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Friday, October 30, 2020

Comic Cuts - 30 October 2020

I'm still moving forward with the mag. At the last count I've added another 15 pages of layouts, bringing the total to about 55 pages. There's still a long way to go and I'm not helping myself by allowing distractions take over a morning or afternoon. A random question on Facebook meant I spent a morning trying to track down an author called Philip Douglas, only to find that he had died in the early 1990s. Useful information, in its own way, but not when I'm supposed to be working on something else.

I also spent most of an afternoon trying to compile a stripography of a particular character, only to find that a lot of information was missing from my files. For the past thirty years I've kept and updated hundreds of lists relating to a lot of British comics and their creators on my computer (I got my first PC in 1989), but even they let me down sometimes. There was a series called Giant War Picture Library back in the 1960s, of which I have two issues. David Roach and I managed to compile information on quite a few more of the 76 issues when we did our The War Libraries book, but there were gaps. And those gaps still exist. I know there are gaps, but it's still hugely frustrating when I come across them.

Some vary good news is that I've been offered a few nice features in the past couple of days. Also had a very positive response to a request for some scans, which is very welcome. I feel an article for issue two developing... but for the moment I've really got to knuckle down and concentrate on issue one, dammit!

The usual spoiler alert if you don't want any revelations about the SF series Devs.

Just as we go into Tier 2, I've managed to catch up with a show that was broadcast just as we went into the original lockdown in March. Devs was very well reviewed at the time and I've been looking forward to seeing it. Having just watched a humorous science fiction serial (Upload, see last week's Comic Cuts column), I thought I'd give something a little more serious a try.

I'm left in a bit of a quandry. Without a doubt it had a fascinating plot and was beautifully shot, but it was equally underwhelming in other areas. I think if it had lasted more than eight episodes, viewers may well have drifted away.

Big themes are what we expect of Alex Garland, who wrote and directed the series. I've enjoyed just about everything he's had a hand in, from 28 Days Later and Sunshine (both written for Danny Boyle) to Judge Dredd (the Karl Urban version). Devs most resembles another Garland writer/director credit, the movie Ex-Machina.

In the latter, an employee showing great promise is invited into the inner sanctum of his tech genius boss, who reveals he has created an artificial intelligence. The employee, Caleb, is asked to apply the Turing Test to the A.I., programmed into a robot known as Ava.

Devs has a somewhat similar set-up on paper. The CEO—Forest (Nick Offerman)—of a software company, Amaya, invites programmer Sergei (Karl Glusman) to join their 'Devs' division, located in an isolated, vacuum-sealed laboratory accessible only via a floating airlock. Sergei, amazed at the code he sees, begins to film his screen using a hidden camera. Confronted by Forest, Sergei is killed. His girlfriend, Lily (Sonoya Mizuno), is later shown footage of Sergei leaving the company grounds.

Lily is suspicious when she finds a Sodoku app on Sergei's phone—a puzzle he despises—and visits her ex-boyfriend, Jamie (Jin Ha), asking him to break into the password-protected programme she finds in the app. She is shown footage of Sergei committing suicide by self immolation.

So far, so straightforward. It's a murder mystery, right? Well... turns out Sergei is a spy with a Russian handler, so it's a murder mystery with some industrial espionage thrown in. Nope. It starts to become clear that Forest has just one obsession, his daughter, who was killed in a car accident and after whom his company is named. The 'Devs' project uses quantum computing to view the past, based on deterministic mathematics and quantum mechanics, which allows the Devs system to 'predict' where every particle in the universe has been, and, indeed, will be, although Forest bans his staff from viewing the future. He reveals to one of them, Katie (Alison Pill), that Lily is going to die in the near future. But the future collapses into static on viewing.

All of this is slowly revealed over six or seven episodes as Lily attempts to solve Sergei's murder, and Jamie attempts to save Lily, who is for a while held in a mental hospital, admitted there illegally by Kenton (Zach Grenier), the violent head of security at Amaya.

A second viewing of the series would no doubt reveal more clues planted along the way to what finally plays out in the Devs laboratory. There are some big reveals towards the end, and those I don't want to spoil for you, should you decide to give the series a try.

So to return to my opening line. The real plot is drip-fed to viewers, as is the science behind it. There are some beautifully shot scenes as cameras drift over and through woodlands to the Devs building, dwarfed by a creepy giant statue of the owner's daughter. Inside, golden light throbs rhythmically along walls of hammered metal, like the beating heart of the laboratory. One startling scene shows Forest talking to his wife on her phone as another car smashes into the side of her vehicle, killing her and their daughter. Multiple versions of the crash play out, each a little different as Forest runs forward towards the upturned vehicle, including one where it pulls up safely and Forest plucks his daughter out of her seat.

But it's not perfect. Forest is a one-note performance that might be threatening or mystical or heavy-hearted. Lily, too, sinks into a similar emotionless performance. There are times when the soundtrack is reminiscent of the ending of 2001: A Space Odyssey, which may be a deliberate hint at what is to come as the characters "slouch towards Bethlehem". Although they're very different, that movie might be a good yardstick: if you found the movie slow and incomprehensible, Devs might not be for you. If you liked it, you might want to give Devs a try.

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