What if the social media is destroying our humanity?
Sorry, let me rephrase. What if the Internet was capable of warping human minds with sick delusions, driving people to cruel and violent behaviors?
Okay, one more try. What if there’s an Undernet, a hellish dimension that exists between the coded infrastructure lines of the early online networking systems (think forums and BBS), and what if someone accidentally opened a portal into this dimension and unleashed those demons into our reality — but not before making a billion fucking dollars through Silicon Valley startups?
I’m not speaking metaphorically here; this is the basic setup to W0RLDTR33, a fantastic new cyber-thriller horror comic from writer James Tynion IV and illustrator Fernando Blanco. Here’s the official blurb, if you want it:
In 1999, Gabriel and his friends discovered the Undernet―a secret architecture to the internet. They charted their exploration on a message board called W0RLDTR33.
Then they lost control. Someone broke into W0RLDTR33–someone who welcomed the violent hold the Undernet had on them. At great personal cost, Gabriel and the others thought they sealed the Undernet away for good.
They were wrong. And now the whole world will know the meaning of PH34R.
Okay fine, that last part definitely invokes a corny sense of 90s cyberpunk nostalgia. And that’s definitely an aesthetic inspiration for the book! But I assure you, there’s nothing quaint or retro or dated about this comic. I’ve written before here about Tynion’s phenomenal modern day horror work on books like The Department of Truth and The Nice House on the Lake, and W0RLDTR33 is yet another hauntingly personal look at the underbelly of our current twisted circumstances. In the first five-issue story arc — which will be collected in a trade paperback in November — we meet some aspiring podcasters, hoping for their big break. And maybe some romance. But their lives quickly take a turn when one of their siblings ends up committing a heinous act of livestreamed violence — and he’s not the only one. This brings our intrepid reporters into the orbit of a group of friends who’ve been estranged since the 90s — since their earliest Internet escapades unlocked something sinister in the source code.
It’s one thing to tell a story about a personified evil lurking in the Internet that possesses people. But Tynion cleverly grounds this in an ensemble cast with a wide range of empathetic traumas and desires — most of which connect back to the Internet, the very cause of all their problems. The cast is racially and sexually diverse, and is just the right size that most people should be able to find someone to root for, to root against, to love, to hate … and then to inevitably get their heart broken by some shocking or horrifying surprise in that character’s actions, beliefs, or backstory. It’s truly some masterful ensemble work, and Tynion does a great job building out a lot of characters in very little space.
To be clear: this is a violent comic book. There are some gruesome action scenes, many of which are committed by a very naked cyberpunk woman. But the fact that there is nothing sexual or sexy about her is a testament to Fernando Blanco’s artwork. She’s fucking horrifying — and yet, you can also understand why some lonely young men might be enticed to do her bidding. There are secrets yet to be revealed around this character in particular, but suffice to say, I think the creators have made a bold move in exploring and embracing the interplay between sexualization and violence online, and I think they’ve manifested in a way that is thoughtful without losing the abject terror inherent in it.
Also, there’s a huge twist at the end of this first chapter (book one / issue five) that has me even more excited for the rest of the series. If you like cyberpunk, and horror, and the pasts of Silicon Valley douchebags coming to haunt them, you should absolutely check out W0RLDTR33.
(oh, and obviously there’s a transmedia website to explore at w0rldtr33.net. if you dare mwahahahahaha etc etc)