Patrick Farley, the man behind "The Guy I Almost Was" and "Apocamon", has been working on a comic about Afghanistan. It’s called Spiders, and part three is now available. Scott McCloud is a big fan; Spiders gets up to some of the nifty tricks McCloud talked about in Reinventing Comics. Like When I Am King, my personal standard for showing how comics can take advantage of not being on paper, Spiders (and much of Farley’s other work) eschews rectangular layouts in favor of long horizontal and vertical strips; in part three, he uses vertically offset strips of panels to indicate simultaneous actions. And he foregrounds the medium of the Web, something I don’t think I’ve seen before in online comics. The "Voxpop" splash screen serves as a sendup of Salon (of course the alternate universe’s Salon would focus on Zawahiri’s danger fetish) and as a way of introducing the story; since we know that Farley’s war is largely being fought remotely, over the net, it also serves as a rather elegant infodump. Farley isn’t just writing an excellent online comic; he’s writing very good science fiction. Spiders reminds me of Bruce Sterling for more than just the (quite plausible, what with the heat rays, stink bombs, and other non-lethal weapons the Army is working on) future of war speculation. The conceit of the spiders reminds me of the "Chinese lottery" (or "Chinese radio") codebreaking thought experiment, in which mass production of consumer goods is harnessed for distributed computing. Farley imagines something a bit like distributed DES attacks or SETI@home crossed with reality TV, which is a brilliant conceit. And like all good science fiction, Spiders isn’t just taking a stab at the future; it’s saying something about today. In the real world Karzai’s government is shaky, bombs sometimes hit the wrong people, and we haven’t found Bin Laden. Farley is imagining instead a world of liberated, gun-toting Afghan women, MDMA bombs, and terrorist hunting as a non-lethal, interactive online game. It’s a classic piece of liberal wish fulfillment (down to the reference to President Gore, which reads as irony, wish fulfillment, and a marker of just how difference this universe is, all at once). There’s nothing wrong with wish fulfillment in science fiction or in comics; in the real world, heavy pre-natal doses of radiation rarely make one into, say, a roller-skating disco superheroine. But Farley presents a worm in the apple; the righteous, bloodless war of vengence isn’t bloodless, and it barely even comes off as righteous. I can’t wait for part four. None