Seriously, How The Hell Did We End Up Here?

Part Two

(continued from previous post)

Many cyborgs and mutants also came from the east. For some time there was a United Nations for Asia, with many countries having felt the original UN was too western-centric. Things went well and trade flourished. China and India especially benefited, becoming the top powers of the world, spreading their business and influence far. This led to Russia denouncing both, fearing invasion and building bases. The USA disliked this rise to power, yet needed the trade.

However war might well have been inevitable. China and India had minor clashes, then a full blown war. It went on for some time, and much of Asia became involved to some degree. It was heavily suspected that Japan was a secret ally of India, while claiming neutrality. Pakistan went from neutral, if gloating at India’s suffering, to becoming a full ally of India. This was due to several events, not least Chinese soldiers attacking Pakistani people by accident. Or so it was claimed. Also, spies told that China had ideas on the entire region and its leaders were highly anti-Islamic.

Both China and India had strong levels of technology, much of which was geared towards destruction for some time. Neither looked to nuclear weapons or anything like that, though. Both knew such an act would bring in other nations, and could harm their own soldiers if things went wrong. The war was brutal, yet controlled for the most part, and both governments wanted it that way. It enabled a lot of control over their people, for one thing.

When the Shadow World merged with ours, both sides saw new threats, and while peace was never actually declared, the fighting pretty much ended. Monsters had to be fought. Mutants and machines were quickly designed. Yes, they were made with an idea of being used to finish this war, but only once the new bizarre invasion was dealt with. That never happened, of course. Also, that control both governments enjoyed was soon crumbling, with more and more clamouring for peace, among other issues they had with the authorities. In response, the Terracotta Army had become a real power in China, a movement among the people who stood ready to defend their leaders. Many of these loyal and militant citizens volunteered for programmes that enabled new creations to be born. Willing subjects make progress so much easier.

Two other countries that had benefited from trade, especially with China and India, were Brazil and South Africa. Brazil was blooming as an economic power anyway, but once it and the other two sought to trade, South Africa became the middle man, taking in goods and selling on. It received an influx of investment and immigration. Once the war between China and India began, the trade lessened, yet it never ended, and South Africa continued to build on its position as a trading nation. It was one of the few places in the world where factions weren’t prying society apart, although many would claim greed and superficial living had replaced passion and personality.

Further north, Christianity and Islam were at war, although there were geographical and cultural reasons for violence as well. Yet, when South Africa’s wealth began to spread, as did its influence, this provoked socialist spirits. In many nations where riches and power still stood strong, poverty and oppression were equally pervasive. This led to various movements across Africa, Europe and Asia, most of which united to form three major organisations – the Peasants’ Revolt, the People’s Rebellion, the Socialist Renaissance. All three of these were present in Africa, seeking to hang the rich and ready to gun down those who defended them, just as in the other parts of the world. South Africa kept these enemies out, but they were very aware of the threat.

It has been suggested, but none will ever know, that wealthy governments managed to infiltrate and manipulate the three organisations, which is why they went to war with each other. Either way, what was sporadic violence became full on chaos once magic became real and monsters terrorised both rich and poor alike. Yes, humans united to fight the supernatural foes, and yet so many saw this as a chance to strike at those they had hated for so long.

As for Brazil, it was wealthy at the top, poor at the bottom, just more so. With global order breaking down, the UN ending and world power shifting, Brazil sought to become the dominant force in South America. Obviously, this was not welcomed by the other countries, and yet nothing really went wrong until one president came to power by siding with a renewal cult. These movements were fanatical about change happening, they believed the world was heading for a cataclysmic event, and that life would be better for it. This president made the mistake of utilising this fervour, believing that since no event would happen, where was the harm?

Once in power, the fanatics saw it as their time to make change happen. Acts of terrorism and sabotage were soon everywhere. It spread to Argentina, Uruguay, Mexico and beyond. This sort of thing was occurring in other parts of the world, true, but not with equal enthusiasm. Elsewhere, these cults were persecuted heavily, but in Brazil they had been endorsed, then supported. Politicians allowed them to act long after they should have stopped them, seeking power first, deeply regretting it later. By then, militarised police forces were out in the streets, using the now infamous Fascista carbine. It wasn’t enough. It was also too late. Cultists who could do magic not only tipped the scales, they went beyond it, not realising their new power; many dying, if willingly, as they embraced this changed world, or even sought to force it further.

Finally, in the Middle East, it could be said that the centuries of its history continued to influence its present. Even as the USA weakened, it remained a staunch ally of Israel, as did other nations. Various political alliances were made, then altered, such as Russia and Turkey’s pact, and also the US of E’s deal with Iran, then later Iran’s trade deal with Egypt and South Africa. Alternative energy sources were growing so dependency on oil was weakening, if not ended, therefore other places meddled less. Europe, for instance, wanted a more stable Middle East to ease immigration concerns, while others sought opportunities to invest. But trouble remained. Some regimes were vulnerable now that world power had altered. There were outbreaks of rebellion against the rich, the previously mentioned organisations growing stronger here by the year, and a number of wealthy families left the region (Jamshid ended up making his life and name in the USA because of this).

Over time, renewal cults, also doomsday cults, grew, as they did in many parts of the world, although often with a more religious aspect to them. There came to be a renewed interest in lost arts and old thinking, in mysticism and faith, and yet also many were looking to the future. Russia and Turkey’s alliance broke and they nearly went to war, yet besides that most nations in the region saw a chance to progress. Weapons sold to the east, other resources to the west and south. Who knows what might have been? Yet once Dylan Winter acted and monsters invaded, the region became a warzone. The holy lands of so many were under attack, and at least it can be said it brought them together amidst the chaos and terror.

As I said in the month old post with the almost same title, the world was fracturing before it was ripped asunder by the Shadow World (not sure I’ve said that enough in this post!). People were agitated, scared, thinking ahead but often regressing too. This can be said of many times in the world’s history; it is usually a place of war, intrigue and suspicion. But this time none of that could be resolved. Where nations competed, where people were divided, where governments were losing control or trying too hard to keep it – all of this was made far worse once, well, you know what occurred. Power to the people was no longer a cry but a reality. Change was no longer sought but here, in brutal truth, as super-soldiers and super-computers served the humans, temporarily. These are just some of the instances and events going on before everything went mad. It was this backdrop that made the Raging possible, and then how the world got to be the way it is now.

The Order of Mechanised Tyranny

When you have faith in specific institutions, and that faith is ripped apart by cataclysmic events, how do you continue? Do you admit you were wrong and try a new path? Perhaps some would. That was not the course of the Grand Master, leader of the Order of Mechanised Tyranny. He is one of the oldest beings alive, having lived before the arrival of the Shadow World. He was a general in the army of the United States of America, and he had total faith in his country, its armed forces, and also in God. He knew his homeland was safe because of the deity he worshipped and the soldiers he commanded. When he witnessed the downfall of humanity, he saw his faith prove worthless. The armed forces could not overcome the magic and monsters that appeared. Soon they were outclassed by the creation of super-soldiers, cyborgs and other machines. As for God, there were no answers to the general’s prayers.

The general did win victories, however. When his forces were supplemented with super-soldiers and cyborgs, he was able to defeat a machine army. Power won the day, not faith, and certainly not humans. He saw the future in the cyborg race. More and more people were getting improvements – either soldiers for defence or the rich for better lives – and he demanded his forces become the main focus. He never took to mutants; perhaps there was still some lingering of his old faith in seeing them as abominations. Maybe. Few know the mind of this individual as he once was. What is known is mostly who he is and the sect he leads, the latter reflecting the first. The Grand Master forged the sect in his singular vision. He has never faltered since.

To return to his past, the general had lost faith in God and saw the only chance of survival for the human race was biomechanically improved soldiers. More than that, he saw humanity reborn, not just mechanised but forged within as well, moulded into a dedicated and dutiful force. No civilians, no politicians, no weaknesses. Cyborgs of all kinds were being made, and this was not something the general approved of. Control of the country had been sliding away for some time, the general had more recently been serving a new and localised government, so saw no issue in choosing to take command himself. Others had failed them all. He would not.

The general managed to get his soldiers altered, himself too, and they began their march to a new, stronger way of life. Others were made to join them. More and more became cyborgs, but more than this, they became soldiers who followed his orders and pledged themselves to his way of life. Obey, serve, fight, kill, die. Cyborgs began in one place and could have been a united race, yet factions emerged and then they splintered. The Grand Master and his aggressive, militarised sect were a major driving force in that disruption.

Yet the sect was more than military cyborgs. The Grand Master was not the only follower of faith to lose his way. Others in organised religion saw the Shadow World and the chaotic consequences as either end times, punishment or evidence that no higher power was protecting them. Many who once believed fervently became fervent enemies to faith. Those who saw the Grand Master’s sect recognised the anger he possessed and joined him, proclaiming their loyalty, pledging their enmity. More than this, a number of those who had commanded in religions now saw their power waning, and spotted opportunity in this sect. Preachers of faith turned into preachers of anti-faith. Militant believers were now militant disbelievers. The Grand Master was soon commanding much more than a mere army. He led a passionate, fanatical legion of soldiers.

It has been suggested that perhaps the Grand Master allowed these once-believers into his ranks to laugh at religion. An insult to God even. None know. Maybe he saw kindred spirits or merely useful tools. Whatever his reasoning, the Grand Master made a choice and his sect changed, and he saw the benefits. He had lost his faith in God, as well as his faith in humanity, his country, in the military as he had known it. All of it was gone. But he had pushed and remade his military might to become something stronger, and now he could remake the religion as well.

The Order of Mechanised Tyranny is a sect of conformity, with all the trappings of the military and religion. They march in step by ranks, crushing all opposition, converting those they choose to. They are religious yet without any god to waste their time on. Everyone is uniformed, to the extent that all are regarded as male. They all wear the same, including masks, and their swords are attached to their right arms regardless of favoured sides. Everything and everyone must act as one, as the Grand Master wishes it. His will is done, his vision is fought for. When he had been a God-fearing general, he had fancied he had a special destiny, or at least a favoured standing from which he could act for the good of all. His faith in God had been ripped away, but his faith in himself had faltered, then regrouped, and now was stronger than ever.

His followers believe in him equally, and also in his new way of life. Their religion is about their sect, their laws, their truths. For instance, they have Six Sins, which are disobedience, disloyalty, cowardice, dishonesty, slothfulness and mercy. Anything that could harm the sect is bad, essentially. They must all be dedicated and focused, working tirelessly, never doubting. Their Nine Virtues are courage, dedication, intelligence, purity, resolution, integrity, excellence, diligence and sacrifice. These may sound worthy virtues, and they are, and yet for the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, many of these words have a slight twist in meaning. For them, being resolute is about being ruthless. Integrity insists that when you proclaim your loyalty, you mean it, that your actions follow the same course. Sacrifice can mean soldiers giving up their lives for the sect, but also the ‘sacrifice’ of non-members as they are defeated. These lists are drilled into the minds of recruits, often during Recitals. There are three a day, every day, in any base or outpost around the world. Attendance is mandatory unless your services are necessitated elsewhere, such as guard duty. They do not pray, but they recite their laws and other mantras. Their faith in the sect must be absolute.

A quick mention should be made of their understanding of eternal life. This is something few outside the sect know of. Basically, all personal information goes into the sect’s database. All that individuality which is surrendered on joining, this is stored, and so is kept for all time. Members of the sect long dead are in there. They are remembered at Recitals as well. Past victories, and sometime defeats if useful for instruction, are recalled. The sense that the sect lives, and thus do all who live in it, is the new truth to them. Those born in the sect are given an identity as children, then taken away and stored, so they can believe equally. After that, they are just more ranked members, moving parts of the greater whole, fighting on. To the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, the saying is true – life is struggle, struggle is war, war is life. We are always at war. We live for ever.

Mentioning all of this, I must return to those previously mentioned fanatics who made the sect what it is, at the Grand Master’s behest. To outsiders, all members look the same and are the same really, and that is how he likes it. The truth is that there are some differences. Most are soldiers, with officers leading them. Yet some belong to other groups. One is the clergy. This is the result of those ex-religious, anti-faith recruits. The Grand Master utilised them and created a branch of his sect to fuel the rest with speeches and incitement. Soldiers who show enthusiasm along with eloquence are nominated to enter this group and, if successful, become as powerful as officers. Cardinals, for instance, act like roving high commanders, showing up to ensure unquestioning loyalty is ever present. In that regard, the clergy are part cheerleaders, part secret police.

Obey our law. Judge others according to it. Anything else is wrong. The meek are accursed, the strong will take the world. We are the strongest and the world is ours to claim. This is the Order of Mechanised Tyranny, a sect built and honed by the Grand Master himself, driven by his will, and it pleases him greatly. There is much more to be learned, about both the man himself and his followers, but for now, all anyone needs to know, is that when the red and black clad legions appear, make ready to fight for your life. They will not stop until they have it, one way or the other.

Why so Friendly?

Returning, as I’ve been meaning to do, to the world of Sojourners in Shadow, and not feeling so well, I felt like a brief mention could be made of the nice guys. At least, those from a certain point of view. I have a number of more complicated and in-depth posts to make, but right now I don’t think I could manage one. This will do.

But this isn’t a meaningless post. In a world so brutal, so divided, it remains not just a scarce occurrence to find someone who can be on your side, but also a very perplexing moment. Why are you on my side? Why would you want to help me? What do you want in return? These aren’t just common questions, these are good survival instincts kicking in. After all, many stragglers have been invited in by a friendly community, only to find they are deemi in disguise or a cyborg sect, eager to convert them.

I have discussed before about alliances and races who work closely together, or just feel a strong bond. This isn’t the same thing. I’m talking here about those who are nice to others. No gain sought. No reward wanted. Just those who are there to be helpful.

As you can imagine, it’s a short list.

Basically, it’s totems. That’s it. As far as races go, they are the only ones who naturally seem drawn to being helpful. Yes, they are well known for being allies to humanity, just like aegis and denizens are. But those two are also known for being ruthless with their enemies. With totems, they prefer to avoid conflict. They can fight. Some do. It is rare but these gigantic, powerful creatures can hit harder than most things. But they are a benign, mute race of healers and helpers. Often they are found in the ranks of an army as a medical unit, forced to march for their captors and aid fallen warriors. Other times they join a war willingly, ready to help those who they feel need it. Humans, mostly, often on the verge of annihilation. But other instances have been known. They prefer peace, they want to help. Monsters they are, true, yet whatever dream they have come from, it is a pleasant one. Aegis are like guardians to humans, denizens like comrades, but totems are friends. To more than humans, if others seek it.

Why they are this way is unknown. Totems are typically about eight foot tall and covered by an obsidian-like skin that is impervious to most attacks. That is, apart from their front. Here, they are soft, and if another being is held here, then the totems’ natural healing ability will work its wonders. They can even fold up about someone, enclosing them in warmth and comfort, and this act can heal almost any injury. It has even been known to cure diseases and re-energise people. Of course, totems can also roll up and become invulnerable. So, for all these physical attributes, totems appear naturally crafted to be pacifists. They are very tough to kill, able to heal and cure others, and strong enough to survive many environments. Oh, they also float. It’s weird but they can.

Totems are the world’s best at enduring and aiding, so being friendly to all seems like a natural step. It should be noted, however, that they are often called pacifists, yet they aren’t truly. Yes, they seek to avoid a fight, but they will resist anyone who tries to hurt them, their people or make any of them do something they don’t want to. When others seek to enslave them, the best trick is to capture their young and hold them while the adults go out with your army and heal the fighters. Totems are more amiable, more quick to concede, that is well known. They would rather submit than stand proudly in defiance. But those that know their kind are quite clear that they aren’t weak. The more you demand of them, the more you will have to push, and even they have their limits. Totems are pretty much unique in that you could call them good natured, but those who think them spineless or saints have often paid for such assumptions.

Having talked totems, I should make mention of a few other friendly groups. In their cases, they are more going against their nature or the ways of their group than with. For this reason, many won’t trust them, despite their history.

A few groups are cyborg sects. One is the Order of Organic Triumph. This sect believes in individuality and also of placing the human over the machine. For this reason, they are more flesh and blood than mechanical, which leaves them weaker in combat. They are also much less regimented. Because of these facts, this sect has suffered from attacks by more militant forces, so most of their number are hiding among other races. Usually humans. Now they tend to be a very open-minded and tolerant people, partly due to their philosophy, perhaps mostly due to their need to survive among other groups. They will seek to persuade humans to join, not ‘recruit’ them. As a non-militant force who have often been refugees, the Order of Organic Triumph have more often helped than hindered people.

Another group also has a refugee past. The Order of the Mothers Mechanical began when a few collections of survivors from defeated sects met up. They were mostly young with women – their teachers and carers – in command. They united and pressed on, away from the conflicts that were more common back then. They found others like them, then settled at a defensible site and made it their home. They remain there, strong enough to feel safe, a new sect, and they are also known for being open to refugees. They remember their past well. Many cyborg sects have been smashed over the centuries and small groups or even lone individuals roaming the world aren’t that uncommon. A place like this is a needed sanctuary. Yet it should be made clear, they are mostly keen in welcoming cyborgs, if they will tolerate other kinds too, and they let most stay a time and then move them on. They consider themselves a temporary refuge, unless someone meets their standards.

Another sect is the Order of Jubilant Transformation. As the name suggests, these cyborgs are all about celebrating the new and better form of existence they inhabit. This makes them very friendly and open, and they love to tell non-cyborgs how much better things are for them now. They are so tolerant, in fact, they have no qualms if anyone wishes to leave their sect. The sad truth is many have done so over time. Their way feels good, especially to the newly converted, but they have little power and so are one strong attack away from extinction. Also, some just can’t stomach how jubilant they are all the time.

It should be made clear here that, while these sects are seen in a much better light than most, they are still suspicious to some. There are claims that the Order of Organic Triumph convert in secret and infiltrate human, mutant and cyborg groups. There are rumours that the Mothers Mechanical have their own agenda. There are strong remarks that the Order of Jubilant Transformation are just a bunch of nutters.

Only the totems stand beyond reproach. Monsters who hate them, deem them traitors and human-helpers, see them as genuine in their tolerant and caring nature. Their size can be intimidating, they stand higher than devil-beasts and aegis, but their benevolent character soon overcomes any such fear. Aegis are powerful in aspect and scare those they help. Totems are strong but caring, helpful and loyal. Many will claim that if they weren’t so useful to have around, they would have been wiped out by now. Maybe so, and maybe the same could be said about how non-threatening they are. No one fears totems. But somehow, they never seem to fear anyone either. If more races were like them, there’d be a lot less to fear for all concerned.

Samurai Jack!

I honestly cannot underplay how excited I am for this.

Samurai Jack is one of my all time favourite shows. As far as animated shows go, it is easily in a top ten, along with Batman: the Animated Series and Ulysses 31. But even among any type of show, it would be a contender for top ten. It has so much I love. At first I liked it a lot because it had an interesting premise and excellent action. But over time the world developed, the style improved even more and some of the episodes were just unique within its own world. You could watch one episode where it was comical, another where it was dark and serious. One could be styled as a western, another as a film noir.

I can’t list my favourite episodes. Watching Jack fight endless and unusual warriors under the command of Demongo was just an action packed thrill. Witnessing him take on the specifically designed robot fighters, who are clearly inspired by Japanese samurai films such as Lone Wolf with the Masters of Death characters, was intense. Then there’s the robot gunfighter who wants his dog back. The triple feature where the Scotsman saves a brain-washed Jack. The amazing scene of time passing as the bounty hunters took him on. The fight with the shinobi. So on and so on.

I think the one episode I’m not a fan of is the one with the weird monkey creatures who use their technology to enslave these bigger beasts, but that’s mostly as I saw that episode a lot and the monkey creatures have such annoying voices.

Samurai Jack went from episodes of Jack taking on eccentric killers and hunters where action was nearly the all, to presenting things from the view of other characters. Jack is a introspective and monosyllabic person so often his story is told by visuals. I love that, and yet it can be difficult having this type of main character all the time, so the changes were welcome breaks. Oh, reminds me of another favourite episode where the mouthy samurai keeps challenging Jack to a fight, only to witness how out of his league the true samurai is.

This show was a massive influence on me, but I think that’s because it was influenced by so many things that I already loved. Action films. Martial arts movies. Samurai films. Scifi and fantasy, and even horror. Spy thrillers. Gangster flicks. Westerns. A thief who is clearly styled on Lupin from the anime movies. Mechs, from the same source of inspiration. As I said, Lone Wolf and Cub has an influence, twice! The Defiant Ones comes into it when we first meet the Scotsman. Psirens and demons and fairies and more, oh my!

For me, it was like so many of the things I love coming together. Jack was a samurai but he had been around the world and learned many skills, and he continued to do so, such as learning to jump good. The show didn’t just improve in the look and art, which are amazing, but the depth of both world and character continued to bring us with it. The world Jack was now in felt so varied and vibrant that it could go on for ever.

Jack was on a journey with a goal and we went with him on that, and yet all the stops along the way never felt like padding or obstacles just for the sake of more plot, but ways to develop Jack as a person and to unfold the world for us. Jack meeting the Spartans and aiding them in their battle showed us this brilliant people and exciting action, and also showed us how Jack was ready to defend others and admired bravery by any.

The show made it clear Jack was a hero. Not infallible, but definitely a hero. Aku was a great villain too, as were many of his minions. Other characters would be fun, either as straight up comedy or just over the top individuals that you would remember long after the show was gone.

I loved this show so much. Strong characters. Great action. But the art and visuals were stunning in the later episodes. Watching a robot seem to sweat as it hunted Jack (he had cut a pipe and steam was cooling on its face) was such a superb touch.

Now the show is coming back. Absolutely cannot wait. Looks darker, looks more violent. Can’t say that doesn’t make me want to see it more. Not even sure if I can watch it in the UK, but I’ll damn well try.

Oh a final note, here’s some of Jack’s best bits:

Australasia: Origin to Present

So when the world you know is going mad and monsters have become real, and worse still, the things your science have created are no longer your protectors but your hated enemies, where do you run to? Where is there to hide? Where lies safety?

To most people in the developed nations around the world, there were no easy answers. People who were part of establishments or elite ranks had secret bunkers they could hide in. Others who had the means could flee. Some could stand strong, use strength of arms or technology, or something else, to fend off the threats. For many, however, it was a case of get by. Try and survive. Adapt if you can. Suffer, if you can’t.

For those who could escape, it then became a case of where to go. Fleeing a short distance could be the only option, but if you really wanted to be safe, you wanted to get as far away as you could. The other side of the world would be a good bet. True, nowhere was safe, but of course, when you’re just normal people in your own little corner of the planet, you hope beyond hope that there will be safety somewhere. You want to go as far as you can because you tell yourself this will work.

So for those in Great Britain, a place where magic became readily available and in strong quantities, which then drew monsters to it, there were a few options. Some could just flee to Europe and see how that went. Others would use the magic power they now had to defend their home. Others fled. To some that meant places like Europe, Africa, even the United States, while people from there were fleeing in the other direction. Like I said, for many it was about getting away rather than worrying about where you ended up.

Some had time and resources to think and plan. Britain had strong links with Australia and this large island with a low population had plenty of potential as a refuge. Monsters were there, yes, but no machines or mutants. People who wanted to leave the magical island saw this far off destination as the perfect retreat. It did mean organising for a long trip, but it was considered worth the wait. It should also be noted that the vast majority of these people who gathered and prepared were white. Other ethnic groups had other targets, usually closer ones.

A significant number of people left Great Britain, travelled across the sea and arrived at Australia’s shores. The details of this journey aren’t well known, mostly recanted by the descendants in glorified, simple tales, as often becomes the way. None of that matters here. What concerns us is that British people arrived and the Australian government took them in. It was seen as a humanitarian act, yet it was a practical response as well. Australia needed numbers to defend itself. While they weren’t suffering as badly as most places in the world, they had endured losses. Fortunately for them, more people were soon to arrive.

Once the British had settled in, Americans showed up. They had seen this trip. A number of British ships had stopped at ports of the United States coastlines, so word had gotten out. White people heading for a land where they could be safe and secure. It appealed to many. Hell, even some non-white people wanted to go. The Americans were more organised. Military personnel were involved. Perhaps this was so as to make sure no wasn’t the answer given when they arrived. Perhaps not. Either way, when the Americans came to Australia, they had more weapons, more resources, and they could even offer to mine the sea so as to close the place off.

Before that could be achieved, the Japanese appeared. Now in their case, they were fleeing both magic and science, and had been pushing southward through Asia for some time. It isn’t entirely clear whether they knew about the British journey or not, but it is very likely some form of communication occurred. The Japanese had been driven from their home, they went to various places to make new ones, and a lot of them came to Australia to ask to join this new forming nation. There was some hesitation this time, and let’s not pretend race didn’t play a part, but there was also a fear of the magic and science the Japanese still wielded. This was especially troubling to the previous immigrants. The British had fled magic and many were fearful of it, although some were magic-users and it had defended them on the way here. The Americans were fearful of science for the same reasons and many had travelled here looking to find a new life without it, and the reports of magic devastating the world had put them against that as well. Let’s be honest, there was definitely a vibe of this mass migration that was reminiscent of the Puritan movement centuries before. People had left a home they were persecuted in to find a new land they could not only call home, but make it a home of their liking. Science and magic were best left outside of Australia, according to many voices.

Yet for all that, there was still the practical reasoning of survival, and this was still Australia back then. The government had the only say and they chose to let the Japanese in, as long as their magic and technology were put to the benefit of all. They had come to the northern shores so that was they would be stay, becoming a line of defence, should it be needed. As this was taking place, the British and Americans pushed for their own regions. Many of their people just took Australian citizenship and settled in, but most wanted to remain who they were, and to have a say in the future running of this transformed island.

The new nation was called Australasia, as in the name for the continent that has been used in the past. This was a compromise so that the natives felt it was pretty much their land, yet acknowledged things were different now. The British were given the west coast, the Americans the southern, with the city of Perth now a shared capital for them both. Australia kept the most important parts, remaining in most of the cities, and so while there was a good amount of shuffling around, it wasn’t too much. Considering how far most of this new population had travelled to be here, it was an easy task. During that time, they were able to set up defences – mining the sea, placing land-to-air weaponry, and culling the monster population so no threats remained to the cities. The inner region became the wild lands of Australasia, where people went to get away from authority, society, religion, etc. Monsters lurked out here, but they were badly outnumbered.

While the Japanese were allowed to continue their magic and science, it was strictly under the conditions of this happening in New Japan, and only there. As time went on, the other groups became more and more intolerant of those forces that had brought down civilisation. The British continued to practice magic; in a way they had little choice as the power lingered in their bloodlines so strongly, as with the Japanese. Yet it was best to keep it out of sight as much as possible. Rules varied from town to town. In some, magic was a sin and pretty much a crime. In others, it had a use if used only when needed. Americans rarely tolerated it. Australians were more open, but needed to keep a united front for political reasons, so magic was not exactly wrong, but nor was it right, across the land. This hypocrisy extended to science. Most new settlements became low tech within the following century, and yet power plants were built by the Japanese for certain cities, as part of their commitment to the island. Science was frowned upon in most of Australasia, and yet all major cities used electricity, and the Japanese continued to develop things that the other nations showed interest in. Condemn science and magic openly, make use of them quietly; this was the new way.

With the creation of each nation, a new government was formed and the British, the Japanese and the Americans were able to govern themselves, at least to a degree. Even now, it is understood that the Australians call the shots in the end. Their population remains the largest, they run the most cities, and, basically, they were there first. Each nation can have some laws for themselves and of course keep their culture, for the most part, yet there remains a need for unity. It is about keeping a balance. Each group wants a semblance of independence while knowing that if any force came to their island, they would all need the others to defend it. It works well for politicians and agitators to claim they will ensure the voices of their people will be heard, but compromise and understanding are how things get done.

A useful way to get an insight into the relationships between the groups is to look at their intelligence agencies. Each people have their own spies and counter spying networks. There isn’t a great spy war going on, far from it, but each group wants to keep an eye on their neighbours while not giving too much away. In fact, the spying has reached an almost communal level. Basically, if no one knows anything about you, you must be up to no good, so each nation is aware of the others spying on it, and lets it happen. In return, the others do the same. Spies may even meet, have a chat, exchange information. This isn’t an open conflict where agents shoot it out in the streets. This is quiet, careful, and mostly open. Mostly. Everyone wants that one up. Each group has its own ways. For instance, the British tend to be about information gathering and then using this to barter with or blackmail. They lean toward not causing trouble, not making any ripples, just deftly listening in and then calmly using it. Smile, nod, be polite, and get what you want, is their way.

Religion remains important and is mostly the Christian church, as would be expected. For the most part they work a fine line of condemnation of magic and its use, and some even participate in persecuting the users. Obviously this doesn’t reach into New Japan. When it comes to policing, each nation have their own police, but there are Rangers who roam, especially into the less settled central region of the island. A Ranger could be from any group, but because of the nature of the quartet’s relationship, rarely will one be Japanese. The white races intermingle a lot more, sharing culture and history, as well as language, while the Japanese focus on themselves, refining their magic and science, and dealing with their own problems. More on that in another post.

For the most part, Australasia is a pretty good place to be. For a human. They have been cut off from the world and its problems for a long time, the monsters there are a threat but only if you go wandering into the central wilderness. There are bandits out there too, and criminals of other types around the cities, towns and villages. But crime isn’t a huge concern, nor is there any potential for war. Soldiers reside in outposts along the coast, with a headquarters in Tasmania, and the military is for Australasia, not each nation. Even though those soldiers could well side with their own people if conflict occurred, they pledge their loyalty to the island as a whole.

The people who live here may have left the incredible threats that once drove them from their homes far behind, but they haven’t forgotten them. There are difficulties in being four nationalities living together, of course, yet nothing approaching a desire to break this settled unity up. Their ancestors went through a lot so that the people living now can have a safe haven to reside in. Even if this isn’t said openly, that past migration still has an affect on the mindset of the Australasian people to this day. Their view of the world is fundamentally different from anyone else’s. Their home may not be perfect, but it is a good place, unlike those they fled from, and they wish to keep it that way. All of them. Any nationalism, racism and other divisive issues take second place to this.

Oh, a few minor details to add before I finish. Australasia has a lot of railways running to help connect the growing settlements, and this is an acceptable level of technology even for the religious zealots. Also, there is only one portal in the entire country, deep into the centre of its territory. Currently it is guarded by creatures that don’t want anyone new coming through, but the humans have long ago lost awareness of it. They consider themselves sealed off. Another point is that, as previously mentioned, the three white races speak English, while the Japanese speak English fluently as well as their own language. Gives them an advantage. A final note is to say that while New Japan has the city of Tokyo Two – made by the Japanese from scratch – as their capital, and Britannia and America shares Perth as their joint capital, the Australian, and so Australasian capital, remains Canberra.

The V.C.s – Hell in the Heavens

Finally I got to read this!

When I was young, I somehow read the last few issues of the V.C.s in 2000AD comics. I think my brother was given or loaned a few and I got to read them, I’m not sure. But I certainly remember the V.C.s. I thought I had just read the very last issue, I only remembered a few things, but once I had read this graphic novel, I recognised moments from the last few chapters. So turns out I had seen more of the V.C.s than I thought.

So what hit me? Why had I remembered this for so long?

The scenes I remembered was mostly a showdown between the main character and a scummy snob called the Dishwasher, and another character who hated the main character for being from Earth yet still stepped in to kill the Dishwasher. I also recalled that the humans attacking the Geek world by the end.

But as I read toward the end of this book, I realised I had already seen that moment when Hen-Sho forced the other two to take the only escape pods. Then I knew I had seen Smith and Loon landing, and that I had seen what happens to Loon.

Whenever I thought about this weird sci-fi comic I had read once as a teenager, I knew I loved the showdown, the dark tone of the story, the vivid war with an alien race and how brutal it was depicted. Later I found out it was the V.C.s from 2000AD. I read over the wiki page I think, remembered a few things, but it wasn’t until I got Hell in the Heavens for Christmas (finally) that I was able to sit and truly appreciate this. It might sound weird to claim that a comic I had only read a final piece of somehow left a strong impact on me, and yet this one had all those traits I love. Gritty war stories. Dark scifi. Brutal depictions of conflict that cost the characters we are following. So yeah, that brief glimpse of the V.C.s stuck with me, even though I didn’t know the names.

Which leads me to mention Bad Company. This is another story from 2000AD. I picked up the first graphic novel years back and I devoured the first series in one afternoon. I literally couldn’t put it down. My book contained the first two stories; I later bought another graphic novel that had the third series. To be blunt, I didn’t love the other two stories as much as I revered the first, yet I did enjoy them a lot and became a Bad Company fanboy. This was just like the V.C.s yet on an alien planet instead of being set in space. It became a huge influence on me. I can’t imagine what kind of hold it would have had if I had read it when young, like I did with the V.C.s. Still, it hit me.

I bring up Bad Company because I feel there is a worthy comparison between the two. I think if you have read either of these, you’d enjoy the other. Both deal with humans versus aliens in a war in the future, with a high body count and a grim, macabre tone. I would say I still much prefer Bad Company. You can’t beat Kano, Thraxx, Mad Tommy Churchill and co. There are more V.C.s stories and I hope to read them later. Maybe there are better ones to come. Maybe, like Bad Company, the first run was the best. I would say I really liked the universe created in the V.C.s story and would love to see it developed more. It could make a great tv series, as we’re seeing more and more of now, like the Expanse and Sense8. Small cast, strong characters, lots of action, a universe to be delved into.

Okay, so I’ll finally get into the V.C.s – Hell in the Heavens. Oh, and I will get spoilerish.

To give a quick overview: the humans are fighting an alien race called the Geeks. At the beginning it is mostly a space war with the Geeks raiding human territory, so ships with startroopers patrol to intercept and destroy. Our main character is Steve Smith, a human from Earth, newly trained and placed on the ships of the V.Cs. Here, his five crewmates are all humans from other worlds, so they dislike the earthworm and he has to go through a lot before they even see him as tolerable. As the war goes on, things escalate between the humans and the Geeks, with major attacks on the solar system resulting in a revenge mission in search of the Geek homeworld. It has to be said, the humans get a real arse kicking for a lot of the story.

The characters are the strong point for me. I do think they could have been developed even more, yet they each have strong definitions and change to some degree over the course of the series. Smith is very eager to prove himself and often oversteps or screws up because he is trying to impress the rest. This makes him flawed, but I also liked that he didn’t shrink away as the others put him down. He gets proactive, even aggressive, in order to help win the war and become a true V.C. He goes from rookie to hardened fighter and leader. Jupe is the leader of the crew for most of it. His phrase sums it up – suck it in. Anything, everything that goes wrong for anyone, they get told by Jupe to shut up, take it and get on with things. He is the tough grizzled sargent you often see in films and shows, and you’d certainly hope to have in real life. He keeps people alive. He is tough on Smith, but stands up for him and listens to his ideas over time. Ringer hates Smith. Ringer is the nasty antagonist for much of the story, if also an excellent pilot. He can get a bit one note, but his turn at the very end made all of it worthwhile. The other characters are Loon, Dwarfstar and Hen-Sho. Loon is mad, having spent time on the Moon’s prison. Dwarf is more different looking, having been mutated in space travel. Hen-Sho is a proud Chinese Martian, who is also a bit easier on Smith than the rest. It has to be said, these three have the least depth to them, yet each have their moments. We meet Dwarf’s brother, spend time on Mars where Hen-Sho boasts of his people’s accomplishments, and Loon has a freak out in which he nearly skins Smith. I’d have liked more of these moments, but the crew’s overall story, their differences with Smith as he settles in, the ongoing war and how it changes – these become the bulk of the series. I loved Bad Company’s first story because it was character focused and driven. The second run was more plot driven. The V.C.s story is very much a mix of the two. There was a point toward the end where we were spending a lot more time on Smith alone than the crew together, which I wasn’t so into, but that wasn’t for long. In truth, I would say this is more a Steve Smith story than a story about the V.C.s as Smith is the main focus constantly and gets more to do as he gets sent on important missions. Still, Jupe and the rest stand out enough to make you care. At least, I thought so. As the war starts to cost the crew, I felt for the losses and certainly wished at least one happened differently. That was something I admired the story for. The V.C.s get sent on more and more dangerous missions, and those high risks can’t be avoided for ever.

As much as I say the characters are a strong point, I also felt the world – or universe – of the V.C.s was the other strong seller for me. Yes, it is a fairly typical space war and the Geeks are pretty much just faceless baddies to get vaped. Some might not appreciate how it is very much a good guys versus bad guys war, or rather, the characters are fine with killing the enemy and never question this conflict. The questionable aspect comes in when we meet the Dishwasher. The diplomats are, as can be so, the real enemy of the soldiers. If the Geeks are the opposing force to be defeated, the Dishwashers are the ones the V.C.s really come to hate as they screw up and get startroopers killed. One Dishwasher proves to be Smith’s mortal enemy. That’s certainly the viewpoint depicted in the V.C.s – much like Bad Company and other war movies like the Iron Cross and Paths of Glory – that when you’re the soldier fighting the war, you’re stuck in the middle and have to get through it as best you can with your comrades, struggling against the enemy in front of you while watching out against your superiors behind you.

What is unique with the V.C.s is the variety of humans. Unique might be pushing it, I’m not sure what else touched on this idea by the time the story was printed (in 1979!). I know I read some books by Anne McCaffrey which had heavyworlders in. Pretty good they were too. But few other things have gotten into the concept of humans being different because they are from different worlds. We’re too used to Star Trek and Stargate I think. Babylon 5 at least showed the issues of the Mars colony and others wanting independence.

In the V.C.s, we have Smith, an Earther, who is looked down on by the others. Ringer is from Saturn, Loon from the Moon, Jupe from Jupiter, Dwarfstar from Neptune and Hen-Sho, as mentioned, from Mars. There are indications that the others are tougher and better than Earthers. Jupe and Ringer are certainly stronger. I got the feeling they also saw those from Earth as arrogant and probably having gone soft. In return, though, the V.C.s are looked down on by the command of the human fleet. I’m not sure, but I think most of the frontline startroopers were colonists, and the commanding elite were Earthers. So this story dealt with prejudice going both ways, of conflict and variety among humanity, of the human race spreading out but not staying a happy and united family, as some scifi likes to present. The war with the Geeks is a bit straightforward, yet the current state of the human race is presented as being anything but.

Oh, and as I come to an end, I should say what the V.C.s means. Of course, any Brit with a knowledge of military history knows the VC stands for the Victoria Cross, which is the highest honour a soldier can get. So VC has a resonance. Yet in this case the V.C.s stands for the vacuum cleaners. Basically they are there to go around and clean up the mess. It is a neat little philosophy that tells you a lot about the crew early on – matter-of-fact, with a grim sense of humour and a disdain for the enemy. Geeks are rubbish to be removed. These blokes get the dirty work done.

Obviously I really enjoyed this graphic novel and plan to get the others sometime to see how they go. But for more, this had a special, personal side to it. When you’re young and developing your tastes in fiction and entertainment, certain things just click. Often, you become a fanboy/girl and they mean more to you than the same story does for others. Any remake or renewal usually doesn’t have the same power. You seen it all before. You’ve read this story. Little can get to you the same way that first glimpse into something you didn’t know you were into until you met it. That’s how the V.C.s were for me. A quick read when I was young, and yet I never forgot that image of the power-disc cutting through that fat neck. That bitter conflict and deadly exchange.

Very happy to finally be fully acquainted with you, V.C.s.

Magical Mutations

Typically, when it comes to discussing mutants, we mean beings who have been transformed and/or disfigured by science, either by design or accident. So there are those who were created in labs – sometimes for the better, others ruined by failed experiments – and those brought about by accidents or attacks featuring radiation, biological warfare or various pollutants. Of course, many of those accidents were suspected of being deliberate when they occurred. For instance, Eastern Europe became flooded with radiation briefly, and some suspected this was an attack by an outside force, but others claimed those in charge were analysing the effects before carrying out their own experimentation. After all, the radiation ‘cleared’ up quickly. Back then, the technology to counter those kinds of accidents was available for some, as was magic and magi wishes. This means that, while the mutant race continues today, the events that created many have little or no presence.

Speaking of magic, just as it seeped into the world and made it something new, so it had its effect on the inhabitants. Many types of beings have been altered due to the presence of magic, and also by nature itself, now that has been introduced to the Shadow World. There are instances of magic and science interacting too, such as in the Caribbean when a nuclear strike landed. That area has never been the same since and we’ll talk more of it later. Mostly, though, magic did its own thing and usually that took time. People have been changed by it. For the majority they are never classified as mutants, but in truth, they aren’t much different.

A strong example of this is Africa. The people there have spent a long time living in a continent now overgrown by jungle. The idea of this place being a land of desert is ridiculous to them. Magic was used, Africa was reborn and the Dark Land became a haven for humans. They lived amidst the shadowy jungles, beneath the entwined branches and vines, and they changed to have larger irises and be able to see better in the dark. They hunt the monsters there, because, for all that the creatures of the Shadow World came from such a named place, they don’t see in the dark any better than most things. Now, the people of Africa are seen as human and count themselves as such, yet there is no doubt they aren’t the same as everyone else. But then again, many aren’t.

Another region is the Philippines. Here, long ago, a powerful magical bombardment came from Japan, a land strong in magic. This was before the Japanese people left their homeland and were fighting for it against many powerful enemies. It has never been thought of as a deliberate attack, more likely a deflection of some kind. Some even praise it as a gift. That’s because people born and living there who aren’t magic-users will often have some kind of special ability. It varies from something small, such as a click of the fingers creating magical sparks, to being attuned to the weather. Again, none of these individuals are counted as mutants and there is no fear of them among their people. It is part of who they are. Often, those abilities come in handy defending their home.

Returning to the Caribbean, the nuclear attack of over two centuries ago left that group of islands broken and changed. In fact, most of Central America is gone. Again, there are claims and counter claims of responsibility here. Most say humans fired to stop a mutant horde from coming north, although far more mutants were made in the northern hemisphere than otherwise. Some wonder if the attack was directed at the magically charged islands. Many humans say the computers fired. Either way, a devastating assault was launched. It hit Mexico but also the Caribbean, and the result of nuclear power meeting magic set off a wild and bizarre reaction that, legends say, completely overwhelmed the rest of the nuclear explosions. Now, between the northern and southern continents of the Americas, is a wide spread of tiny islands – some not much more than large rocks in the ocean. Despite everything, people live there, and have done since then. Yes, many were killed, but it seems some survived the devastation and others moved there over time, either by choice or forced to as they fled other threats. The people there aren’t quite the same as everyone else. For one, they have to be very tough to live there, so even the more ordinary islander is a toughened, determined survivor. But many have something special about them too. Not as flamboyant or obvious as the Lilliputians. Well, not always, because the magic-user Razmatazz is about as flamboyant as they come. No, usually it is more inward. A higher level of perception perhaps. A stronger will. Some good examples would be Persephone, who gets a strong sense of what people are about to do, especially in a fight; Tryst, who has incredible luck, sometimes to the detriment of those around her; FUG, who is a very ugly (the U in the name stands for Ugly) yet physically strong and resilient fighter.

A mention has to go to Great Britain, the last magical hotspot to be fully lived on. Here more weird things happen and people can be born with some strangeness that is less surprising than it would be to us. Bruin is a man who cannot be cut or stabbed, and even he doesn’t truly know why. Dalliance is a bright champion and I mean that literally. Also, this doesn’t just pertain to humans. The Beast is a giant brute and the Serpent is a, well, giant writher. Also there is Gobbler, who was once a big fat man who succumbed to a brain-maggot, which then slithered into his mouth to rest in safety. He woke later, only he and the creature had merged, and now he wanders around, seemingly simple-minded, yet with a tongue that can lash out and latch on so he can feed. He has even swallowed people up whole, hence the name.

In many respects, these are all mutants, but never are they named such. The divide between human and mutant is much more blurred than the rest, with the exception of cyborgs, and for the most part it depends on how a group or person identifies. There is a group in Africa where the men are born as super-soldiers and the women are more human like, if more athletic than usual, and so while they could all be considered mutants, they have often seen themselves as humans. There is also a group of super-soldiers in the Baltic region who don’t know what they truly are, so see themselves as just big, strong humans, born to prevail in the harsh climate. After all, Monolith roams there and he is human, also called such, despite being bigger than any of them.

When it comes to magical mutations, those involved are seen as monsters or freaks more than mutants. Another example here would be witches. These are magic-users with some level of psychic power, so they stand out even among those empowered by magic. There have also been those who use magic to transform people. Once a being called Valentius enjoyed reshaping others, sometimes to punish, often to try and create a better army. None of his successes lived past his downfall. Enacting this desire isn’t just an issue of power but skill and imagination, so while others continue to try this now and then, few get anywhere.

The truth is there just aren’t enough magically mutated people around to bring about a sense of identification or a concept of uniting with the ‘normal’ mutants. The only case where this is close to being so is in Asia. Before the Shadow World came, China and India were strong rivals, both well equipped technologically. Many mutants were mass produced by the Chinese, but the latter refused to create new life due to religious beliefs. At least not while the centralised government was in charge. But in both nations magic was found among the poorer people, so while machines were built and battles were fought, authority collapsed and the Raging began, many communities sought to keep themselves safe via what power they had. They created havens – a term used for when people embed spells around their settlement or if they dwell on a place strong in magic which they can utilise. Then, when things got even worse, when biological and chemical weapons were brought into play, these havens helped many survive. The key word here is survive. Magic did what it could to keep those it was meant to alive, yet it could not prevent the physical effects completely. People were changed and I’ll go into that more another time, but these and the other mutants now interact, feeling more akin than with the fearful humans around them.

One last group to mention are the Dragon Singers – to some a fable, to others a part of history. Dragons did much while they were around, they destroyed cities and nested in the ashes, but they could also bless and protect people. It is said all dragons loved to hear singing, and those who could sing so well as to send one to sleep were especially honoured. They would be quite liked by everyone else too! Many of these were blessed by dragons, and some of the descendants of them still bear the legacy. Dragon Singers are supposedly immune to fire and even a lot of magic, they can sing spells and dance like no one else. Some herald them as majestic beings to be adored, others propose that they have scaled skin and slitted pupils, and are the spies for the dragons for when they return.

Magical mutation is a very real thing, and while few will ever be seen as mutants, it is just another reminder that few things are ever so neat and tidy so as to bracket everyone in restricted groups. People will view with suspicion what is different, will praise what helps them, fear what threatens. Communities form and band together, using names to make them united and strong, but many will stand out and look to make their own name. Magic has taken its toll and given a great deal of blessing to the world, the very nature of reality has become less predictable, less controllable, and more open to the strange and unusual. Science has broken barriers and opened new doors as well, and so together, mutation, evolution and development of all kinds is there to be sought out.