#CBR6 Review #23 – A.D.D.

A.D.D.Target: Douglas Rushkoff’s A.D.D. Adolescent Demo Division. Art by Goran Sudžuka and José Marzán Jr.

Profile: Comics, Media Criticism, Science Fiction

After Action Report:

For those of you who don’t know, Denver is home to the largest single comic book store in the world.  I didn’t know this either until a few months ago when a friend of mine blew into town from Boston and we went.  The warehouse used to be a clearing house for cross-country comic shipping and at some point Mile High Comics claimed it, along with the considerable overstock and turned it into 45,000 square feet of comic book nerd wet dream.  While we were there, I found myself drooling over collector’s editions of Chew omnibus volumes and an essential guide to the Top Cow universe, but the only thing I walked out with was this quirky little Vertigo title.  At the register, the clerk on duty looked the hardcover volume over and gave me an audible “Huh,” which pretty much sums up my experience with the book.

Set in the near future, A.D.D. follows Lionel, a top tier gamer who is part of an unusual reality show/experiment.  Raised from birth to play games, test technology and generally be archetypal internet brats, these kids enjoy a life of luxury and media saturation, and in return act as mascots for their corporate owners.  For Lionel and his friends, it seems like paradise, but Lionel still has questions: what happens when they ‘graduate?’  And why can he ‘see’ things no one else can?

A blurb on the back cover bills A.D.D. a “part social sci-fi and part X-Men for the Playstation generation.”  Personally I don’t really feel the X-Men vibe, but the social commentary is in full effect.  Written by Douglass Rushkoff, a prominent American media theorist, the book is almost overloaded with cutting analysis of our digital generation.  Kids in the Division are socially maladjusted because of overwhelming media saturation, regressing to more animalistic behavior patterns or quite simply unable to recognize reality.  Or perhaps worse, they sometimes see reality too clearly.  Lionel’s gift for information processing gives him insight into the motives of those around him, from the subtle visual messages of advertisements, to the facial expressions and body language of his captors.  But this just sets him further apart, like a Cassandra, cursed with sights that no one else can, or wants, to see.

The depth of the commentary and the references of Rushkoff’s larger body of work actually get in the way of the smaller story of Lionel and his friends.  Tapping into some of the well explored tropes of ‘-punk’ fiction, A.D.D. pits the kids against their controlling corporate overlords.  But the conflict of the story feels rushed in places and ill-defined in others.  The primary arc is complicated by the addition of a do-gooder journalist with questionable motives, and the overly complicated origin story of the A.D.D. kids themselves.  The end is also supremely unsatisfying.  It feels tacked on and doesn’t actually resolve any of the bigger issues the book tried to address in the last couple of pages.

The characters themselves feel a bit stronger.  Lionel is kind of whiney for a protagonist, but his vulnerabilities make him more likable than some of the other kids.  Kasinda, the token female on the team, actually comes across as a stronger character than Lionel and would have made a much more interesting PoV character.  She ends up providing most of the drive that keeps the plot moving, making Lionel feel extraneous.  Other characters, like Karl and Takai, are less well drawn, but fill important emotional niches for the story.  Karl is the big brother with all the answers until he graduates, and Takai is the cautionary tale, a kid so maladjusted he can’t separate games from reality.

The art is also quite good.  One of the luxuries of shorter, limited run comics is the ability to hold onto an artist or team long enough to establish a visual style and tone, and A.D.D. has those in spades.  The clean lines of the Division home and the various virtual spaces are wonderful, and help the kids’ distinguishing features stand out more.  It also creates visual clash between the irregularities of the children and the extreme control of the Nextgen Corporation.  A few scenes seem to have been ripped straight from the Battle School of Ender’s Game, but there’s plenty of visual originality here too.

There are a lot of interesting elements to A.D.D. and certainly some topics worth considering as we expose kids to more and more unfiltered media every day.  But the graphic novel is just too weak to carry the weight of all those ideas.  Whether it was too complex for its very short length, or just needed someone sterner handling the plotting, I can’t really say.  It would be very interesting to see another author, like Brian K. Vaughn, take up this concept and run with it.  Until that happens, A.D.D. is an intriguing, but ultimately disappointing foray into the psychology of video game culture.

Posted on July 16, 2014, in Cannonball Reviews and tagged , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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