JOHN OSTRANDER: Backing Into The Future
The new Suicide Squad miniseries got announced this last weekend and noted by many, including here on ComicMix. The series was always a cross between Mission: Impossible and The Dirty Dozen and will be again. I’ve always tried to give it a “real world” feel, even going back to its origin. And sometimes the “real world” pulls a fast one.
When I proposed the Squad, there was some concern that the premise – that the U.S. government would hire bad guys to undertake missions considered to be “in the national interest” but needed deniability – seemed a little “out there.” In between the time that the proposal was accepted and we got our first issue out, Irangate broke – where the government was using bad guys etc etc – and made us look like pikers. It looked like we were cashing in on the story rather than inventing an edgy and daring scenario.
That continued through the Squad’s run. I would read the papers and try to extrapolate events from them, concoct possible and likely scenarios and try to fit the Squad around them, and the real world would get there around the same time the issue came out. I was successful enough at one point that a friend contacted me one January wanting to know where I was setting the Squad that summer. She was preparing her summer vacation plans and wherever I was sending the Squad she wanted to avoid.
In truth, I’m not much of a seer. I simply apply what I know from writing plots – formulating a sequence of events that would lead to a given event/moment and then extrapolating the most feasible series of events that might follow from said event. I apply this method to what I see in the world. Very useful in plotting or dealing with characters; a little scarier when dealing with real-life situations.
For example, a couple of weeks ago I did it in a column concerning the sudden death of bees. Others, such as Al Gore, are doing an admirably scary job looking at climate change (a.k.a. global warming). I remember once when I was teaching a writing class at the Joe Kubert School – yes, I was teaching writing to artists – I gave an assignment on scanning the future. We started from a given factoid: oil is not a renewable resource. At some point we will cross the line where we will have taken more oil out of the ground than there is left in it. Some speculate we either already have or will within the next ten years. At that point, oil has to start becoming a scarcer commodity. Given our current rate of consumption, there are some who think the oil will give out around 2030.
We started to explore what that would mean. Not just higher costs for driving your car or heating your home but what the impact would be in other areas. For example, as the cost of transporting goods goes up so does the cost of bringing in food outside the local area. Everything then costs more from the clothes you wear to the food you eat.
Plastics are made from petroleum and as petroleum becomes scarcer, the cost of plastics goes up. Think of everything – EVERYTHING – you use that depends on plastic use – on CHEAP plastic use. The cost, of course, gets passed on to the consumer. That’s a given.
With all this, I asked them to contemplate what happens geopolitically. As oil becomes scarcer and control of it literally dictates what happens to a country’s economy, who will do what in order to control access to the oil? I don’t mean just this country; there are up and coming players as well. Hungry players.
The exercise that I gave the class was to take the oil situation as a jumping off point and then projecting what they felt would be a reasonable scenario for what the world would look like in one hundred years. They had to justify it and show their reasoning and, from the internet, show evidence to support the scenario they’ve developed. They could then build characters and concoct stories to fit that scenario but first they had to visualize that world. You can play along at home if you like.
Not all of the scenarios need to be bleak or doomsday ones. One scenario might well be that the increasing cost of oil coupled with its decreasing availability spurs development of renewable forms of energy. Less sexy than a good doomsday scenario but maybe no less viable.
The problem with any one of these scenarios is that they are all single view scenarios. We tend to compartmentalize; break thing into smaller units so we can more easily grasp the situation and, perhaps, the peril. Climate change, the death of bees, running out of oil – they could all happen in concert. Or not at all. In any and all of them there can be factors about which we are not currently cognizant. There are other factors at work as well, other scenarios that keep brewing that could have a direct or indirect effect on the ones we’ve cited. Makes being a seer really really tough.
I miss the future sometimes – the old-fashioned future promised by Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon, full of personal rocket packs and/or flying cars. Or Star Trek with its Federation. Or any of the SF authors who at least saw us having a future. Sometimes I get the feeling these days that looking into the future is like looking down the barrel of several different guns. Something is going to get us.
On the other hand, it wouldn’t be the first time humanity thought that or had a good reason to do so. When the Black Plague was wiping out so much of Europe, the people then and there thought the future looked pretty bleak. Maybe the future is always like that – a little hopeful, a little scary, a little bleak and mostly what we make of it.
Sure wish I had a time traveling DeLorean just to catch a peek. And maybe get next week’s winning lottery numbers on the Mega-millions jackpot.
Hey, it would make my future look a lot better!
Writer / actor / playwright John Ostrander is man behind the typewriter at such vaunted comics as GrimJack, Suicide Squad, Star Wars: Legacy, Munden’s Bar and Batman. His own personal blog is at http://www.comicscommunity.com/boards/ostrander/.