Crafting a Response to an “End”… through Words

I wish to explore the characters’ responses to a possible apocalyptic ending in Global Frequency by visiting its final installment, “Harpoon.” Starting from the title itself, we can see elements of an “end” from the word choice and dialogue throughout this chapter.  A harpoon is a thrown weapon used in hunting, i.e. it is an agent of ending, of death.  Utilizing the technological terror of a “kinetic harpoon,” this chapter sets up an apocalyptic disaster waiting to happen.

Kermode questions the human fascination with imagining an end for ourselves, of placing our lives on a precise timeline of beginning, middle, and end.  He writes that our preoccupation with time and apocalyptic endings stems from our fear of inevitable death, and our desire to ease our existential anxieties (7, 11).

The fears and anxieties of an ending can be seen through the astronaut’s wide-eyed, slack expression as he says, haltingly, “I. Am going. To die.”  His panel is illustrated in monochrome gray, with subsequent space scenes in black and blue hues, all of which convey a sense of coldness.  These are colors associated with darkness and lifelessness, like the colors of a corpse.  Space itself can be seen as a metaphor for death: devoid of oxygen, it is unable to sustain life.  The astronaut’s most profound line is perhaps, “We’ll save our own lives and grow our own wings,” a statement which seems to reject the idea of helplessly surrendering to a prescribed death, and that humans have the power to take their lives into their own hands.  Indeed, his character does save humanity from death, but after making the conscious decision to sacrifice himself.  In a way, he conquers the frightening “ending” by exercising control over it.

Another interesting point about the dialogue: I was fascinated (and maybe slightly appalled?) by the use of “leet” speak in this chapter, something which was not included in the writing of any previous chapter.  It is first seen when Aleph comments about the seemingly hopeless satellite situation: she has cradled her head in her palm, her body slumped in a defeated position as she utters: “We are so fuxor3d.” (Translation: “We are so f***ked.”)  The washed-out, monochrome colors of the panel background surrounding her seem to accentuate her despair.

On another panel three pages later, Alice April makes a similar defeatist remark, “This mission is teh suck.”  (Translation: “This mission sucks/is the worst.”) The coloring of her panels is similarly muted, utilizing maroon and black to outline Alice April and John Stark (making a cameo return from the first chapter) against a dusky sunset.

These characters express their frustration and hopelessness about their possible imminent end.  But why choose such language to do so? Why the use of this “leet” speak, by these two particular characters?  Simply for humorous effect in an otherwise dark, dramatic plot?  Or perhaps it is a sarcastic jab at the role of technology in shaping our lives, such that even our language has been affected?  Was the only way to properly express just how ironic it was that advancements in technology could be humanity’s own undoing, to use language produced from that very same technology?  I could be just be reading too much into these small details, but I find that in a comic book format, the limited dialogue must be chosen deliberately and carefully by the author to convey an intent.  Warren Ellis could have had the characters speak regularly, but he made a conscious decision not to do so.  After getting over my initial bafflement at the language, I wondered whether it was indeed rather clever to use such language as subtle commentary, while also adding a touch of sarcastic humor to break up the heavy mood.

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3 Responses to Crafting a Response to an “End”… through Words

  1. pmc9122 says:

    I like the idea that the even the language of the people surrounded by technology is changed, not for better or worse necessarily, but changed nonetheless. and only we who inhabit the sphere of the technology can understand it. It creates new meaning from old phrases by including the misspelling, a meaning that is intrinsically tied to the reality that much communication in a technological age takes place through textual representation instead of face to face communication, which would have no room for the hastily typed errors that convey a sense of speed and frustration that words do not. To have characters using the mispronunciations shows that, even down to the level of speech, their world is saturated with technology and its effects.

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  2. burgleyourturts says:

    I honestly didn’t even notice those uses of “leet” speech when reading it my first time through, I think I was too concerned with finding out how it ended that I missed those small details. I think you make a very good point acknowledging that Ellis purposely used these phrases. Like you mentioned, it is amusing in a dark sort of way that they are using a language developed through the use of technology when they themselves are facing a destruction at the hands of technology. I thought this was a really cool find that I totally missed. Thanks for pointing it out!

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  3. Very good eye on catching the “leet” speak. The inclusion in “Harpoon” of this kind of tech-infused dialect might also be due to the fact that Global Frequency was published over almost a two-year period (2002-2004), and during this time the internet was quickly transforming and codifying itself (into what is often referred to as Web 2.0). So perhaps the use of leet in the later chapters is an attempt to reflect how quickly technology is changing and how much internet culture had invaded other media over Ellis’s run on the books. Interesting post.

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