Image Comics’ new series Generation Gone is about the future, but the science-fiction comic isn’t set in the far flung. In fact, you’ll recognize its setting as practically identical to our own. Its characters live in a surveillance state, bogged down by the cost of health care, student loans, racial disparity and middle-class malaise. But writer Ales Kot and artist André Lima Araújo are nonetheless focused on the idea of the future — namely, who has the right to it. Millennials have had the future stolen from them, Kot suggests. They’re on the verge of stealing it back.
That’s a paraphrase from Mr. Akio, the shadowy government contractor whose behind the scenes actions launch Generation Gone into motion. Part Elon Musk, part J. Robert Oppenheimer, he’s working on mechanized weapons technology for the US government. His ambition is rooted elsewhere, in something called Project Utopia. “Everything in the world is code,” Akio explains to a board of government operatives. From computers to our phones, from traffic to the ocean’s waves, it’s all code. Including the human genome, which Akio believes he can rewrite to create a fleet of super soldiers.
Enter Elena, Baldwin, and Nick, three young hackers. Elena juggles double jobs to help pay for her mother’s cancer treatments and loans; Baldwin trains obsessively, downs green smoothies and reads news about the dire fates of Black men like himself; Nick stares at his phone, unable to process the loss of his brother Roy, silently eating with his parents, and tending to a toxic relationship with Elena. The three are a skilled bunch. They’ve successfully hacked into Akio’s mainframe, and they’ve got even bigger plans in mind: a digital bank heist that will allow them the freedom to pursue their dreams — paying off debts, dismantling the prison industrial complex, and scoring drugs, respectively.
But they don’t realize Akio’s on to them. Though his superiors have ordered him to terminate Project Utopia, he gets the idea to rewrite their genetic code without their knowledge, forcing them to become his test subjects via a numerical code flashing across their laptop screens. The resulting scene of body horror is straight out of Akira, allowing Araújo ample room to cut loose from the muted realism of the story thus far into the realm of violence. As Elena rises into the air, dazed and covered in black goo, the issue closes. How have they been changed?
Great science fiction has always examined the world around its readers. It’s in part prognostication — check the Philip K. Dick-ness of our present for confirmation of that — but just as much comment on the now. Those familiar with Kot’s Twitter feed will quickly get a sense of his politics, but he integrates his concerns about class, race, and twisted masculinity into the story with a believable grace. He’s not exactly subtle about any of it, but his approach isn’t ham-fisted, either. Araújo proves a great asset in this regard. His expressive style and character designs help give a sense of Elena’s hesitations, Nick’s casual cruelty, and Baldwin’s shimmering anger. In the issue’s climactic final pages, you even empathize with Akio, his exclamation of “what have I done?” suggesting that in his Silicon Valley-like desire for innovation, expansion, and disruption by any means, he simply never considered the potential human cost.
An intriguing beginning supported by compelling character work and high concepts, Generation Gone has the potential to speak to the revolutionary spirit coursing through youth culture. What happens when the power to define the future is finally handed over?