COMICS: John Reviews “Doktor Sleepless Vol. 1: Engines of Desire” by Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez

Doktor Sleepless Vol. 1

Doktor Sleepless Vol. 1

The year 2000 has come and gone, but all that awesome stuff were promised back in the 1950s is still no closer to reality than it was then.  We don’t live in self-contained skyscraper cities, and we don’t commute to work via moving sidewalks or flying cars or personal jetpacks.  We don’t have robot butlers, and there are no food pills that substitute for entire meals.  The World of Tomorrow is a sad disappointment, but nobody seems to notice enough to get mad about it!  Nobody, that is, except the titular hero of Warren Ellis and Ivan Rodriguez’s Doktor Sleepless, a “science bastard” who will stop at nothing to bring about the world we were promised.

Doktor Sleepless is Warren Ellis doing what he does best: Telling stories that attempt to shake us out of our ordinary hum-drum lives and get us riled up enough to change the world for the better, or destroy it out of sheer frustration. Doktor Sleepless is a futurist (like Iron Man or Spider Jerusalem) and embraces new technology’s potential for encouraging new thoughts and ideas.  In many ways he’s a combination of Spider Jerusalem and Dr. Horrible, with an origin story that’s equal parts Batman and H.P. Lovecraft.  One of the most interesting things about the Doktor is that he is a self-admitted character:  In the opening pages of the book, he forsakes his former identity as John Reinhardt in order to become something both lesser and greater than himself.

People like listening to characters.  Characters are safe, because they’re not real.  So today I become a character … Who’s afraid of a cartoon mad scientist? Who’s afraid of Doktor Sleepless?

The plot of Doktor Sleepless goes something like this:  Sometime in the future, the cool people live out their interminably boring (yet relatively comfortable) days in a town called Heavenside.  Private police forces keep the peace, and everyone has RFID tags inside their bodies that act as ID cards and internal diagnostic monitors. John Reinhardt takes on the identity of Doktor Sleepless and (together with his black-ops trained bodyguard, Nurse Igor) begins commandeering the airwaves in order to shake people out of their “aggressive apathy.” As his message begins to spread and the legend of Doktor Sleepless grows, an ex-girlfriend begins to piece together the real reason for John’s actions and the master plan he has for the people of Heavenside, and ultimately the entire human race…

True to Ellis’s sci-fi form, Doktor Sleepless features a wide variety of futurist pseudo-science that may not be so psuedo fifty years from now.  In addition to inventing the technology to make implantable RFID tags (with dual application as an ID/monitoring device and as a medical diagnostic tool,) The Doktor provides the citizenry with the tools they need to begin combining body-modification with the latest technology, turning people into “grinders” who continuously find ways to make themselves new and better.  His ocular-mounted social networking system (“Clatter”) is a combination of AIM and Twitter accessed through contact lenses.  His “Shriek girls” can share their consciousness and experiences with one another via a neural broadband signal.  It’s even more tech-heavy than Transmetropolitan, and I can only hope it gets to develop as much as that series did.

Ivan Rodgriguez’s art is a treat, and the painted covers are even better.  Avatar certainly seems to have a knack for teaming Ellis with fantastic artists who capture the feel of the story, and Doktor Sleepless is no exception to that rule.  It’s not as preposterously detailed as Juan Jose Ryp’s on Black Summer or No Hero, nor is it as pleasantly tranquil or anime-influenced as Paul Duffield’s on FreakAngels, but it does fit the themes and attitude of the work perfectly, whether the scene is meant to inspire  futuristic awe, political outrage or abject terror.  It all has a slickness about it that makes the future feel a little too clean and clever, just like Heavenside.

Short of a sequel to Transmetropolitan, I don’t think I could ask for a more enjoyable Ellis-penned inflammatory sci-fi story.  Like the “grinders,” Doktor Sleepless grafts together elements from Transmet, Dr. Horrible (or perhaps Doctor Steel), Lovecraftian horror, V for Vendetta and probably a few other sources that I was never exposed to, all to make something far greater than the sum of its parts.  Go check it out if you still care about the future, and wonder why we were robbed of it.

P.S.:  Ever the tech-forward fellow, Warren Ellis has put together a Doktor Sleepless wiki. There’s tons of info and other goodies on it, so by all means take a look.

P.P.S.:  If you’d like to know more about the future technology that never arrived, there’s a great non-fiction book called Where’s My Jetpack? that tells you all about the nifty stuff that can’t or won’t be made available to the people of the 21st century.  It’s chock full of facts that would just make Doktor Sleepless mad.  Rocket packs are real!  DARPA has lightning guns!  NASA can make a space elevator with only a little more funding!  The U.S. Military has pills that let soldiers function safely without sleep for weeks at a time!  Sony has a working smell-o-vision prototype!  IT’S ALL REAL!!!

Wheres My Jetpack? is a great non-fiction companion to Doktor Sleepless

Where's My Jetpack? is a great non-fiction companion to Doktor Sleepless

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