Janos Voyan: a Standing Reserve

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.”

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5 Responses to Janos Voyan: a Standing Reserve

  1. KAK249 says:

    I agree that this chapter opened the novel extremely violently, which drew me in immediately. However, I think you could read any of the chapters in any order and it would not diminish the understanding of the series overall. The comic opened and closed with violent/horrific scenes and I could not help but notice almost every issue (except two) was resolved with violence. One would think there might be a better way of stopping the “villains” with the power of the most brilliant specialists coming together to save the world.

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  2. KeepCalm22 says:

    I completely agree that Janos is the perfect example of the idea of standing reserve. The fact that you brought up the idea of people being created manually into standing reserve reminded me of the Bigwheel section as well. The bionic man depicted in that scene, and even those who were partially bionic, were altered by technology to become an extension of government power, a super weapon that had been set aside until further use. From what we understand from the novel, there was no dire need for a bionic man. Instead, the government desired to experiment with new technology, turning human beings into objects that remained in the Bigwheel facility until needed. This too, in my opinion, is also a perfect example of standing reserve. What was once referred to as a man is now a cyborg or bionic human. Even the cyborg’s heavily altered appearance makes it difficult for readers to classify him as human and easier to classify him as an almost alien or advanced weapon. Humans become objects, waiting to be used at just the right time. Until then, however, they are doomed to wait, unused and cast aside, the definition of standing reserve.

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    • danwillisdan says:

      What’s really interesting, though, is that Janos was not called upon or activated. He was about to deploy the bomb simply because he was forgotten; he waited too long and the chip decayed. It reveals yet another quandary of treating humans as standing-reserve: what happens when they can’t possibly wait any longer?

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  3. Dandy Mott says:

    I like how you related Janos to Heidegger’s standing reserve, reifed as an object instead of a person anymore. Personally, I connected Takashi Sato to this because Takashi no longer wants to be apart of the frequency and mentions there are “one thousand other people on the global frequency, just waiting for the call.” I did not make this connection of Janos to a form of standing reserve when I originally read this chapter; however, after reading your post I can see why you believe that. I also like how you say that he was “turned into a bomb.” This reminded me of Donna Haraway and her idea that we are all cybogs, some sort of combination between man and machine, as opposed to separate entities.

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    • kab248 says:

      I enjoyed your article on Janos’ role in the standing reserve. I think its also important to mention that Janos had apporting powers, and that his special talent was technologically advanced and militarized in order to deliver a bomb for political purposes. This plays in to the overall theme of cyborgs and the dangers of abusing technology. Another illustration of this idea is the bionic man in Big Wheel. This man is unknowingly (at least to some extent) turned into an artificially enhanced militarized cyborg by the Air Force with the intention of creating a super weapon.

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