It's been just over a month since I had the pleasure of picking up Pak Man Productions' Vision Machine #1 from the esteemed Mr. Greg Pak at the New York Comic-Con. I attended a panel about the series, and got my "copy" of the first issue on a USB flash drive emblazoned with the Sprout insignia. (Maybe your local comic shop is one of the lucky ones that has received one of these cool little collector's items, but if not, the series is only as far away as Comixology's web site, or Greg Pak's own Vision Machine site!) Recently I received an advance copy of the second issue (available November 17 at the above locales), and so, since I still haven't reviewed the first issue, herewith I bring you a combo review--two-thirds of the series in one shot!
Greg Pak's Vision Machine has an elegantly simple idea at its core: thanks to the wonders of future technology, everyday people can wear the iEye, a device worn like a pair of glasses that functions as a digital editing suite for the world at large, bringing the wearer's visions to technicolor life and essentially making the Average Joe into a moviemaking pro overnight.
Of course, that's just the start of a storyline that is rife with possibilities. In the first story we're introduced to a triad of friends: the aptly-named Buddy, the main "everyman" protagonist, through whose eyes we see most of the story; Dave, the average guy who wants technology to unite people instead of immerse them in their own worlds; and Jane, the "visionary" of the group who sees the iEye as a means of making all her dreams, literally, come true. Rounding out the cast are Liz Evers, the CEO of Sprout, the company that produces the iEye; Secretary Chavez, who sees the iEye as the boost the economy needs; and Senator Gupta, intent on defending and even beefing up existing intellectual property laws which may well be breached by the iEye technology.
Wisely, Pak sets up the three friends as film graduates who see the iEye technology first as the answer to all their problems. By just purchasing the iEye, they have a special effects budget that's virtually unlimited--the only limitation being their imaginations. For Buddy, iEye allows him to host "Buddy's Luv Sho," a political sex spoof that spells trouble for a sitting U.S. Senator who apologizes for behavior seen through the iEye, which Buddy then admits was totally imaginary. Dave treats the iEye somewhat more respectfully, creating a documentary whereby his father, a sheriff on the border between the U.S. and Texas, has his iEye linked with an illegal immigrant whose husband was killed by one of the sheriff's deputies. Meanwhile, Jane's dreaming gifts make her very important to Sprout, and very, very popular to the teeming masses.
The first issue establishes a lot of setup in a short time, and Pak perpetually moves forward in his narrative, introducing concept after concept, each building on the one before. For a story taking place in the future, it certainly deals with many of today's trending technology topics, ranging from the right to privacy, to copyright and licensing laws, to what exactly is in the fine print when you click those "I agree" buttons on any program's End User License Agreement. He leavens the piece with some modest humor (Buddy's show, and section 7 of Sprout's mission statement, for starters) but never loses focus. The first story concludes with an alliance between Sprout and the Department of Homeland Security in an effort to find a missing girl, which subtly brings up those privacy issues and propels the narrative forward in an interesting fashion.
In the second issue, a year has passed, and the long-term effects of the iEye on society are felt. Virtually everyone wears the iEye, and in fact, Buddy gets called out by his boss for keeping the glasses on but not being on the "Sproutville" grid being relentlessly bombarded by advertisements and everything else that's projected through the iEye. Even though he's the "most productive member of [his] unit," culture is so centered around the iEye he's being punished for not doing his part. He talks with Dave, who's enamored with the freedom of the iEye, particularly those concerning the one-click-and-it's-paid-for licensing structure--too enamored to see the developing catastrophe. And Jane seems to be deeper in Sproutville than ever. Meanwhile, Liz Evers finds herself on the outs with Sprout, at odds with Secretary Chavez. Those EULAs everyone clicked through without reading really do come back to bite everyone on the butt in some heartbreaking ways. The storyline really doesn't feel soft through this middle third, but again there is a lot of information being thrown at the reader on every page, this time mostly without the same humor as in the first story. When we arrive at the end of this story, we've seen the rise of a resistance to the Sproutville world, and learn what Jane's really been up to, setting up the climactic third act for next month.
I must say, after reading these first two issues of the planned three-issue miniseries, that Pak has quite an imagination and treats the concepts introduced herein with the gravitas they deserve. Artists R.B. Silva, Alexandre Palomaro, DYM, and Java Tartaglia improve from issue to issue, with a nice, clean style and colors that pop. It's a great premise made all the more interesting by its presentation in the online format, and its distribution under a Creative Commons Attribution Non-Commercial Share Alike License. In layman's terms, it uniquely allows other creators to build upon the work non-commercially, as long as they credit Pak Man Productions. In other words, while the series does a fine job of introducing this brave new world and its inherent conflicts, this could well be only the beginning of the Vision Machine. Conceivably we could see other adventures designed by others, bringing to light other facets of Sproutville, using Pak's original manuscript here as guidepath and venturing out into unknown waters. We could see critical discussions on par with what I witnessed at the New York Comic Con panel. The possibilities are endless!
Make no mistake: Pak and Silva's Vision Machine is top-notch from top to bottom, filled with intriguing concepts and frightening warnings of the not-too-distant future. If the third and final (?) issue of the series is anywhere near as interesting as these first two, we're in for a treat. So do yourself a favor, if you're a reader of Pak's Incredible Hulks, or Incredible Hercules, or Magneto: Testament, or any of his other work, or if you're a fan of speculative fiction, or crazy sci-fi, or technology-run-amok stories, make your way to http://www.visionmachine.net and buddy up with Buddy, Dave, and Jane.
Publicity info for Vision Machine:
VISION MACHINE #2 (of 3)
Pak Man Productions
Written by Greg Pak
Pencils by R.B. Silva
Inks by DYM and Alexandre Palomaro
Colors by Java Tartaglia
Letters by Charles Pritchett
Follow Sprout CEO Liz Chitkala Evers on Twitter @sproutboss
Follow "Vision Machine" writer Greg Pak on Twitter @gregpak
In the year 2061, Sprout Computers releases the iEye, a pair of glasses that allow you to effortlessly record, edit, and add special effects to anything you see -- and instantly share it with the world. It's all of the insane potential of digital media and social networking at the speed of thought, and three film grads named BUDDY, DAVE, and JANE have embraced the new dream. But now the other shoe's about to drop... Don't miss the second issue of "Planet Hulk" writer Greg Pak's insane new sci fi story, gloriously pencilled by up-and-coming superstar R.B. Silva ("Jimmy Olsen").
WHAT THE CRITICS ARE SAYING:
"Pak is absolutely on fire here... Meanwhile, RB Silva is creating some of the most intricate and well rounded art of his career."
"Somewhere on the cynicism scale between Warren Ellis and Cory Doctorow, Greg Pak creates a story that makes you reexamine your iPhones and Twitter feeds, wondering, just whose future are they truly benefiting?"
"Book of the Week" honors from Awesomed By Comics