Get your water wings and sunscreen out because this week we’re taking a look at the first issue of Poseidon IX, part of Top Cow’s new IX line about a series of androids created to rule over the planet after us ordinary life forms died out in an extinction event.
Poseidon IX follows one of these androids, the ruler of an island kingdom who seems to have everything until a gigantic sea monster -the first organic lifeform they’ve ever seen- decides to crash the party. While there’s obviously going to be some loose similarities with Aquaman and more so Namor thanks to Poseidon’s charm and arrogance, this is a post-humanist story before anything else. Despite the currently better known urban fantasy titles tied into the loose “Artifacts” continuity like The Witchblade and The Darkness, post-humanism has been Top Cow’s most enduring, if not fully realized, theme going back to founder Mark Silvestri’s very first Image title Cyberforce. What started out like most early Image titles, recycling a lot of the same imagery that had made Silverstri famous at Marvel turned into a very interesting undercurrent at the company.
The overarching influence, if I had to guess, is probably Ghost in the Shell creator Masamune Shirow, who built a career and an empire on cyberpunk storytelling that paired deep existentialist musings about artificial life and complex geopolitical situations with shiny breasts and extremely high waisted thongs. It’s an influence you can clearly see on titles like E.V.E. Protomecha and Aphrodite IX, so a title like Poseidon IX that looks to move things forward from there has been a really long time coming. Writer Tini Howard gives us a genuinely fun riff by presenting us with a hero who may be full of himself, but also doesn’t really take anything too seriously.
We first see Poseidon making pillow talk with an android lover, telling her that a whole island is hers for the taking because everything is his for the giving. We also see one of his legion of XV duplicates in bed with them, so it’ll be worth paying attention to in order to see where that goes, but whatever it is, it’s already way less creepy than that scene in The Watchmen, so bonus points on that score. The XV duplicates are also where we really see Howard and artist Philip Sevy have fun with the idea of a far future world inhabited by androids. Their bodies from the waist down are shiny chrome because they transform into cybernetic fish tails when they hit the water. It’s an army of buff android mermen. Which, if it was going to happen anywhere at Image, Top Cow is the most natural home for it. That or Brandon Graham and Emma Rios’ Island, anyway.
We do get some further exploration of post-humanist elements of the story when Poseidon discovers that there’s been a secret project going on behind his back to -gasp- create an organic human body for the first time in centuries. True to his character he has the body modified to mimic his appearance, but the best part by far is when he’s asked what it’s like being in an organic body, he says it’s horrible. It’s an interesting reversal of how the transition from normal bodies to android or virtual equivalents typically result in anxiety and soul searching about what it means to be human outside of what is typically considered a human body. Poseidon is just like, dude, this sucks.
Poseidon IX and the IX line as a whole really presents a great opportunity for exploring these themes in a format and genre that is definitely adjacent to big two superhero books without actually being one. For whatever reason, most superhero comics that flirt with post-humanist themes find themselves quickly backing out of them. Warren Ellis and Adi Granov’s Iron Man: Extremis was a personal favourite of mine because they finally took the entire concept behind Iron Man and pushed it to it’s logical conclusion of fully integrating it with Tony’s body, which was hardly surprising for a writer who’s been exploring extreme body modification and post-humanism his entire career through works as diverse as Transmetropolitan and Doktor Sleepless. For whatever reason that got judged untenable and the Extremis suit was an early casualty of the Secret Wars event. The movies had much the same outlook, treating their equivalent of the suit as a done-in-one. The last great hope for an extended exploration of these themes at the big two seems to rest with David T. Walker’s Cyborg.
Post-humanism isn’t just a fun speculative jaunt though, it presents interesting and engaging ways to explore identity, disability and transgender issues even if most comics that approach the subject like The Surrogates completely circumnavigate those opportunities. Walker’s Cyborg and Emma Rios’ story I.D. currently running in Island, are among the few that do, so there’s definitely a lot of value to keeping that thread alive in comics, especially in a comic that actually manages to present an Asian protagonist in an ocean themed narrative. Outside of anime, and characters like Ghost in the Shell‘s Motoko Kusanagi, there’s precious few non white android or cyborg protagonists, and when there are, like Cyborg, they come along with disturbing racial undertones. So it’s great to see a character like Poseidon presented as being one of the rulers of this post-human landscape presented with all the strength, power, and charisma of Ricardo Montalban’s turn as Khan. Gene Roddenberry was very specific in wanting to present a character who represented the peak of humanity who also wasn’t an Aryan, white supremacist construct. Which was shamefully lost in Benedict Cumberbatch’s recent casting. So it’s cool to see that Roddenberry’s impulse remains alive somewhere.
While there’s traditionally been a massive amount of sexual dysmorphia in the work of most of the iconic Top Cow artists over the years including Silvestri, David Finch, and the late Michael Turner, drawing huge broad shouldered dudes and stick thin, wasp waisted women, there was almost always a sense that if they were drawing women that fit their sensibilities, they were aiming to draw male characters who would appeal to their female readership. Which, I think, history shows worked out pretty well and shone through in the Witchblade roundtable I recently participated in along with Howard. Top Cow has never had a lot of trouble attracting a female readership, which goes way back to the cult of popularity around Turner’s depiction of Witchblade villain Ian Nottingham and the bad boy charm of The Darkness’ Jackie Estacado.
Sevy is a solid fit for a Top Cow book too, coming off a lot closer to latter day contributors like Witchblade alumni Francis Manapul and Stjepan Sejic than the early, peak nineties artists like Silvestri and Turner. There’s a lot of life and emotion in his characters even if they break down significantly when not in tight close ups, and he’s got a very good handle on how to draw a guy who walks around half naked all day, and how the folks most interested in that look are going to want to see it. What I would see as the softer elements of the art, like the sketichier inks that aren’t fully blacked out or shading on the wider shots of the island city, aren’t real problems and only really stick out to me because of how much they differ from what I think of as being the ultra slick early to mid 00s house style.
Bits of that era peek through in Jeremy Colwell’s colors, which show remnants of the dodge and burn era, but it works just fine in small doses. I can’t begin to say how much I appreciate that the era of baby oil shiny comic colouring is pretty safely in the rearview mirror, making way for the less worked up flats typical of colorists like Lee Loughridge (Catwoman, Wolf), Jeremy Cox (Grayson), Jordie Bellaire (Moon Knight), and Tamra Bonvillain (Rat Queens).
Poseidon IX is a Top Cow book through and through, but that really shouldn’t stop any new readers from diving in, because the elements that define it as such don’t relate so much to continuity as they do the overall style and history of the company. For readers new to Top Cow, this presents a pretty fantastic opportunity to dip your toe in because it explains everything you need to know in a couple paragraphs at the beginning of the comic and it functions as a pretty good introduction to the company’s sensibilities. I’ve been reading Top Cow titles off and on for seventeen years, which is cumulatively longer than I’ve been reading Marvel or DC for, so anyone who’s got a bunch of new room in their comics budget thanks to Marvel’s recent shenanigans would do well to open Top Cow’s portfolio and put Poseidon IX at the top of that list.
Written by Tini Howard
Drawn by Philip Sevy with colors by Jeremy Colwell
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Emma Houxbois is a fiercely queer trans woman from the wilds of Canada, most recently spotted in the Pacific Northwest. She is a two time IWC Women’s World Champion and has written about comics for the web since 2005 for sites including Playboy, Bitch Media, and Graphic Policy.