Comics I Read: Augmented Reality

"Augmented reality is changing the way we view the world -- or at least the way its users see the world. Picture yourself walking or driving down the street. With augmented-reality displays, which will eventually look much like a normal pair of glasses, informative graphics will appear in your field of view, and audio will coincide with whatever you see."
-- from "How Augmented Reality Works" at HowStuffWorks.com

Augmented reality isn't just science fiction: smartphone apps like Yelp and Google Goggles can scan the view from your phone's camera and superimpose useful text on the images. But of course these comics take the idea to a sci-fi level that doesn't exist yet.


Warren Ellis' SVK: This being a Warren Ellis book, the augmented reality device here is part of a secret government conspiracy. Thomas Woodwind, former spy, is called back in to recover the stolen device which, it turns out, allows the user to literally see others' thoughts. The gimmick is that the thoughts are printed in invisible ultraviolet ink, and the book comes with a little black light flashlight to reveal them. The story itself isn't groundbreaking, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and loved "discovering" the thought balloons with my little flashlight. My only quibble is that I wish the light had been a bit stronger so I didn't have to hold it so close to the pages. (With a sample size of one, I unfortunately have no way of knowing whether that's typical or if I just got one with a weak battery.) The first printing of SVK sold out fast, but a second printing is available at getsvk.com. The book isn't cheap, because of the gimmick and because it has to be shipped from the UK, so I can't recommend it on a value basis but if you like the innovative idea and can afford to support it I don't think you'll be disappointed.


Vision Machine: Writer Grek Pak's ("Incredible Hulks") take on this in his Vision Machine graphic novel is more global and science-fiction-y. From the back cover:

In the year 2061, Sprout Computers releases the iEye, a pair of glasses that allow you to effortlessly record, edit and add special effects to everything you see -- and instantly share it with the world.

Pak's main characters are three film students, who each have different takes on the technology and use it for different purposes with varying degrees of success, and Liz Evers, CEO of the corporation that invented the iEye. In the first third of the book, the potential of the technology is explored, and then Pak brings in various factions of big business & government who have their own ideas about how the technology should be used.

Even though I thought the story got a little confusing figuring out what all the different groups wanted towards the end, this is really well thought out and thought-provoking stuff that rewards multiple readings.

The art is by R.B. Silva, who's now drawing Superboy for DC. I didn't recognize his name when I wrote about Superboy #1, and I'm embarrassed that I also forgot that he worked on the "Jimmy Olsen" special that I liked so much recently. He captures both the fantastic and the mundane aspects of the story equally well, and a lot of times scenes are easier to understand because each of his characters has a distinct look.

Produced under a grant from the Ford Foundation, Vision Machine is available digitally for free at visionmachine.net. If you want a hard copy, Grek Pak shipped some trades to retailers over the summer so your local store may have it. If not, he sometimes gives away signed trades at his official website in exchange for a charitable donation and he presumably will have copies at conventions for as long as they last.

Comments

  1. Thanks for the review of these two books. They both sound worthwhile. Augmented reality is a concept that is on the leading edge of becoming very real. The early steps have already been taken.
    For another visual example of how augmented reality glasses may work, check out the new TORCHWOOD series on STARZ premium cable. You may be able to find it on HULUU TV online or just wait for the dvd to hit stores/rental.

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