User Returns: How 2001 Online Plays Today
Back in 2001, Vertigo published a three-oversized-issue miniseries called User. Written by Devin Grayson, it was the story of Megan, an unhappy young woman who found her true self through text-based role-playing as a male knight. Megan’s everyday world was illustrated by Sean Phillips, while John Bolton did the art visualizing the fantasy.
Typical of the era, going online is represented by characters flying through lines of code. There’s some cool fantasy art to represent the battles, although all the colors are neon-influenced and the people are blue (for computers). Here’s part of the page where Megan first enters the fantasy role-playing world.
Megan’s everyday is made up of her father trying to slot her into her mother’s place, taking care of them. (Mom walks out as the story opens.) Her younger sister is being pimped out to Dad’s friend, because Dad has no determination or decision-making skills. Megan works at an unethical medical research company, but her job is at risk when she begins spending all her time online in another world. (As a side note, the series was edited by Joan Hilty and Heidi MacDonald.)
Now, the series is being collected in hardcover from Image. The book will be out May 17 at a list price of $29.99 and can be preordered with Diamond code MAR17 0839. They’re emphasizing, appropriately, how the series explores sexual identity, as Meg hates herself for being female, internalizing the stereotypes of those around her.
Re-reading the story, I found the characterization translated well to modern day (perhaps it’s even more relatable, as more people know of those with different genders), even if the tech is barely recognizable, and the connection of internet to phone bills no longer makes sense. The real-world resolutions are a bit too pat, a side effect of giving as much space to the online world as the mundane, but I think it holds up.