If you are into comics you’ve heard all the buzz about Think Tank. If you’ve not picked it up I hope my comments on it encourage you to do so. If you aren’t into comics but are into science/military research/secret project development – then I hope I’m introducing you to a wonderful new read. If you like well written stories I encourage you to try the comic medium for adults in this title.
I can say that generally with Aaron gone my comics stay in their place. I don’t have to go around looking for them (I have a system to read box, read to comment box, finished box and deity of your choice have mercy on your soul if you mix ’em) but Think Tank is different. Even my comic book snob of a husband must have ventured a read.
Okay let’s get the technicalities out of the way so we can chat about a comic that brings it all to the table. First the ever present US legal disclaimer: All images are the property of their owners I reproduce them here under the Fair Use Doctrine of the copyright law for commentary and critique. No more than three pages total from any one issue is reproduced.
Next a great nod to the team that brought us this title: Co-created & Written by Matt Hawkins, Co-created & Art by Rahsan Ekedal, Letters by Troy Peteri, Cover A Art issue 1 first printing by Bagus Hutomo, Cover art issue 2 Rahsan Ekedal & Brian Reber, (apologies to cover artists Issues 3 & 4 as those have disappeared from my office will give you credit when they reappear & I can get the info) Edited by Matt Hawkins, Filip Sablik, & Bryan Roundtree.
Let me first say this story is right up my alley. For those of you who don’t know in another phase of my life I lived in Oak Ridge Tennessee home of a National Laboratory, Y-12, and K-25. Oh it was a town with the highest concentration of science (various types of physics mostly) PhDs in the nation at that time. I worked in the volume reduction of low level radioactive waste by a private firm. There I was the Regulatory Compliance Specialist and did the internal audits to assure the state & Feds we adhered to the law, regulations, and our written procedures that were approved by those agencies. I dealt with lots of the government and military research types both in my work and in my social life. We all lived in the now open but planned city of Oak Ridge. On top of that I’ve lived my adult life with a Submarine Nuke Officer who had/has travel restrictions based on his knowledge of that field and worked in a leadership role in the war room at CENTCOM for over a year. So I know these people depicted. They are my people. They were the parents of Aaron’s best friend on his first soccer team. They were PTA members beside me. They came to wetting down parties for Mike as he advanced in the ranks. They were ushers at our wedding. They are colleagues, subordinates, and bosses. This was the work world I left behind to be a stay at home mom. Still many who work for such things are my friends and I keep in touch.
First off true young boy wonders in these fields are rare and far between. It takes a certain maturity beyond intelligence to deal with the issues raised by the research. I knew a few who graduated before they could legally be employed for their field of study (being under 18 Nuclear Regulatory Commission, Environmental Protection Agency, various military protocols, and other regulatory bodies have age limits for working with that sort of thing). All of them worked at fast food places until they were old enough to apply. (no they didn’t want to turn out like the Radioactive Boy Scout) All of them said it was a big mistake to push forward like that, their parents warned them but they didn’t listen. I had one of them chat with Aaron when he was given the option to move ahead to help him understand why we didn’t pursue that. I knew many more that had turned down that option because they were brilliant enough to see the pit falls of social retardation, economic management issues of pay to an minor & minor work hour laws, along with knowing life was more than the lab. Generally people who are smart enough to be in the lab research be it pure or applied are smart enough to know life is very complex and pushing one area out of shape isn’t a good thing. That said they can get tunnel vision in their own area of study due to conditions of research.
So the story is about the exception – the boy genius that goes to work at military/government research at a very young age. He’s not the stereotypical by the book type. Then again I’ve never met any in that field who are, in academia oh yeah met that type all the damn time in R&D nope most were nerds and/or geeks with my sense of humor. He’s at a station like Groom Lake/Area 51 where you board in during your work session. Knew a girl who worked in a place like that – boarded a plane flew to work for a week, lived in a dorm, ate at a cafeteria there. She managed mixed waste at the facility (radioactive and RCRA [Resource Conservation and Recovery Act] classified hazardous – radioactive & hazardous are two different things to waste people) then when her week was up she flew home for 7 days off at her place. Except David Loren the main character seems to live in his lab all the time. His buddy Manish has a family & home in town, kinda like what Oak Ridge was before the gates opened.
David’s character has a moral epiphany while watching Schindler’s List. He doesn’t want his work to be used in killing, in weapons of war. I get that. I have to say many of us at the lunch table in Oak Ridge had talks about that. I came to the realization I couldn’t work at say Y-12 because I couldn’t take making radioactivity for any reason other than medical. I’d seen how it’s “disposed” which is put it some place for eons and watch. I wasn’t the only one at the table that said they could work in the waste, the cleaning up of the messes already made but making those messes to make mass destruction research – nope not for us. So I get David’s maturing realization that he doesn’t want to be a part of that.
Also since he lives in his lab he wants to go out and live a real life. I get that. Talking to the friend that flew to the 7 day job she said flights there were quite, business mummer type flights but the return ones were more like high school cafeteria talks – new movies, kid’s games, and all that. Yep after 7 days of work they were ready to go be ‘people’ again! So it’s cool that David wants to go out and pick up chicks – not so cool that he takes controlled tech out to help him do it. Yeah, that’s the rub (kinda like the guys that stole the magenta tinted tools for use in the radioactive areas and tried to sell them at a swap meet). That kind of thing is heavily frowned upon.
David and his date that saw the tech both get taken back on the reservation and detained. However with Manish’s help David activates a plan to get them out. I do have an issue with how he escaped. You see I’ve worn canaries (what we called the yellow haz-mat suits) and been trained as a first responder. I’ve audited procedures of first response and emergency response for these type of places. You don’t have anyone dressed out in PPE (personal protection equipment) without giving them proper monitoring of many types and knowing how many you have, who they are, where they are going, and where/when they come out. You account for the decontamination of each and their monitoring equipment is sent for rush processing. They don’t wander out en masse. They come out in a controlled doffing area. It’s all part of preventing any potential contamination from disasters in the lab being spread by the responders. They are closely monitored to help them should they have trouble and know when they have reached max stay times in potentially dangerous areas. So donning a canary and walking out with a group is major breach of protocol. The group would notice we each had our identifier there on our forehead (Mine was EKL-1). See someone you don’t know in your zone you’d address it first to minimize exposure, then limit spread of possible contamination and many other reasons. You go in knowing who your work buddies are and keep an eye on them. You want to be there for them should they get into trouble Just joining the group to wander out wouldn’t happen. A canary exiting without going through decon/doffing procedures would draw max attention. However, I’ll say this place had bad Emergency Response Procedures and/or were willing to crap up the world with doffing canary zoomies and dander. (cool industry slang eh?)
Still for the sake of the story it was fun to see the laid back cool dude stick it to the man. Except the portrayal of ‘the man’ bothered me. You see the military side is my family and friends. Sure the Col. was the by the book guy but ya know what for all the Hollywood stereotypes of that I’ve never met one in 27 years. Sure people will be by the book on most things but when it comes to something they really fundamentally believe they’ll look to the spirit of the regs than the word of them. Also in all my years I’ve never seen a screamer in a research/science training facility. Not ever heard of one either – I’ve heard tales from nuke sub types that go way back in the Cold War and their training but no you don’t do Drill Instructor in the face screaming to civilians, or top research scientists. It’s just not done. They are treated well and monitored well. They aren’t buck privates and anyone with leadership position in the military knows, understands and works with that. If there’s one thing the modern military trains, trains, trains on is management techniques when working with civilian contractors. More and more base activities are civilian contractors, professionals don’t spit scream at other professionals. The military is nothing if not professional. The community isn’t easy to research or get to know just by its nature. People are discreet to the point of not even mentioning job titles or rank when off the clock. They have to know you, and know you for years, before you learn much more than those simple things. Then we are all aware of classified lines, stories are generalities not specific. So you’re working on a project and really into it when Hulk hands appear in the transom of your office and some shouts HULK HUNGRY FOR BURRITOS PUNY HUMAN MUST LEAVE COMPUTER NOW OR HULK SMASH! and start rattling the glass or there was a temperature inversion and due to contamination from earlier research in the area before modern protocols you had to stay in doors for hours trapped in the wrong damn building with that deadline looming. There’s more of a social camaraderie between researchers and military. The stiff stuff is just when on show for the public. I can’t prove that, but trust me it’s true. This book got much right. It’s just they haven’t been there and it shows. Kinda like Hunt For Red October movie was great and we in the sub community loved it but there were details that made us roll our eyes and laugh. You just can’t get a small quiet community unless you’ve lived & worked in it.
So in the end it’s a fun well researched story about an adult scientist that’s a teenager socially. He’s sticking it to the government bad guys (a la ET type) breaking out of a secure research facility. It was fun and it romped for me. I loved it and was anxious for the next issue. The science was hard and well researched. The story hit notes that I knew well living decades socializing with that community. The issues raised were issues we did have talks about and still do talk about from time to time. There aren’t any pat answers. I loved it and can’t wait for more. Sure I hit ’em hard but when someone writes about family you notice the little things that are off, over all this hit it and knocked it out of the park as a fictional story.
I’ve had some people drag their feet on reading this because the interior is black and white art. Really people are you that shallow? It wasn’t that long ago that daily funnies in the paper we read as kids didn’t have color! The art is wonderful. It is stylistic but not overly so. It also realistic enough. It strikes that balance of being just that much better than real life to be good comic book art. It’s detailed and so well done you don’t notice the missing color. Honestly if you give it a chance the story and art blend together to make the experience so entertaining you get lost in it. Besides look at this way you don’t have to see any bad coloring jobs or odd glowy photoshop effects either. It’s all straight forward art supporting the tale!
Bottom line – pick this up. The science is sound but fun. The story is a romp set in a world few actually see and even fewer who have will talk openly about to strangers. It raises questions that all of us need to ponder not just the people at the lab tables. It’s well worth the money and buzz it created.
You know what’s coming next – interior shots!
Yeah total project failure would be bad. However I’ve never heard of it happening usually something comes out of the pure research even if it’s not the project goal or foreseen in the conceptualization of the goal. Also projects take decades to complete to make an assessment, David isn’t that old to have that many projects listed as a total failure. Oh and see my note about civilians not being buck Privates.
Okay I heard of one case where a researcher struck another (both civilian). It did not go down well for the striker – jail time, stripped of clearance, lost job… not good at all. Strikee was fine. I have to say as we heard the story from another facility we all put the striker down as crazy, went off the deep end.
Okay this is a good scene to get into David’s head, his emotional head. Having talked with people who went through the whole child college student thing I get the emotional insecurity and immaturity he’s showing here.
I get what he’s saying about golf courses. Also I have to point out we’ve given up lots of bases, all the officer clubs, many of the base gyms, movie theaters, post offices, barbers and such consolidating down to more efficient numbers. Getting fewer lines drawn between officers and enlisted with just BQs and Pubs instead of BOQs & BEQs with O-Clubs and E-Clubs. These are people who will die for you, your country on order with hesitation – my husband, my son. So I think now that we’ve packed them in can’t we allow some bases (the remaining ones) to have their Rec areas – golf courses, marinas, and camp grounds. They have to blow off steam somewhere and remember the very low ranking enlisted don’t have any disposable income. Many depend on federal assistance like WIC to feed their families, so why not give those families affordable recreation as thanks. As it stands today every 65 minutes a service member in the US commits suicide – maybe we need to spend more on helping them cope in these ways instead of ignoring that side of life. **sheepishly gets off soapbox and puts it away**
Until next time folks.