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Based on the science fiction novel originally written in James P. Hogan in 1979, The Two Faces of Tomorrow is a cautionary hard sci-fi tale of a future where humanity has just started to explore and colonize the other parts of our solar system. Part of what helps us do this is a massive computer network called Titan, which manages and allocates drones and supplies on an interplanetary scale. After a few erratic incidents and decisions on Titan’s part, it’s decided that an experiment must be undertaken to determine how the next generation of Titan like computer programs will develop and behave. To this end a massive space station is converted and populated with scientists and soldiers to push the limits of Spartacus, a massive computer network like Titan, to decide whether or not it may pose a threat to humanity.
Initially released in 1997 as a 13 part mini-series, it wasn’t until 2006 that The Two Faces of Tomorrow manga adaption from Yukinobu Hoshino would be released in a single massive volume. The series managed to slip beneath my radar and it’s only thanks to Mike Toole mentioning it in a memorial column on the late, great Toren Smith that I heard of it at all. He described it as one of the last big Studio Proteus productions before it was sold to Dark Horse and Toren Smith retired. That was all the motivation I needed to give the series a look!
The Two Faces of Tomorrow is definitely something of an overlooked and forgotten gem. While the characters might not be the deepest or most three dimensional, the story and concepts behind it are well detailed, fleshed out and play out in an engaging and enthralling manner. For something that clocks in at over 500 pages, it’s a surprisingly fast read once you get into it. As one might expect, the experiment with Spartacus starts off well, but spiral out of control fairly quickly, forcing the large ensemble cast of reporters, scientists and military officers into a fight for survival against a super intelligent and adaptive artificial intelligence. Admittedly, the ideas here are old hat for science fiction aficionados and are ones that have been popularized by everything ranging from Terminator to Star Trek and beyond, but The Two Faces of Tomorrow still manages to depict them in an interesting and entertaining way. The book starts off slowly, setting up the problem with Titan and the arguments surrounding humanities need for such a massive network to exist to manage a wide variety of their needs and functions. Once they get to the space station portion though, things pick up and we start to see the fears of many of the scientists move from the hypothetical realm to reality and that’s when the series truly takes off.
The visuals are a little iffy in places. While Yokinobu Hoshino does a great job at depicting the action, arguments and more that fill the book, the story and visuals don’t quite hold up during the silent moments which focus solely on the machines. There’s no real sense or idea of what they’re doing or what’s going on in them and often times I found myself scratching my head over what was supposed to be happening. It’s entirely possible that this was done on purpose, presenting us with a mystery and building the machines and the computer network up as an enigmatic presence, but it never quite came across that way. One thing that Hoshino does undeniably well though, is ensure that we have a strong idea of place and setting, which is a good thing for a story which features a rather large cast spread across a massive space station. Through both the dialogue and the art, he’s able to maintain action across several locations at once and never leaves the reader feeling lost or confused about what’s going on and where and why it matters. He does a fantastic job with the cast, ensuring that each character looks different and unique and is instantly recognizable and distinguishable from the rest.
There are a few visual hurdles standing in its way though. First off, the artwork is very, very dated looking. It’s clearly not the kind of art style that one expects from most modern manga, but hopefully that’s not enough to keep folks from giving it a try. The characters are far rounder and look a lot less stylized and angular than most modern manga. Secondly, it’s flipped.
The Two Faces of Tomorrow is wonderful example of an overlooked gem and I’m very thankful that Mike Toole mentioned it and that I decided to give it a look. It’s engaging, interesting, and a surprisingly relevant read. Fans of hard, speculative science fiction would do well to give it a look, as would just about anyone else for that matter.
The Two Faces of Tomorrow is available from Dark Horse Comics.
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