Bombhead, the first chapter of Warren Ellis’s Global Frequency, stood out to me. Global Frequency is a comic exploring the problems caused by technology that humans have brought on themselves. The first chapter is about a man who has a device in his head that when activated will open a wormhole under a nuclear bomb. The bomb will then proceed to detonate wherever the man happens to be at this time. Particularly disturbing about this comic was when Ivan Alibekov described that Janos Voyan essentially had a bomb implanted in his head. Alibekov had been working for Russia during the Cold War and the bomb in Janos’s head was among the things that he helped create. This chapter stood out to me because it jumped right into the horror of what technology could do. Not only were there bombs in the world, but that man had been turned into one.
When he was turned into a bomb, Janos also joined the legion of the standing reserve. The standing reserve is an idea described in Martin Heidegger’s The Question Concerning Technology. Heidegger describes the standing reserve as an object waiting, or standing-by, until it fulfills its designated function. Though this could theoretically apply to any object, Heidegger explores the idea in relation to technology and to people. To explain its application to technology, Heidegger uses the example of an airplane waiting on the runway, it is standing-by to provide transportation. In this case the airplane’s sole function is to provide transportation, it is the reason that it was created.
Heidegger goes on to explore the idea of people becoming standing reserve. The idea of people becoming standing reserve is not a new idea, though the term itself may be new. For years different political groups, most famously the Communist Party, have protested the wage worker system which essentially turns the workers into cogs in a machine. Heidegger uses the example of workers cutting down trees so other workers can make paper so other workers can print newspapers. This example shows how sometimes humans are reduced to parts in an economic assembly line and are therefore simply standing reserve. This type of standing reserve is the main way that Heidegger addresses the issue of humans becoming standing reserve.
In Bombhead, however, Janos becomes standing reserve in a whole new manner. He is not simply part of a machine, he was turned into a standing reserve object. Janos was turned into a bomb. A bombs sole purpose is to explode, up until the point that the bomb detonates it waits in standing reserve for that moment. And Janos was turned into that very object. He lived a life between the time that he became a bomb and the time that he nearly detonated, but through that whole life he was an object waiting.
This way of displaying a person, as an object instead of an actual person, is a powerful depiction. Ellis attacks full on the idea that humanity is deteriorating and that humans are becoming less valuable. Ellis doesn’t wish it to be true, so he writes characters who oppose this movement toward a human standing reserve. His characters recognize the horrors created by humans and imposed on humans and attempt to counter them. In Bombhead, Ms. Zero lays out the focus for the entire comic when she says, “These are the things I formed the Global Frequency to deal with. The litter of the way we live. The unexploded bombs. There has to be someone to rescue people from the world they live in.”