This year we are hosting a variety of looks back at 2019 as hosts and friends-of-the-show offer up the things that defined the year for them. Today we have fellow nerd lawyer and tabletop RPG writer, André La Roche, share the things that stood out to him this year. NOTE: This contains spoilers for the season finale of HBO’s Watchmen and DC Comics’ Doomsday Clock.
Wow. Wow, wow, wow. 2019 was a banner year for geekery. When D. Bethel asked me to contribute this year-end review, I had many options to choose from in my corner of geekery. In particular, I had to resist talking about the following honorable mentions: the release of Avengers: Endgame, the controversial ending of HBO’s Game of Thrones, the drama regarding Sony reclaiming the rights to Spider-Man from Marvel, before ultimately agreeing to share custody (Sony gets weekends and holidays), and the sky-is-falling hubbub around the release of Joker. (To be fair, I already wrote about that one here).
While I’m sure these events and many others will also be a part of others’ 2019 year-end discussions, the next three represent the highlights of my own particular year in geek.
Fixing Boomer Comics: Or, the Story of How Doctor Manhattan’s Heart Grew Three Sizes that Day
Earlier this year, an amusing story emerged regarding the hashtag “#fixingboomercomics.” In it, several artists identified problematic comic strips written and illustrated by Baby Boomer creators. These comics often depicted straight white middle class men puzzling and chortling over issues faced by their wives and children. Independent creators “fixed” these comics by adding a panel depicting the Boomer male protagonist, instead of making fun of others, engaging in the issues that interested them with good-natured curiosity. However, I don’t think the artists behind this movement predicted the highest profile incidence of this: not one, but two “fixes” of Watchmen by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons.
December 2019 showed the conclusion of not one, but two sequels to Watchmen. The first being the similarly-titled HBO television series, and the second being the comic book Doomsday Clock published by DC Comics. A proper analysis of each of these works independently, or even comparatively, would take more room than I have here. However, for our purposes the following suffices: both works end with a complete and tidying ordering of the moral universe which includes Adrian Veidt (aka Ozymandias) being apprehended for his act of terrorism in the original graphic novel, and the stoically amoral Doctor Manhattan dying after being overcome with feelings of love and hope (respective to the show and novel).
This is one of the few instances where I side with Alan Moore’s notorious hostility towards adaptations of his works. Watchmen, by design, was supposed to be a rejection of the white hats vs. black hats style of comic books. The bad guy killed millions, and got away, and the heroes turned a blind eye for the greater good. Both sequels saw fit to “fix” this carefully considered ending. To my great disappointment. The willingness to defy conventional superheroic storytelling was a large part of why this work stood out, and influenced a generation of comics to come after it. Though I enjoy hopeful and optimistic stories, I also at times enjoy those that end on darker notes. After all, I live in a world where Augusto Pinochet died peacefully in bed in his 90s after killing or disappearing thousands of political dissidents. This is the same world where members of the Bush administration are not presently in jail for waging a preventative war in Iraq, nor likely ever will be. It’s a world where children are being separated from their parents, held in cages along the U.S.-Mexican border, and in some cases reportedly experiencing sexual assault.
Works like the original Watchmen offer the following consolation: “Yes, the world can be a terrible place where justice is fleeting. You’re not alone in recognizing this, and yet, you can still carry on with grace and dignity.”
In the original Watchmen, the Boomer got it right.
HoX and PoTen
The X-Men franchise was my first true obsessive-compulsive venture into geekery as a child. Sure, I loved Transformers, Thundercats, and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but when it came to X-Men, I became an encyclopedia of useless knowledge—down to the characters’ heights and weights gleaned from their 1993 Skybox trading cards. After the success of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the X-Men assumed a less-prominent role in Marvel Comics—that is, until Marvel regained the movie rights to the property.
This year, Marvel published an ambitious relaunch of the X-franchise with the intertwined miniseries House of X (“X” as in the letter) and Powers of X (“X” as in the Roman numeral for “ten”). Or, as I like to call them, “HoX and PoTen.” D. Bethel has already discussed what HoX/PoX meant for him, but hey—when you have two X-fans contributing to a website, you’re bound to get some redundancy when X-Issues pop up.
This relaunch completely overhauled the high concept of the X-Franchise—all of mutant kind, including villains, find themselves united and creating their own island nation of Krakoa (the villain from the very first reboot of the franchise in 1975’s Giant-Size X-Men #1), and their own unique culture which includes their own language. On top of this, mutants no longer need fear death, due to the implementation of so-called “resurrection protocols.” Whether Krakoa’s inhabitants are truly able to cheat death isn’t something I’m convinced of.
HoX and PoTen and the “Dawn of X” phase that followed them, have all been imperfect. Despite this, though, the ambition behind this wide-ranging relaunch is undeniable. And in the hands of skilled storytellers, those gaps in the premise will no doubt meet with eventual patching. Overall, it’s good to see Marvel’s Merry Mutants receiving some tender love and care.
Technology is More Advanced Than You Know
“Technology is more advanced than you know.” This enigmatic statement, devoid of any other context, was uttered to me many years ago by a contact in the defense sector. At the time, I found this statement incredibly curious. After all, I consider myself reasonably well-informed. I get my news from a variety of sources with a variety of political and world views. I have friends who are researchers in many fields or employees at leading tech companies and ask them about the work that seems interesting and daring. I always had a rough sense of what was coming down the pike. Or so I thought.
2019 was the year where reports of credible UFO sightings made the news. The most noteworthy of which was the U.S. Navy confirmation of video from 2004 depicting a UFO—now rebranded as Unidentified Aerial Phenomenon (UAP) that reportedly broke the known laws of physics: hovering in mid-air, and accelerating from a dead stop to a speed of approximately 2,400 miles per hour.
Now, as much as I wish this were evidence of extraterrestrial life, I can’t claim that it is. What it is evidence of, is a technology so radically advanced that it defies conventional wisdom of the known laws of physics and their mechanical applications, and represents a quantum leap (not the Bakula kind) between current understandings of what is scientifically possible, and what science can actually achieve.
After the story of the 2004 video broke, my curiosity was piqued and I continued to do research into the subject of UAPs. What I found was equally as shocking as the Navy-corroborated video.
Earlier this year, the Navy filed a series of patents that, if accurate, could mean that we are on the precipice of attaining Star Trek-like levels of technological development.
These patents were developed by a Naval scientist, researcher, and aerospace engineer named Salvatore Cezar Pais located at the United States Navy’s Naval Air Station Patuxent River. Dr. Pais’s patent applications are for the following devices: an “electromagnetic field generator and method to generate an electromagnetic field” with the principal stated application of deflecting asteroids that may hit Earth; a “craft using an inertial mass reduction device” that could be a high speed “hybrid aerospace/undersea craft” that could “engineer the fabric of our reality at the most fundamental level”; a “room temperature semiconductor” that would enable “the transmission of electrical power with no losses”; a “high frequency gravitational wave generator” used for the purposes of “advanced propulsion, asteroid disruption and/or deflection, and communications through solid objects”; and a “plasma compression fusion device” that would effectively represent the holy grail of energy sciences—nuclear fusion.
Of interesting note, was that the Navy’s patent application for the craft using an inertial mass reduction device was originally rejected by the patent examiner at the United States Patent and Trademark Office as being scientifically impossible. It was then that the Navy appealed the patent officer’s determination with the Chief Technical Officer Dr. James Sheehy testifying that not only was the patent application operable or near operable (the requirements for a patent being granted), but that the Chinese Government was close to perfecting such technology. Similar appeals were filed by the Navy in response to other patent rejections.
Many commentators were unconvinced that the Navy was actually close to implementing the described technologies. Some believed that this was actually an elaborate disinformation campaign, designed to trick rival governments into wasting resources pursuing impossible technologies. That may very well be the case. But I also wonder how many of these commentators were being held back by their own possibly imperfect perceptions of what is scientifically possible—the nay-saying old guard to Dr. Pais’s modern-day Galileo. The technologies described in Dr. Pais’s patents are definitely the stuff of Star Trek—but so too were cloning, gene editing, hand-held mobile communications devices, tablet computing, augmented reality gaming, and real-time high definition video-conferencing. All of those technologies have since come to fruition.
If you’re interested in reading about Dr. Pais and the Navy’s patents in greater detail, www.TheDrive.com has been dogged in publishing a fantastic series of articles with each new development over the past year. Each of these patents and the stories and commentary around them far exceed the scope of this year-end review’s ability to do them justice, and are worth spending a lazy Saturday afternoon reading. Who knows—alongside the credible reports of UAPs, they may convince you, as they did me, that there’s hope that technology is more advanced than you know.
For me, 2019 had two great highlights—a return to prominence of my first geeky love, and a renewed hope for realizing technological marvels that I once thought were limited to the world of fiction. It also brought with it some disappointment, as the custodians of the one of the most influential graphic novels repudiated the moral ambivalence that was its most important artistic legacy. On the whole though, these developments of 2019 have left me more than eager to see what 2020 will bring us beyond perfect hindsight.