What is this all about?
(Spoilers ahead!) It’s New York City, news capital of the world. Headquarters for the news divisions of NBC, ABC, CBS and Fox along with Time Warner, it’s the epicenter of communication, impulse control and propaganda. The IMF, WTO and World Bank gather for their annual meeting and it is there that we first meet the First Church of the Brotherhood of the Voice, dedicated to revolution against a corrupt media and government hell bent on simultaneously distracting and controlling the masses.
What follows is a methodical and effective campaign to murder key journalists and politicians, led by the Hand of the Voice, Brother John Guyton and his fellow disciples. Their lives were destroyed by lies perpetuated by the media and you see throughout the series how the journey for revenge is personal. As John states, “It is personal and the cost is high…but we do not live for this life, we live for the next.” This is their story.
From the moment we read the lines on the first page “I assure you, if some event occurs-if something goes down-You will be educated,” we become immediately immersed in the story. As John readies to fire upon journalists converging on a crime scene with dead protesters, the reader delves into the psychology of John’s mind and how he became the Hand of the Voice.
The entire six part series splits evenly between the past and present following the murders of journalists and protestors. We start by travelling back to two years ago where we see John homeless and abandoned by his wife and son following a false story reported by the media. He’s depressed about losing his family but resigned to the fact that the life he had is over. John’s sense of hopelessness and resignation in a dark time in his life is definitely relatable to the reader as is his eventual desire to start fighting for what he deserves. He is approached by Brother Alexander Jones, then Hand of the Voice, who tells him that the way of the world “is a lie you choose to believe-That bad things just happen. Your life-an amusement to them. This is what the media does, they destroy with impunity.”
Nine month after their first meeting, Brother Alexander takes John to the live studio interview with long-time journalist David Allen Kite. Brother Alexander accuses Kite of promoting indoctrination under the guise of education and supporting the death of individuality before promptly shooting the journalist in the head. He is then arrested and John takes over as the Hand of the Voice.
Interspersed throughout the series are panels focused on statistics such as the fact that three-quarters of global spending on advertising ends up in the pockets of twenty media companies. There are detailed analyses of notable journalists such as Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass, who had been charged with falsifying information and plagiarism along with an extensive critique of the American public education system that even has a bonda fide equation to work out what your education is worth. Though these statistics are sometimes tedious to read through, they help paint the picture of the absolute control the media has over the flow of information, and how they control the population by forcing them to absorb the message that they want them to see.
Back in the present day, journalist Warner Rogers questions the authorities about the crime scene, already working on spinning the story to do the maximum damage, referring to the shooters as ‘terrorists’. We’re also introduced to the rest of the First Church of the Brotherhood of the Voice and their motivations for joining the cause, as they listen to the tape they’ve just received; with the Voice’s next solemn instructions, “Without suffering, there is no desire to be free of pain. We will use pain to generate crises and control history. We will create the future through fear.”
As Brother Alexander’s criminal trial proceeds, media big wigs Jacob & Richard meet with Senator Jay Rector of Georgia on passing stricter legislation to protect journalists, but they’re convinced to continue to spin human interest stories on the slain journalists. “You have to distract them from the reality that, for them, things are never going to get better. So forget this other nonsense and do your job. Tell them a story,” Senator Rector says. Brother Alexander is later committed to a mental facility and put into therapy.
New York Times reporter James Andrews is being investigated for journalistic fraud as John approaches him to join the First Church of the Brotherhood of the Voice. John makes an appearance at the bar Deepthroat, popular with reporters. Once he and his fellow Brothers leave, the bar explodes.
As the media outlets panic on how to distract the public on the latest round of murders with celebrity fundraisers, John takes James for his final test: to prove his loyalty to the Brotherhood of the Voice, he must kill his best friend, fellow New York Times reporter Warner Rogers, whom we made the acquaintance of earlier. James shoots Warner, but there is a twist: he knocks John out and takes him to a therapist.
A flashback to ten months earlier gives us the full extent of the twist: James partnered with Warner to go undercover to fool John and the rest of the Brotherhood of the Voice on his fraud investigation, which results in John’s deprogramming session with the therapist. We rejoin the present with John horrified at his actions and the media CEOs voting to table the Fairness Act to protect their First Amendment rights and continue to control the masses because, as one of them states “We have a moral obligation as the conscience of society to dictate and control the direction of the people.”
Due to his supposed change of heart, John agrees to go with James to turn himself into the police-but is stopped by The Voice, who’d earlier vowed revenge for John’s abduction. Meanwhile, Brother Alexander stages a coup on the talk show he guest stars on and brutalizes 12 journalists, leaving them without their tongues.
John is adamant that the Voice is a monster and that he won’t be returning to the cause. The Voice seems resigned, but hands John two suitcases as he leaves. Later, we see James alone at the police station, explaining his side of the story to the detective. The detective is clearly skeptical and things take a turn for the worse when he receives a phone call. As it turns out, law enforcement discovers Warner’s body at James’s address and a suitcase full of explosives, which means John and the Voice have turned the tables back on James, destroying his life.
Thanks to the second briefcase, John is able to track down Elias Lee, the reporter who ruined his life and takes revenge after finally getting an answer to why it happened. With a gun pointed unwaveringly in his face, Elias confesses “It’s what we do. We destroy people without fear of retribution or litigation. It’s what we do.” John’s monologue after he kills Elias definitely illustrates how far the anger and the disillusion with the status quo can carry a person-even into murder.
“I see now this was never about right and wrong. It’s about saving what’s left of the innocent at any cost. It’s about deciding that you’re capable of doing a necessary evil when facing true corruption.”
As the First Church of the Brotherhood of the Voice launches their final assault, journalists prepare to interview the Senator on the passage of the Fairness Act, which in reality, solidifies exactly what the First Church of the Brotherhood of the Voice began their crusade for: it would allow the media to continue to destroy lives with impunity.
John interrupts the interview by executing the reporter, before joining the rest of his Brothers and Sisters in sacrificing themselves in a blaze of gunfire and explosions.
The final twist where the reader discovers that Senator Rector was the man behind the Voice and is responsible for breaking Brother Alexander out of the psychiatric hospital is a delicious piece of irony, considering how he’d seemingly been on the side of media conglomerates from the beginning. The fact that the story is seemingly left on a cliffhanger as the First Church of the Brotherhood of the Voice readies themselves to target the lawyers excites me to read the next chapter.
Overall, the 6-part series beautifully illustrated the anger and the desire for revenge on the part of those whose lives had been ruined beyond repair by the media. The statistics backed up by the conversations reporters, editors and politicians had amongst themselves painted a bleak picture of how far media indoctrination has brainwashed people into believing what they have is free will. Above all, it was the conviction in all of the disciples of the First Church of the Brotherhood of the Voice that stood out. Everything from the colors (black, gray, orange, blue and white) to the monologues and the bold typeface illustrates how the First Church of the Brotherhood of the Voice had the conviction to do what was necessary which resonated with me as a reader.
This is a series with no real resolution, no black and white, just shades of gray and no real heroes. I would have to say that even in a story full of shades of gray that James Andrews remains the most despicable character. Where both sides, whether journalist or Brotherhood, fully admitted and remained committed to their chosen paths, James never seem to fully understand why he deserved his fate and why he was the biggest hypocrite of all.
As a writer who’d covered Jayson Blair and Stephen Glass and someone who once worked alongside journalists in a newsroom, I have seen the dark side on how headlines are manipulated to generate reactions, how important stories are pushed aside in favor of popular culture for higher ratings and how those who carry themselves with journalistic integrity, see their jobs vanish in favor of lining CEO’s pockets. This 6-part series resonates with me not only because of my own professional experience but with the world as it stands today, even though the series itself is over a decade old.
The statistics were at times tedious to read and they’re certainly outdated by now, but they provided proof what a jaded cynic like myself had long suspected. We live in a world that is increasingly controlled by media who elicit reactions that they can control rather than educate and focus on the desire to create salacious headlines for money rather than tell the truth. They seek to destroy, not to inform and care not for those lives, careers and reputations they leave in their wake. To read this series at a time where alternative and fake news is being perpetuated by the White House and media outlets may be one of the best coincidences I’ve ever had.
Reviewed by Lilian Sue
The Nightly News
Written by Jonathan Hickman
Art by: Jonathan Hickman
Published by Image Comics
Release Date: September 12th, 2007