Errors of Decommission
(soundtrack: Radio Dismuque)
(Update!: for more on this fascinating issue, and a discussion of a completely different “ecstatic moment”–report to The (Non)-Beastmaster)
Morrison and Quitely’s We3 is attracting a fair amount of critical attention on Barbelith (aka: the “thinking person’s messageboard”), the most interesting parts of which have focused upon the conversation between “Mr. Wah-Shing-Ton” and “Bandit”, and its aftermath…which I’ll get back to.
In the context of Morrison’s career, I think it’s pretty clear that this is a continuation of the “desentimentalization” of animals which really kicked into high gear with The Filth (which featured a hideous dolphin shrieking “don’t patronize me!” and a chimp bound for hell)… Of course, Animal Man (issue #2) placed the reader in the helpless position of witness to a savage rain of tooth and claw upon an unsuspecting mouse, but that incident is used as a counterpoint to the senseless violence perpetrated by the rapists/hunters. The implication there is that, yes, animals (certainly the carnivores we tend to associate with) are “killing machines”, but only humans can commit murder–i.e. killing as perversity/sick empowerment (“oh man! what have I done? I just shot Bambi! Uncle Walt’s gonna kill me!” “Ha ha ha!”) as opposed to killing as instinct. However, later on in Animal Man, Morrison made a pretty questionable statement by having the dolphins in issue #15 “speak” without really analyzing the impact that the possession of conceptual language has on a being’s actions and worldview. Morrison’s dolphins are just “instinctively good” (“that is not our way,etc”). Sea-bound angels. And, as Kant would say, even the most beautiful acts/sentiments (i.e. a parent’s love for his/her children, a person’s love for “their country right or wrong”) are immoral (or at least amoral) if done/arrived at through a faulty process of reasoning (or, more accurately, not done for any reason at all). Angels cannot serve as examples to humans, because they don’t have the same choices to make–i.e. they don’t have the capacity to will against the dictates of reason.
We3 opens with an extended, technologically souped-up version of Sheba’s hunt. Nothing startling in this sequence (apart from Quitely’s artwork, which, as a few people have pointed out, magnificently conveys the victim’s frantic sense of running in place), just animals equipped with better tools with which to do what they do best… Ah, but then they speak! More importantly, one of them demonstrates that he understands language as a complex system of ideas, rather than a series of triggers. I must confess that the panel in which Bandit asks: “Dee-comm-ish-ond… ?word?” did a number on my spine. The page immediately preceding that one contains an incredible depiction of–possibly–the origin of thought: Bandit’s rote response to the ol’ “how are you?” question (I M Gud R U Gud 2? Mr. Wah-Shing-Ton?) shocks his interlocutor (who wasn’t aware that he was entering into a conversation by bending down to inquire into the dog’s wellbeing), and the resultant derailment of the ritual clears a space for reflection. First, the dog repeats his question, with a concerned shrug, as if wondering, now, if the answer to this question could possibly be “no”. In the flash of a synapse, “good” has gone from connoting “content” or “satisfied” to meaning “right” or “morally justified”–and once this happens, Bandit is no longer willing to accept Wah-shing-ton’s belated assurances that he is indeed a “good dog”. No one can tell anyone else whether they are behaving morally. An autonomous being can only provide those kinds of answers for him/herself–and it all starts, of course, with the question: “what is the Good?” Clearly, Bandit is on to something.
Even more clearly, Washington recognizes that autonomy and murder-as-policy (otherwise known as “soldiering”–and you have to wonder if Morrison is prompting the reader to think of “our brave men and women in Iraq” when he writes: “the animals are the hardware”… “what kind of lunatic would teach a killing machine to talk?” how about the killing machines who already know how to talk? Even if all they know how to say is “yessir” or “God is Great”…talking isn’t thinking–conversing is!) don’t mix. When Washington shoots down Bandit’s attempt to clarify the meaning of “dee-comm-ish-ond”, he instead makes it abundantly clear that there is no place for a conversation–and thus no place for morality–in a chain of command. By decommissioning the animals, Washington actually commissions them to seek out a place (call it “home”) in which to conduct the kinds of conversations they now seem impelled to have. And that final page–a Hudson River School (a 19th-century movement closely related in spirit to Transcendentalism) homage clouded over by a murder of ‘copters–suggests that America, which has always told itself that it is that place, may be deluding itself more than ever before…
Can’t wait for the rest of this!
Good Night Friends!