Critical Millennium #3 Commentary with Drew Gaska

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We’ve praised the comic book series Critical Millennium with it’s fantastic sci-fi tale and relevant topical discussions.  With the release of the third issues this week, writer Andrew E. C. Gaska was nice enough to take some time to give us some commentary on the latest issue and series.

Warning Spoilers!

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Graphic Policy: What made you decide to open up this way; it’s about a third way in.  Considering what goes on further down the issue, did you consider using that accident for this scene?

Andrew E. C. Gaska: I wanted to open with a mystery that people would probably forget about, and then find out that it tied into the ending of the book as well. I know that sounds convoluted, but I am approaching Critical Millennium from a ‘stream of consciousness’ point of view.

I guess I am a little tired of linear storytelling. Thoughts we have seldom occur chronologically, as we encounter things that trigger synapses to fire in our heads, we remember other things that have happened in our lives. It’s like when you start to tell a story to a friend and then realize you left out a crucial part and suddenly say, “Wait – before that happened there was this.” Your friend might get confused a little long the way, but all the pieces fit into place to you. In traditional terms, that is story fail. I wanted to see if I could take that concept and make it story win – where the readers can follow it despite it’s jumping around all the time.

The thing about Critical Millennium is that technically the entire first run of several miniseries is flashbacks within flashbacks. It’s a look back at the things that led to the opening of the first issue: the crazy lone captain encountering an unknown force at the edge of space. It is kind of a crazy way to tell a story – because I am not even telling it linearly backwards as is done sometimes, but instead as haphazardly as the mind works, but it’s a challenge that I am thoroughly enjoying the outcome of.

Critical Millennium 003 Preview_PG2

GP: With a difficult economic climate and this comic series having a lot of commentary on our political, environmental and economic climates, did you feel you needed to reflect on that at all?

AG: The best science fiction I have ever read or seen has always made me look at things differently about what we are doing today, in relation to what is going on in the sci-fi universe presented before me.

Everyone I know has suffered from the economy, having either taken sever pay cuts to keep their jobs, or simply lost them completely. The situation is grim and people are getting angry. The interesting thing about Coney is that he is the rich guy – he is the one causing people to lose their jobs – but in this case it’s for a noble purpose – mankind’s survival out amongst the stars.

To some it seems a fool’s errand. The ‘nobility’ of laying off several thousand employees is lost of the people who are going to suffer because of it. We do have a tendency to see only as far ahead as out next paycheck, or our retirement as best – and let the next generation deal with the problems we created in our lifetimes.

This scene was actually added late in production of the issue. The situation was a set up for meeting former Coney/Dann exec Yash Lokesh at the Phantom Spirits bar later on, and was added because I felt the encounter with Thomm, Eryc and Lokesh was one-sided – Lokesh’s rage almost seemed unwarranted, and now it almost seems warranted instead. It’s a look at both sides of the coins – no one here is 100% wrong or right, again bringing Critical Millennium closer to the real world, with no black and white and only a multitude of shades of gray.

Critical Millennium Game Show

GP: There’s parts of this that are beyond racist, but acknowledges that.  I came away thinking this is a reflection on our current definition of fame and reality television’s habit of playing towards stereotypes.

AG: Reality television is the bane of my existence – shows like the Jersey Shore confound me, are they perpetuating stereotypes, or are people really that ridiculous? Racism is something that we face everyday in our society, there is an undercurrent of it in the work place, at home, and even in our entertainment. I wanted to turn that racism on its head and point a stick at it – which is one of the reasons I made the whites the minority in the future. The game show portrays not only a racist depiction of Asians in the form of our ‘Space Elvis’ character, but also whites as portrayed by country bumpkin ‘Jill Billy Him.’

There was backstory to this scene that didn’t make it into the final cut of the script, wherein the network broadcasting the show created a Ghost character in order to appeal to the untapped market of the whites living in the Ghost Quarter. When they debuted their “proto-white” personality of Jill Billy Him, they lost their Caucasian viewership – but saw a rise in their Indian viewer demographic. Perplexed, the studio execs then went after the growing Asian market in the greater New Bombay area, by creating the personality of Space Elvis. But when he was added to the show, they lost their Asian viewers and sponsors completely – and suddenly got the whites watching again. The moral of the story: everyone’s a racist.

I’m hoping that reading this stuff makes people rethink their preconceived notions on others based on the color of their skin, and we can all just “get along”.

Critical Millennium Pandita

GP: This is a pretty emotional scene, which gives depth to the characters as well as builds upon the distrust on the mission at hand.  The “we should have aborted you” is a pretty harsh comment, any thought it may have been “too” harsh?

AG: Everyone thinks I was too mean to Pandita! It’s a fucking brutal world out there, and Critical Millennium is a reflection of our current times. In rural parts of India, when a woman is pregnant, the family will get an ultrasound to determine the sex of the child. If they discover it’s a girl, a large percentage of households will have the fetus aborted. Aborted, just because they are girls!

In traditional Indian society, men make the money and bring prestige, while women are a burden and cost the family much, as they most give a dowry away to the man who will take the woman off of the family’s hands as a wife. I find this practice horrific, and wanted to say something about it in Critical Millennium.

Pandita’s father is a somewhat progressive thinking guy who decided this was a new millennium and women can be powerful too, so fought to give his daughter the chance to have everything in life – until he realized that she failed to live up to his dreams. He feels betrayed by his foolish forward thinking and decides that he should have followed tradition. In that moment, Pandita is dead to him – in effect freeing her from all “earthly ties” and giving her no reason to miss the home she will leave behind.

Was it “too” harsh? Hell yes, but that’s what will make Pandita so…interesting.

Critical Millennium Ghost Ship

GP: I had the feeling this entire scene is supposed to be a sleight for The Ghosts issue with the mission to the stars which we learn the real reason later.

AG: The Wraith is a creepy guy and is up to no good – he is taking advantage of the Ghosts misfortunes to further his own means. There is a lot more going on here, much of which is made clear at the end of the issue, when we see just who the Wraith reports to…

Critical Millennium Ghost Bar

GP: I thought it was an interesting contrast between their altruistic mission to save mankind by finding new planets to inhabit, but at the same time they’re destroying people to do it and they’re kind of dicks too.

AG: AHAHAH- yes, they are kind of dicks. They are real people – and in Eryc’s case, a real person with a real problem with violence. No one in Critical Millennium wears a cap or tights, and even if they did – they would be fucked up regular people in extraordinary circumstances. This is something I want to bring to all of my writing, realistic characters who do good at the same time as doing bad. For years everyone loved the selfless acts of Mother Teresa, then her journal is discovered whens he passes away and it turns out she was a really mean person who hated what she was doing. There is a cosmic balance to things here.

Critical Millennium Fascist

GP: Its interesting Andrew says “Fascist! I’ll kill you,” when it doesn’t seem The Ghosts aren’t really politically motivated in the current sense, but more of a straight up White Supremacist group void of definition of their belief, other than “white power.”

AG: The views of the members of the group are not all unified; they came together under the original ghost leader because they were all victims of repression and racism. The wraith has turned them into a paramilitary group with an agenda. If you look back at Andrew in the second issue, you will see that he is all about “not letting the man keep us down”, so his personal views are that the upper classes/races are a fascist regime that must be taken down, and ultimately Andrew pays the price for his altruism.

Critical Millennium Montage

GP: I felt like some music should have been playing if this was a movie and this would be the montage, why include the brutal training?

AG: The training scenes are included for the same reason we see the caviar fight in issue one; to establish why Coney and Eryc will be capable of the things they do later on. I didn’t want them to be rich guys who suddenly can shoot, fight, fly a starship, and take on the universe. I wanted the readers to understand that they had some of skills all along, and to believe how they acquired the rest.

Critical Millennium Thomm

GP: Obviously this sets up a lot to come, but also seems to continue the idea that Thomm might not be as altruistic as we might think and there may be some self-preservation involved with his plan for the stars.

AG: Yes, it almost seems like he is up to no good, doesn’t it? More on this next issue…

Critical Millennium Monkey

GP: So, where’d the idea of herding all of the whites into this one structure come from, it just seems such an odd concept for those of us who grew up in very white areas.

AG: See that’s very interesting to me – that you looked at it as whites being buttoned up in one place. That’s one way to look at what is going on here – the other is that Coney is trying to help out those who lost their homes in the tsunami flood. Half the readers I have spoken too see it one way, the rest the other way, so it seems to has achieved what I wanted it too – again causing a flip side of the coin dynamic. Somewhere in the middle is the truth…

GP: And what’s up with the smoking monkey?

AG: The smoking monkey! It was initially artist Dan Dussault’s idea, and then I wrote a little bit about how the monkey steals someone’s cigarette from them and runs away with it in his mouth, but that was cut for the grandiose view of the interior of the hope building instead. The rhesus monkeys in India steal things from people all the time, and sometimes do learn to smoke, and I just thought it was a great visual.

Critical Millennium Training

GP: There was a great The Right Stuff feel in this scene and I really liked how it tied into that first page and the game show.  Why have this focus on Thomm and not just off some “red shirt” instead?

AG: Thank you. The entire issue was planned around the events in the game show, and how they would tie into the centrifuge training at the end of the issue. You will see throughout this miniseries and the next one (Critical Millennium: The Dark Frontier – BEACON, due out summer 2011) the reoccurring motif of falling – something that Thomm has never gotten used to the idea of.

It’s no random chance that Thomm survived this collision. There are seeds I have planted throughout the first three issues and in the upcoming miniseries finale that set up mysteries and events that will be unfolding throughout the Critical Millennium for years to come.

The red shirt is something else I am trying to avoid here. It’s a convenient plot device that has seen complete over use in the genre. Normally in a story, the main character would go do a certain thing, but since writer needed someone to die, the red shirt suddenly goes instead, and the main characters uncharacteristically hang back to see what happens. When that occurs in Critical Millennium, it will be because the main characters are purposely using the ‘red shirts’ as bait.

Like you said, they are kind of dicks.

Critical Millennium Epilogue

GP: There’s a great bait and switch here when we finally learn The Ghost’s motivation.  It’s clear Thomm’s actions are causing him trouble from many angles, why go this route?  It seems to pin the focus on a flawed anti-hero who’s a shit-head doing a good thing.

AG: With the Warlord Watwani running the Wraith’s show, many things come to light. Not only is it clear that the Ghosts are being used, but it also brings into question the Countess’ relationship with Thomm. And Coney is a flawed antihero – but not completely a shithead. He is only seventeen when this series starts, and twenty by issue three. The kid has a lot of growing up to do, and his mistakes and good deeds alike affect thousands if not millions in the end, because he happens to be stinking rich. His wealth and power make it so that his drastic actions have drastic ramifications on a global, solar system, and eventually, universal scale.

I am not interested in ‘status quo” characters, I want characters to change and to learn from their actions and experiences. Thomm, Eryc, and Pandita will not remain static; they will grow and evolve constantly throughout the Critical Millennium. It is their journey towards their ultimate selves, and Thomm’s in particular, that makes the story interesting.