A.D.D.: Adolescent Demo Division by Douglas Rushkoff, Goran Sudzuka and Jose Marzan Jr. (Vertigo, $24.99)
I should have liked this book a lot more than I did.
Set in a near future, “beta testers” – kids who are videogame masters in virtual worlds – are the rock stars of the day. They live in corporation-sponsored dormitories, where they lack for absolutely nothing, and compete for corporate laurels on a regular basis. Those who achieve a certain level of immersion, or points, or something, move up to the “next level.” Nobody knows what that is (or even if it exists), but presumably it is even better than the pampered lives they already lead. Incidentally, none of them know who their parents are, but there’s a sympathetic doctor with a mystery patient at home and a principled investigative reporter trying to find out what this show is all about.
I am guessing that many of you reading this review have already figured out, from the summary above, the general outlines of the plot, a few of the big reveals toward the end, and maybe even the likely finale of this book. I think that’s true because I did, which is the source of my discontent. Seeing the little man behind the curtain always takes the fun out of an adventure, just as Dorothy discovering the truth about the Wizard took the wonder out of Oz.
Another element of the book I didn’t care for is simply a pet peeve of my own, which I don’t expect anyone else to share. And that is: Author Douglas Rushkoff invents slang for the book, and almost without exception, I find made-up slang from the future to be derivative, unconvincing, laughable and ultimately irritating. And, yes, I’m including in that blanket indictment the slang used in Judge Dredd and Legion of Super-Heroes, which I can mostly forgive, because it doesn’t take long to finish a comic book and I can forget it. But a graphic novel keeps shoving those silly words at me for page after page, irritating me time after time.
The only future slang I can think of that worked for me was the nadsat lingo from A Clockwork Orange, and there's two big reasons why: 1) it was based on a real language (Russian), and 2) Anthony Burgess didn’t use the lingo ham-handedly in an effort to let us guess its meaning from context, and instead used it organically and provided the reader a glossary if they were motivated enough to use it. Most made-up slang is the opposite – it’s just ordinary words clumsily “futurized” (like Colossal Boy’s name Jim Allen futurized to Gim Allon in Legion) and inserted in a repetitive way to make its meaning obvious.
But I have to praise the art, by Goran Sudzuka, which is clean and expressive in the Curt Swan mode. That’s high praise, but glance at a few pages and you’ll see what I mean. His faces are distinct, so even a group of teenagers all wearing the same clothes are easy to identify. His crowd scenes, like Swan’s, are equally individualistic. His physical world – walls, cars, trees, electronics – are drawn cleanly and look like what they’re supposed to look like, and give a sense of solidity and location from any angle. Even the doctor and reporter are instantly identifiable from any angle, despite both being blonde, of similar builds and favoring business clothes. And, best of all, this skill is totally subsumed in the effort to propel the narrative. Sudzuka is a first-class storyteller, and I look forward to more of his (or her) work.
Unfortunately, though, all that effort is in service of a story that bordered on cliché. Now, obviously, this book is aimed at a younger crowd, and they may not have read quite as many comic-book stories as I have, and this might be all-new, exciting territory for them. I hope so. But for old hands like me, it’s a case of been there, done that, played the videogame.
I haven't had a chance to read this yet (and I ordered a copy for the library, too!). I have to say that I haven't liked any of Douglas Rushkoff's writing yet, so I have that reservation going in. I'm surprised you don't remember seeing Goran Sudžuka's work before. He did some pencilling on Y: The Last Man; worked on Outlaw Nation with Jamie Delano; and has illustrated two Hellblazer miniseries (Lady Constantine & Chas - The Knowledge).
I didn't say I didn't remember him from those other works ... but I didn't. So you get points, Mark!
I ordered this from Amazon way in advance based on my enjoyment of other Vertigo "little hardbacks" (not the crime ones, but the others), like The Originals, Dark Rain, the one about the gangsta rapper (can't remember the name, but I really loved it! Beautiful art.), Cairo, etc.
This is the last time I will order something before it's come out*, though, because I just can't bring myself to read it. I've tried to start it a few times, but it seems like a re-hash of Ender's Game. I could be wrong, but I didn't enjoy that book very much and I can't get into this one either.
*Unless I've already read the material. Even though I've owned the issues since they came out, I've had the Flex Mentallo hardback on pre-order since about September!