Sunday, July 31, 2011

Aaron and Ahmed: A Love Story

Written by Jay Cantor
Art by James Romberger

I went into this original graphic novel from Vertigo without being too sure of what to expect or how I felt about reading it.  I've become pretty sensitive to outward expressions of Islamophobia of late, especially in light of the events in Norway that happened last week, and the ridiculous anti-Islamic furor in my city regarding the topic of whether or not students should be able to perform their Friday prayers in school instead of having to excuse themselves for a large chunk of the afternoon.  I mean, none of this stuff is new (anyone remember the 'Ground Zero Mosque'?), but I find that it's building in momentum, and I didn't really want to read more of it in a comic.

And the thing is, I'm not sure where I stand on this book now that it's finished.  I will say that I liked the way this book was written, and think that Romberger's art is incredible.  I'm just not sure I am all that impressed with the premise.

Aaron Goodman (I know) is a psychiatrist who enlisted after his fiancee died on 9/11.  He always believed that the best way to help his patients is to build a bond, and to get them to love him so he can help them.  He wants to apply this same theory to the interrogations at Guantanamo Bay, and so is assigned Ahmed, a detained 'enemy combatant'.  Aaron starts pumping him full of estrogen, and treating him kindly so that Ahmed will fall for him and be open to further manipulation.

Aaron's superior at Gitmo has some strange ideas about how suicide bombers are carriers for a meme - an idea virus - and wants to learn more about how to activate them.  Aaron decides to bust Ahmed out of Guantanamo, so the two of them can travel to Pakistan, and Aaron can learn about how the 'magic power words' work.  This is where I felt things starting to fall apart, as we learn that Ahmed, who seems to have been chosen randomly, and whose reason for being in US custody is never explained, is way more hooked up than anyone would have believed.  Aaron and Ahmed meet with the Old Man in the Mountain (who is not Bin Laden, but actually the character Ozymandias from old Uncanny X-Men comics), and Aaron gets infected with one of these infectious memes.

In other words, this book gets bloody bizarre pretty quickly.  And I think that is it's problem.  First, the discussion of memetics feels like it's coming out of old 90s issues of Wired magazine - I didn't know anyone still went on about this stuff.  Secondly, G. Willow Wilson (an actual member of Islam!) addressed the notion of fundamentalism being viral much better, and with more sensitivity, in her much-missed comic Air

This book isn't bad, but I would have preferred a more grounded examination of the relationship between interrogator and detainee, than the over-extended commentary on the origins of suicide bombing that it became.

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