Big Wheel


Warren Ellis’s chapter Big Wheel was probably the most standout chapter which kept my mind actively engaged as I continued to read the graphic novel. For me, the scene in which global frequency member 436 talks about her own bionic arm and the process which Richard Quinn had to undergo really stood out to me as it reminded me of modern biomedical advancement in 3D printing as well as the quest for sustainable mechanical limbs outside of prosthetics.

3D printing advancements in the biomedical field have replicated the same techniques as a regular computer’s ink printing. The exception is that the materials for medicine are biocompatible filled with cells and supporting components required for living tissues and organs in the hope of creating successful transplants. This idea goes alongside the advancement of mechanical limbs where at John Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Maryland researchers have spent numerous years working on Modular Prosthetic Limbs (MPLs). This laboratory is where scientists have recently been able to create bionic limbs that can be controlled through one’s thoughts. In order to accomplish this, the subject must undergo a surgical procedure called “targeted muscle reinnervation.” This procedure reassigns nerves that previously controlled lost limbs and make it possible to control the bionic additives by mere thought.

3D printing

This scientific breakthrough along with the continuing advancement of 3D printing, especially in the biomedical field almost immediately correlated with Ellis’s characters in Big Wheel; global frequency member 436 and Richard Quinn. For Ellis, he created the idea that a chip was inserted into the brain in order to control the artificial nerve system in the amputee areas. This concept has clearly shown to be true with modern technology.

For me, this concept of “artificial life” is a literal definition of Donna Haraway’s “A Manifesto for Cyborgs: Science, Technology, and Socialist Feminism in the 1980s”. However, although Haraway doesn’t refer to the cyborg as something futuristic or mechanical, she does refer to the concept of post-humanism in which we as a human species have blurred the boundaries of our relationship with technology. Haraway’s idea doesn’t imply lost or transcendence of humanity, but I do think that there is an undertone in her writing that criticizes the social relationships, constructions and binaries that currently exist because of technology. In her piece, Haraway says, “By the late twentieth century, our time, a mythiac time, we are all chimeras, theorized and fabricated hybrids of machine and organism: in short we are cyborgs. The cyborg is our ontology; it gives us our politics. The cyborg is a condensed image of both imagination and material reality, the two joined centers of constructing any possibility of historical transformation (page 8).” Here Haraway is saying that this cyborg relationship is our very being; it is the way we are as humans. The cyborg is not whole, but rather an internal contradiction between biology and technology which doesn’t resolve itself. I think in Ellis’s piece he puts direct attention to this relationship between human and machine. In the obvious sense, he does so with 436 and Quinn, but also with the entire Global Freuqency itself. None of the missions would be possible without technology services like GPS, cell phone communication, even weapons. For Ellis, this is a time where machine needs to fight machine and where human qualities like compassion, reason and logic do not stand equal ground but are not obsolete either. For me the scene where Quinn talks about how killing is his only means of sexual pleasure, I think that this shows where human qualities can be misdirected yet this scene also points out the necessity of qualities, which Quinn tries to hold on to. He is angry about his current situation and sees killing as the only means to hold on to any humanity he has left ironically. However, I also see this fight between machine, between cyborgs also closely goes along Haraway’s idea of singularity. For Ellis, this singularity or reaching a point where our minds can’t go is embodied by Quinn. Although I do not think that Quinn has reached that point yet, one can see through the images and graphics of his character- especially the ones without dialogue- foreshadow technological events if it weren’t for the Global Frequency.

I know this may seem like a far-fetched speculation and perhaps I cannot vocalize my thoughts clearly, but this chapter had honest relevance with me. This was my first time reading a graphic novel and I honestly really liked it! It took me awhile to get used to the form and set up of the images and dialogue, as well as the differing artists opinions of design, however, I really felt engaged in the narrative as well as highly entertained. For me, being highly interested in science and technology, I was really happy that I was able to compare Ellis’s narrative to modern technological advances as well as speculate the possible future narratives that might actually come from these advances.

This entry was posted in Global Frequency, Reading Response, Technology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Big Wheel

  1. tomhaverford says:

    Interesting video and parallel, however do you think the problems faced by Quinn as a cyborg similarly affect humans today that have prosthetics? Does technology intertwined with biology truly take away from the humanity of a person?


  2. danwillisdan says:

    You raise some interesting points. To me, it almost seems like Ellis sees the necessity for some distance for technology. Once technology comes at the expense of humanity (the rewiring of nerves, or even the literal loss of flesh), as Global Frequency suggests, it interrupts the human project of utopia. But when approached rationally, externally, and with humankind’s best interests in mind (i.e. the global frequency) it can be nothing but a tool for good.


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