Edward’s Reading Response #6: “Destroyer”

Victor LaValle’s “Destroyer” is a graphic novel, that takes the original story of Frankenstein, and puts a modern spin on it. The story stars Frankenstein’s Monster and Dr. Josephine Baker, a descendant of Victor Frankenstein and a scientist who revives her dead son. There are a lot of parallels in “The Destroyer”, such as how Dr. Baker revives her son Akai vs how Dr. Frankenstein creates the Monster, by combining body parts and in the case of Akai, using nanotech to create parts of his body. One thing I found interesting is that in the afterword, LaValle mention’s how Frankenstein’s author, Mary Shelley, had her deceased husband’s heart in her desk. In the first chapter, we see that Dr. Baker has (what I presume to be) Akai’s heart, and uses that as a starting point for his revival.

“The Destroyer” touches on the topic of artificial life and race. Dr. Baker talks about how artificial life will be what comes after humanity falls and that Akai is the start, partially organic, and artificial will eventually evolve to be that of purely non-organic life and machine. This evolution reminds me of a concept I recently heard about called Theseus’s Ship. It’s an old Greek story about a hero and a ship, where throughout the story parts of the ship get destroyed and have to be replaced, and by the end of the story, no part of the ship is the same as when it first left the harbor. The philosophical question then becomes is the ship the same ship as the one that originally set out since everything has been changed. In “The Destroyer” the majority of Akai’s body has been replaced, much like Theseus’s ship. Dr. Baker tells Akai that “You’re something entirely… new. Even the monster, in the end, is only human. You’re an entirely new life form”. Plier’s, Akai’s dad, also has had his body merge with The Bride, a big robot, and Dr. Baker herself becomes just a consciousness stored digitally within Akai. All these characters change and become something different than what they originally started as, though their personality, mostly, stays the same.

The one character that seems to change the most is Dr, Baker. Throughout the story, we’re shown flashbacks of Dr. Baker and how she met Pliers. She originally is shown to be fairly quiet but enthusiastic about her work at The Lab, but after she has to quit her job at The Lab and after the death of her son due to, police brutality, she turns to vengeance against a racist society that has failed her, her son, and other Black people. This, in the story, parallels the Monster who is also vengeful and holds hatred towards society. Akai’s death also seems to be an allusion to the death of Tamir Rice, a 12-year old boy, like Akai, who was shot, within two seconds, by police in 2014. Other points that LaValle covered in the story are how Black people are discredited for their work and their inventions were stolen, as shown when Dr. Baker mentions how The Lab took The Bride from her and they even used it against her. Also, when Dr. Baker talks about artificial life being humanity’s next step, and how they will judge and fear those who are artificial and in comparison to the beginning of the story where the Monster is watching a video that talks about how humans are on the verge of wielding power over life and death; I find it interesting that humans can even think about artificial life when there still racial inequality. Humanity is thinking far into the future before facing present-day issues.

The discussion of power over life and death in “The Destroyer” and other Frankenstein related works, make me think about a recent quote I heard from a game I play called Destiny 2; the quote being, “Life and Death are liars’ tools. Weave your own lie.” Victor Frankenstein and Dr, Baker have both surpassed the limitations of normal human life expectancy, both through their work and in Dr. Baker’s case, her consciousness. Both can be seen as starting points to human immortality, which was something that Dr. Baker was working on when she was at the Lab. In real life, there are some ways scientists are looking into this such as the use of cryonics to freeze human bodies and preserve for years, to then unfreeze sometime in the future. This also raises a few questions such as would some of us even want to be immortal? In what ways can we achieve immortality? And what would it look like if every human on the planet was immortal? One answer to the last question, I believe, can be shown in a text we read earlier his semester; Issac Asimov’s “The Last Question”, and how the human’s in his story achieved immortality and needed more space in the universe for the ever-growing population. Victor LaValle’s “Destroyer” was a very interesting and enjoyable reading, that covers a lot of topics, and raises a lot of questions.

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