Graphic novels tell of media exploitation, endless war, and 9/11 aftermath 

A Swiftly Tilting Future

American Widow [Buy Now]
By Alissa Torres
Art by Sungyoon Chai
Villard, 210 pages, $22

Shooting War [Buy Now]
By Anthony Lappé
Art by Dan Goldman
Grand Central, 192 pages, $14
August 2001 had been rough.

Eddie Torres was out of work with bills mounting and a child on the way, but he held on to the hope that all would be well.

After all, his intelligence, easygoing manner, and work ethic had carried him all the way from his native Columbia in South America to the financial district of New York. There, he fell in love, married, and did not see a few weeks out of work as anything more than a temporary setback.

On Sept. 10, 2001, his optimism, resume, and job interview skills were finally rewarded — Eddie Torres began his first day of work at his dream job, working for a top financial firm in the World Trade Center.

American Widow is an autobiographical story in graphic novel format by Alissa Torres, describing her life with Eddie up to the morning of 9/11 and the chaos that followed, as she struggled to rebuild a life for herself and her child.

The sense of shock and disbelief is palpable on the page, as crowds wander the streets near the ruins of the Twin Towers in the days and weeks afterward.

It's heartbreaking to watch her trying to come to terms with her husband's death in the absence of a body to identify. Could he be unconscious, an unidentified burn victim in a hospital, disoriented or amnesiac, wandering around? Without proof, without closure, the mind grasps at possibilities.

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Information, when it comes to her, is confusing and contradictory. She's told some people from the floor her husband worked on did survive. She's told that no one from that floor survived. People say they saw his name on a list. Then, no, it must have been someone else's name ...

And so began the next stage of her long nightmare: a labyrinthine morass of paperwork, reporters asking how she felt, aid workers promising assistance that's delayed by red tape, and even more forms to be filled out.

Because it had been her husband's second day of work, not all of his employment paperwork was completed. The insurance company took notice of this fact. What proof did she have that he actually had been there that day?

When parts of her husband's body are finally identified, the news rips open as many fresh emotional wounds as it allows to scab over.

The story is an emotional rollercoaster that pulls no punches. Gorgeously illustrated in black and white with occasional washes of green and blue, it is a frank memorial to the stories that linger on long after the headlines.

Years after 9/11, we still live in a world defined by its aftershocks. That world, and the possible future it could tilt into, is the subject of serialized web comic turned critically acclaimed graphic novel, Shooting War.

Shooting War tells the tale of Jimmy Burns, a video blogger who, while reporting on corporate abuses of eminent domain in Brooklyn, ends up capturing exclusive footage of a terrorist bombing.

The story, set in 2011, is a disturbing portrait of a possible near future in which John McCain is president, the war in Iraq rages more furiously than ever, and Global News Network delivers shock, terror, and graphic violence just the way viewers like it.

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"Have you ever worked for a real news organization?" he is asked by a bubbly TV host. His response: "I haven't worked for a bullshit TV network that makes millions of dollars keeping people in a perpetual state of fear and hires hosts who ask inane questions, if that's what you mean?"

The audience loves it. Suddenly thrust into the role of celebrity by his coverage of the latest terrorist attack on American soil, Burns is recruited as a war correspondent by Global News.

"As stupid as your politics are, you're not afraid to call it like it is," the executive who hires him says, but once he's actually on the ground in the Middle East, Burns quickly discovers the actual rules of the game.

He's told in no uncertain terms what can and cannot be digitally captured and uploaded, and he is duly informed of the consequences for telling the "wrong" part of the story.

It's a troubling commentary on media and communication in the 21st century. Imagine a world where the more often words like "freedom" and "liberty" are slung around, the more bound and gagged correspondents actually become — that's the kind of future envisioned here.

But as history teaches us, controlling people is a lot like squeezing a soft bar of soap in the shower: the tighter you clench your fist, the more slips right through your fingers. Part of the fun of Shooting War is watching how a few mavericks are able to find ways to report on what they observe even after the major networks pull the plug on them.

People don't want the truth about what goes on elsewhere in the world, Burns is told early on in the story. People want low prices without the burden of knowing how or why.

Whether that is or is not entirely accurate is left an open question.


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