Former U.S. President Dwight D. Eisenhower cryptically warned of the rise of the military industry. Eisenhower said in 1961, “In the councils of government, we must guard against the acquisition of unwarranted influence, whether sought or unsought, by the military-industrial complex. The potential for the disastrous rise of misplaced power exists, and will persist.” In time, these words would have a ripple effect on the military industrial complex, paving the way for PMC’s (private military corporations) such as Blackwater.

Now, we see war in video games such as CALL OF DUTY, PLAYER UNKNOWN’S BATTLEGROUNDS and FORTNITE. In addition, we see it in films such as THE HUNGER GAMES and DUNKIRK. In short, modern warfare is a complex issue that always ends in bloodshed. What happens then when war becomes a spectator’s sport in the future purely for entertainment? This is one such future that the Image Comics series VS depicts and, in it, much like in modern warfare, war is a commodity.

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War as Absurd Advertisement

In the world of VS, sponsors own bionic body parts that power soldiers.  Much like professional athletes, the better soldiers do, the more lucrative sponsorships they get. Creators Ivan Brandon and Esaid Ribic use propaganda-style advertisements to great effect. We’re constantly bombarded with pop-up advertising messages reminiscent to MOTOR CRUSH. The messages are satirical in nature or denote when a player is being substituted (think: soccer match). In one instance, a camera drone orders a time out and has a substitute soldier come into the arena. Meanwhile, an advertisement for “Return to Sparta” Tuesdays that gets sponsored by Eternity Mobile Gravesites plays before the war resumes.

Image Courtesy of Image Comics

In this way, VS denotes that war is absurd in nature because the idea of space centurions versus soldiers out of an Isaac Asimov novel is ridiculous. For example, in later issues of VS, protagonist Satta Flynn faces off against a team of anthropomorphic humans. Yet, reflecting war’s absurdity, VS is quite serious about the face-off and doesn’t bat an eye to its most ridiculous looking denizens with deformed faces or trees on their heads.

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Soldiers are Glorified Celebrities

Being a soldier is a thankless job that offers no fame or glory; awards often come in the form of war medals.  Are there any famous living soldiers that you can name off the top of your head? Chances are that you probably cannot think of any. And if you do, they probably serve in government. However, VS tackles the notion of turning soldiers into celebrities because cameras live broadcast skirmishes.

In this case, we follow Satta Flynn, a blue-skinned veteran of the War of the Seven Fires who becomes a space gladiator after an injury. Flynn has a legion of fans and gets stopped by news reporters and fans alike. In sum, Flynn is responsible for ratings-driven television, which in turn affects the public perception of him. Because of this, Flynn has an agent that fields reporters’ questions and gets Flynn sponsorship deals. Yet Flynn is not alone in his desire for fame. Every soldier in VS wants a piece of the limelight, the chance to become a celebrity, but at what cost? Inevitably, that cost is ultimately death which war always guarantees.

Image Courtesy of Image Comics

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War as Sports Entertainment

VS features football-style substitutions, sports and military jargon, and enigmatic announcers who provide live commentary. The announcers discuss dark, witty commentary in the style of MAD WORLD–a video game in which protagonist Jack Cayman participates in Death Watch with live commentary. In a way, the graphics gives the world a video gamey tone in that there is a HUD (heads up display). Thus, readers feel like they’re in The Matrix in that Brandon reminds readers that this a TV show. At this point, all we need is play-by-play tactics à la the NFL to get that gamey feel to a T.

Image Courtesy of Image Comics

At first, the flashy graphics feel overwhelming and distract from Esaid Ribic’s art. However, once readers get used to it, it becomes part of the visual language of the world of VS. So far, there is no Vince McMahon (WWE) figure who controls everything from the shadows.VS forces us to examine just how normal violence is in American society. Think about it: every day in the news, we always get the most horrific news such as homicides, suicides, and vehicular manslaughter first; human interest stories last. The old adage rings true: if it bleeds, it leads. For instance, the Vietnam War started in 1955 but it took one powerful image of nude girl burned in 1972 to make the world care.

While VS takes place in a galaxy far, far away, many of the principles that ring true in American society are core tenets in VS. Violence is okay enough to make a sport out of war. Thus, it’s a scary future to think about. However, if the violence is entertaining like a cartoon, then who cares? The soldiers are the drivers of the entertainment–a gear in the ever-shifting machine that capitalism translates into advertising revenue.

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Closing Thoughts

Ultimately, VS is a mirror of everything wrong with our society and the scary future that war holds. Brandon and Ribic dare ask readers: is war something we glorify, make a spectacle out of, or refuse to acknowledge? All things considered, the creators of VS paint a dark, cynical future that makes a star out of unsung heroes. While we won’t ever see a channel dedicated to wars in progress, VS provides food for thought on one such future that potentially already exists.

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