Wartime often stimulates innovation as countries try to find new ways to boost their power, and World War II had some major discoveries that rocked the planet. The development of the atomic bomb revealed the devastation mankind is capable of when harnessing nuclear power, but there was another creation that would change everything about how information was processed: ENIAC, the first fully electronic large-scale, general-purpose computer. Bad Idea, a new comics publisher, offers an alternate reality look at this technological marvel in its debut title, ENIAC, a four-issue prestige-format limited series by writer Matt Kindt, artist Doug Braithwaite, and colorist Diego Rodriguez about rogue military A.I. deciding it knows what is best for humanity.
“ENIAC is an artificial intelligence that is based on real history,” says Kindt. “ENIAC in a lot of ways is ground zero for A.I. and this story expands on it—starting in World War II and showing the ripple effects of an A.I. that has been around for nearly 80 years. Why didn’t we know about it? What has it been up to? Is it even an ‘it’ anymore? Is everything we believe about our past and our history as a human race…a lie?”
“Imagine playing chess against Deep Blue, but the entire globe is the chess board and every country on earth is a chess piece,” says Kindt. “How do you approach an A.I. that can see, hear, and predict everything via phones, computers, and satellites? How do you contend with an A.I. that is basically immortal and gets smarter with every passing second? The answer? Strip naked and grab some rocks to smash it ‘cause it will see everything else coming from a mile away. The smarter this thing gets, the more it’s pushing humanity back to the stone-age.”
The A.V. Club has an exclusive first look at ENIAC #1, on sale May 6, highlighting the specificity of both the period details and the character expressions in Braithwaite’s artwork. “Every project tends brings its own unique set of challenges, the scope of this story is especially demanding, but it’s all in a good way,” says Braithewaite. “The story starts in the late 1930s, branching out into modern day, so a fair amount of reference is needed to set up the environments and portray them realistically. Specific scene set-ups are normally asked for, so I tend to gen up on old film clips and news footage based around those scenes to help give me a more rounded view of what is required. Pulling all of these elements together, to pace the story confidently, allows the storytelling to flow.”
A longtime fan of sci-fi writers like Arthur C. Clarke and Isaac Asimov, Kindt wanted to create a sci-fi story similarly rooted in reality while finding a new approach to the A.I. vs. humanity narrative. “I’m walking in the footsteps of giants here, so this angle I’m taking needed to be very different,” says Kindt. “Doug’s art has such a great way of keeping some crazy ideas grounded and relatable. At the end of the day it’s a really human, character-driven story with ENIAC and the A.I. as the very strange vehicle to tell the tale. That said, I hope you’re ready for nuclear hoaxes, a black-site hacker army, a team of World War II cold-blooded commandos, secret computer codes written with knots-tied-in-ropes, and an insane twist ending I promise you’ll never guess.”
Announced last week, Bad Idea is the latest publishing venture by the team that revitalized Valiant Comics in the ’10s, Dinesh Shamdasani and Warren Simons, who share the titles of Co-CEO and Co-Chief Creative Officer. The publisher is taking some big risks that put its name to the test, starting with releasing only physical single issues. No digital copies, no trade paperback or hardcover collections. Bad Idea will only distribute to 20 hand-picked comic shops beginning in May, with plans to expand to 50 by the end of the year. The endeavor has a boutique comics vibe, and there’s a definite play for the speculator market here as limited distribution will drive up the cost of back issues, especially if these books are optioned for film or television.
Shamdasani and Simons are bringing in a lot of talent they worked with at Valiant. Kindt and Braithwaite collaborated on multiple Valiant books together, and ENIAC gives them the opportunity to build something from the ground up without having to satisfy a superhero legacy. “It has been great working on so many legendary characters during my career,” says Braithwaite, “But I always relish working on new characters which is why ENIAC is so exciting for me. As well as the characters, the story is equally important for me as I’m a storyteller first and foremost. Collaborating with Matt is always a pleasure because his stories work on so many levels and are guaranteed to stretch me as an artist. His stories are so beautifully crafted. The subtlety in his storytelling, combined with the nuances of his characters is what makes ENIAC fun for me to draw. ENIAC provides me with all of the elements I relish in a story. It has the dynamic action I enjoy drawing, fascinating characters, and a brilliant storyline—all with an added twist. The challenge for me is trying to get the balance just right.”
“ENIAC is really emblematic of everything we’re trying to do with Bad Idea,” says Kindt. “It’s as big as I could possibly make it. It’s taking the kernel of an idea and just blowing it up into the craziest thing I could think of. With Bad Idea, there are absolutely no constraints with storytelling or format or concept. It really is in a lot of ways the pinnacle—the kind of thing I’ve been working toward my entire career. Total artistic freedom and the financial ability to not only work with the best artists in the industry, but also to dictate the format and the roll out and how these comics will reach the reader. And thanks to my partners, Dinesh and Warren, I think we’ve really built something unique that hasn’t been seen in the comic book industry before.”