’s plenty of useful metaphor to go around here, as well. It seems small, but, come on, there’s a reason the expression is “stop and smell the roses.” Nion is the commander. She’s meant to watch. To observe. Of course her power is about the little things, which of course aren’t little at all.

I’ve said before that this is a series that manages to find hope in the midst of so much darkness. I think Commander Nion points us to some of the how. Big, crashing war and death and despair and ugliness are all around, but even here, if you look, there’s something wonderful to find. It might be glory, or faith, or art, or a painfully-brief romance. It might be a flower. But they’re all of them worth whatever joy you can eke from them.

I think Brent Anderson and Scott Williams actually sum up all of it in a really amazing page that ends the book’s first year. Click it for full size, because oh my god, this page, people.

It’s a combination of the deaths of both Robert (Marathon) and Commander Nion. At the top is the raucous explosion which marks Robert finding his moment of glory. At the bottom is the far quieter passing of Nion. And both of them cast off ripples which are just as large and just as important and just as heartbreaking and beautiful. And in between is … well … just about everything.

Which, I think, makes my point far better (and certainly more breathtakingly) than I ever can.


Morituri Blog: Find Your Moment

It’s kind of impossible to have a story with so much imminent death and not explore the idea of finding one’s purpose. Mortality in general pushes us to find a meaning in our existence, of course, but the hyper-condensed lifespan of the Morituri heightens this drive. Nowhere is that more apparent than in the person of Robert Greenbaum – Marathon.

In most other books, Robert would have been the lovable, big, protective lug. Even in Strikeforce: Morituri he plays that role as the series begins. In that fairly brief period, he’s content to be The Big Guy who lets other folks do the thinking and tries to keep everyone safe. But after first Lorna, then Harold, fall to the ravages of the process these young folks have undergone, it becomes clear that there is no more time to be complacent. With so very little time left to live, Marathon begins in earnest to seek out his purpose, to find that moment which might give his life and his sacrifices meaning.

Like a lot of young people, he falters in that quest. He tries to go out in a fighting blaze of glory, but while there is much blazing, Robert’s clumsy attempts send him quite literally plummeting back to Earth. To be sure, it’s an epic fall.

And, unlike those normal humans who were subject to the “Highdive” previously, Robert miraculously survives. But in surviving, he finds himself faltering even further. He was the big one. The strong one. Surely he was meant to die in bloody battle? And yet, here he is, largely unscathed. Having no scars, or rather showing none, Robert seems to feel the need to make it clear exactly what he is. This, I think, is what leads to the rather unique method by which Robert marks himself. It’s as if he believes that what he needs to finally be a hero is a scar, a mark that screams “I matter.”

From Strikeforce: Morituri #11
Art by Brent Anderson and Scott Williams
Words by Peter B. Gillis

Here’s the thing: Robert’s struggle with purpose isn’t exclusive to him any more than genius is only Harold’s, or faith belongs solely to Jelene. It’s just that I think Robert provides a really focused example of the exploration of this particular theme in the series.

The nature of Robert’s powers is one of the things that I think makes him such a good candidate for exploring this notion of purpose. He’s strong and tough like all the Morituri, but Robert’s own physical might is far in excess of that of his teammates. Indeed, as Gillis clarifies a few issues in, Robert’s strength actually builds, but only for as long as he chooses not to use that strength.

It’s one of the odd things about that bridge from childhood to adulthood, when you wander into the middle ground, when you can see there might be an endgame, and it becomes dreadfully hard not to rush toward it. I don’t think Gillis is by any means suggesting that people sit on their backsides and wait for the world to serve up their destinies. This is a story about people who are living with the constant reality of their mortality; time is precious, and shouldn’t be squandered.

But that doesn’t mean it’s all a race, either.

It’s precarious, to be sure, and Robert’s up-and-down attempts to find the right time, to prepare himself to seize his moment, make that clear. But when Robert holds back, when he finally, fully steps back and not only waits, but watches1, he gathers the power he’s been after. Fulfills his purpose. Finds his moment.

And finally, finally, has that painful, bittersweet piece of meaning he’s been chasing for so very long.

From Strikeforce: Morituri #11. Art by Brent Anderson and Scott Williams, Words by Peter B. Gillis

1. I think this is another reason for Robert’s tattoo. Yes, he wants to be seen, but also — whether consciously or not — he’s discovering that finding one’s moment requires a special level of vision, as well.[back]

Morituri Blog: Divine Puzzles

That weekend reprint does seem to have gotten my Morituri brain going at least a little bit. No idea if this will turn into a fuller series of posts, but we’ll do this one and see if more happen to present themselves. This time up it’s faith, in the person of Jelene Anderson.

Developing the ability to understand the way just about anything works if she touches it and / or focuses her attention on it, Jelene takes the name Adept. It would have been easy to take Jelene–a woman of explicitly stated spiritual faith–and follow a narrative in which the de-mystification of the world simultaneously destroys that faith. With death raining down on all sides,1 and the standing trope in science fiction that magic and spirituality are science we don’t understand, it would hardly be out of place for the soul of the group to lose her own faith as knowing how everything works still doesn’t give her all the answers.

This is a dark story in general, after all. The Morituri are walking dead. No matter what they do, it’s over. If The Horde doesn’t kill them, their own bodies will. They are walking no-win situations. Disillusionment is kind of built into the very core of the story, starting from the first issue, as the harsh reality of these young peoples’ fates smacks them in the face.

One of the things I think Gillis does a great job at with this series, though, is juxtaposition. In a tale of imminent death, literally from without (The Horde) and within (The Morituri Effect), there are nevertheless all these moments of hope. It seemed completely counter-intuitive, and yet I think for the most part Gillis pulls them off. In fact, once I look back at it, it seems as if he couldn’t have told the story without them.

Jelene is another wonderful blending of concepts which seem–at least in a lot of science fiction contexts–contradictory, but which come together in an unexpected way. There is certainly a level of disillusionment with the governmental bureaucrats overseeing the program, as she is at one point locked away with various technologies in an effort to maximize her metahuman insights before she dies. Despite this, as Jelene’s powers grow, so does her faith in a higher power.

click for biggerness
Art by Brent Anderson and Scott Williams, words by Peter B. Gillis

As with Harold’s death previously, Jelene’s is another one which feeds into her goals and arc. Like a lot of Morituri, Jelene’s powers surge as she begins to near her end. She sees not just the workings of those objects near her, but begins to see the workings of the universe itself. And making those connections, witnessing some kind of unified quantification of the universe, she sees the creator she’s been seeking.

I think I’m making this sound more preachy than I think it reads. I didn’t get the sense that Gillis was trying to force some kind of belief system on the reader. Rather, he was taking the character to her natural conclusion. Which, yes, is her death. But, like I said before, the methods he uses manage to turn final, grim moments into this unexpected flare of hope which serves to pull the reader along, and kind of reinvests you in the narrative for the darkness yet to come.

1. In at least one case, this is quite literal: The Horde have adopted a tactic of taking prisoners just outside the edge of the atmosphere, and then throwing them out of their ships, where their bodies, burning upon re-entry, create a macabre shower of shooting stars.[back]

Archive: Morituri Blog: The Ravages of Genius

A long while back, I had ambitions of doing a multi-post series on the elements I saw at play in the original, Peter B. Gillis run on Strikeforce: Morituri. At the time, I only did the one. I did get the trade collections of that whole run for a gift semi-recently, though. Mayhap I’ll dig back into that. Even if I don’t, I did enjoy this look, so we’ll use that for my ‘five new posts’ reprint reward of the weekend

I made brief mention of a list of the many things Strikeforce: Morituri is “about.” Said list comes largely from my take on each of the primary characters. Each one has a power and a corny code-name and a gaudy costume, sure, but each one also helps Gillis explore a theme. If I’m not going to start with a proper overview, I can at least start with the first character, then: Harold C. Everson – Vyking.

Everson is our road in. In one of Gillis’ many tricks to cover exposition, Harold is a writer. A writer who wants to write a book on life as a Morituri. So, unlike with any number of other first-person narrators, it makes a certain sense that Harold would fill us in on the events leading up to the invention of the Morituri process, would cover information any average citizen should know. Out of story, he’s writing for people in the past; in-story, he’s writing for people in an uncertain future, whose knowledge of past events will be of indeterminate completeness.

Sorry, I’m already falling into asides. That Harold provides a handy expository tool is probably the least impactful development from making Harold a writer. The thing about the Morituri in general (especially the second generation, those six characters Gillis starts the series with), is that they sign up for the process for both the same and different reasons. Every single one of them has lived four years with an invading alien force, with their world ravaged and plundered and enslaved. All but the most hardened hearts are going to want to do something in that situation. So they sign on first because this is being billed as the best chance to destroy the Horde. But beyond that, they all have some secondary reason, each of which serves to set up their character arcs and set up the particular theme Gillis will use them to explore.

Morituri as embodied by Vyking, then, is the simultaneous gift and curse of intense artistic genius. Whether myth or reality, we’ve all heard it: true genius comes at a cost. Usually, it’s madness or a short, cruel life (or both). Art requires suffering, and thus the greatest art requires the greatest suffering.

Vyking’s powers give him that, to a degree. He has a wider audience than he might ever have had were he to remain Harold Everson. He has the eyes and ears of the planet. He can Make An Impact. His power plays out the archetype, as well. Vyking has two primary abilities: he has an unexplained mental link to the other Morituri and the active ability to redirect energies. The first is an easy fit for an argument regarding collective unconscious. The latter isn’t quite as obvious, but especially given the kind of “change the world” writing Harold wants to do, isn’t “redirecting energies” exactly the sort of thing he’s best suited for?

Art by Brent Anderson and Scott Williams,
Words by Peter B. Gillis

Like with all the Morituri during Gillis’ run, Vyking’s death is as emblematic of the character’s particular theme as his life and powers. As with the loss of all great genius, Vyking’s death leaves a vacuum which resonates to his peers. That sounds more purple than I mean it: see, Vyking literally leaves a vacuum, because when he dies, he blows a hole in the hull of a spaceship, and his teammates have to pull together to seal the breach.

It works as a metaphor for the “power of genius” argument, especially when you also consider that Harold’s choices wind up influencing his contemporaries. They finish the assault Harold chose to start. Another man, trying to emulate Harold, takes the Morituri process. He’s made his impact; he’s burned through his genius and thus achieved some level of immortality.

Except it’s simultaneously a load of hooey. This, too, comes back to the moment of Vyking’s death. His final plea gives it all away, as he blurts out “not before I’m finished!”

Here’s where Gillis earns his money, I think, in that he manages to both support and debunk the ideology of The Mad Genius. Vyking gets everything he hoped for, but he, as with all those like him, also loses that. As much as Gillis may acknowledge the trade-off, I think he similarly acknowledges that, no matter how you slice, it will never be a fair one. The more intense the genius, the greater the loss when it’s gone. No matter how much you’ve done, when you go, the potential to do more is gone. That fact becomes starkly and unmistakably clear in the hyper-empowered, hyper-condensed lives of the Morituri.

Original version published on Trickle of Consciousness