(Written by Ann Nocenti, Drawn by Steve Kurth, Published by DC)
In many ways, this issue represents the kind of story that Big Two creators had made a science of in 60′s, 70′s, and 80′s: the one-off tale with political undertones. With a plot centered around a woman, Pauline Pearl, whose humanity is a big fat question mark since she might be a robot, Nocenti and artist Steve Kurth play around with a couple of ideas: the embrace of technology over humanity, and the overuse of prescription meds. When confronted about his treatment of “mechanized” people, Cyclops-sunglasses sporting Dr. Cognate goes on to explain how “There are things about being human…that are too hard for some people to bear.” A puddle of water pools beneath Cognate, and Kurth depicts a look of horror crossing his reflected face even as he insists his process helps people by separating them from their emotions, a more than casual reference to modern America’s tendency to medicate children at the drop of a hat, bringing to mind the Roots’ “11 million children, all on Ritalin” from their song False Media. Compare this to earlier, when Cognate sells “robots” to an executive who wishes to be free of pesky employees “getting sick, wanting time off,” and just causing him “endless problems,” and Nocenti seems to be suggesting that this abuse of medication is really about keeping people docile. It’s far more interesting (and relevant) material than AVX‘s “X-Men as Branch Davidian and/or Israel” plotline or whatever DC think’s it’s accomplishing with Before Watchmen beyond selling toasters.
Pauline is shown throughout the issue as being completely lost, reliant on machines to feel anything, whether it’s her soliloquizing about motorcycles as she’s about to jump from a bridge or hugging a piece of hospital equipment. Cognate’s corporate branding on her foot, a dyslexic “Nacrotics,” solidifies the connection between drugs, machines, and workforce pacification. Nocenti and Kurth are not as ambitious as the conceit of False Media, which implies that America’s children are being kept ignorant of the plight of immigrants and Indians along with a whole host of social ills, but are just as deft in handling their themes. There’s also a subtle connection drawn between Pauline’s depression (unfixed by Cognate’s “treatment”) and Green Arrow’s own torment: the only explicit reference is a recap on page two — detailing two recent betrayals — but it is key to understanding both the final page and the interaction he has with Pauline as he watches her behind his mirror-shaded domino mask and exerts cold body language. Kurth’s second best image, the water reflection being the first, is a red-bordered close-up of the mask as Green Arrow demands “Explain this.” Wayne Faucher’s inking in the standoff between the hero and Cognate and his “robots” is a little off, too loose and reliant on shading, which leads to a few panels where characters look like they have Glasgow smiles or are wearing an eye patch, but it never overtakes Kurth’s pencils. In the case of Cognate’s appearance, it even enhances the art by making the character appear even more robotic in his Devo jumpsuit.
Nowadays, industry pundits talk about cape comics representing “the world outside your window,” usually as a gimmick to sell comics (AVX, Catwoman), only to shy from that world when criticised for the implications of their stories by hiding behind the “it’s fantasy” curtain. Even the first seven issues of the New 52 Green Arrow, scripted by J.T. Kruhl, shied away from the classic political themes of the title and its character, but Ann Nocenti (a comic veteran) brings back a little truth to the “outside your window” hyperbole.