This was years before the first details of Rupert Sander’s live-action adaptation began to materialize. Years before that infamous production still of Scarlett Johansson as Major Motoko Kusanagi first publicly surfaced, inflaming allegations of white-washing among the series’ fanbase and igniting a firestorm of discourse that would not subside until not weeks, but months after the film’s release. In the wake of that film’s tepid commercial and critical reception, it’s been a weird time to be a Ghost in the Shell fan, to say the least.
So much has changed since 2014, but in 2018, I find myself returning to that same question with renewed curiosity. At this point, has the series simply run its course? Does Ghost in the Shell have anything left to say or offer? After reading Kodansha USA’s Ghost in the Shell: Global Neural Network, I can say with cautious yet confident enthusiasm that, as of this writing, the series’ future looks to be in good hands.
An anthology of four self-contained short stories, Global Neural Network is the first official Ghost in the Shell comic to be written and drawn by Western creators. The team leading the charge on this collection is a group of top-shelf comics talent including Alex de Campi (Bad Girls), Brenden Fletcher (Motor Crush) and Genevieve Valentine (Catwoman), paired with artists such as David López (All-New Wolverine) and Giannis Milonogiannis (Prophet). Each pair brings their A-game to Ghost in the Shell’s world of posthuman prosthetics, cybernetic subterfuge and technological malaise, offering up stories that carve out their own niche in the series’ universe while offering due respect to its origins.
True to the collection’s title, the anthology is a globe-spanning assemblage of stories that probe the underseen corners of Shirow’s world. From the sprawl of Shanghai to the bayous of the American South, the border towns of Mexico and right back in the heart of Niihama in Japan, Global Neural Network covers more geographic and narrative ground in the span of 160 pages than at any point since the release of Shirow’s Ghost in the Shell 2: Man-Machine Interface.
It feels like a genuine disservice to single out any one story as the stand-out installment in this book. In lieu of that, it’s nonetheless important to applaud the individual efforts of the artists who contributed to this book. Brenden Fletcher’s plotting and LRNZ’s art in Star Gardens is as labyrinthine and meta as anything the series has broached at its best, and Genevieve Valentine, Brent Schoonover and Khoi Pham’s After The Ball is Over takes a concept far removed from Public Security Section 9 and the clandestine political intrigue so typical of Ghost in the Shell and transforms it into one of the more memorable off-shoots in the franchise’s history.
Alex de Campi and Giannis Milonogiannis deliver a dynamite action-thriller that would feel right at home in an episode of Kenji Kamiyama’s Stand Alone Complex series, and Max Gladstone and David López’s Automatic Behavior brushes alongside the same aesthetic and melancholic beats that echo Oshii in his element. Milonogiannis, known for his work on Image Comics’ Prophet as well as his own cyberpunk series Old City Blues, has been considered by many to be Shirow’s heir apparent when it comes to their respective art styles and sense of humor, so to see his skills finally put to task on the pages of a Ghost in the Shell story feels nothing short of a full-circle moment.
If you’re a fan of Ghost in the Shell, this book is a treasure. It isn’t some rote recitation of tired tropes and over-beaten paths of Shirow’s work, a “greatest hits” highlight reel that fails to grasp the substance of what made the series great in the first place. Ghost in the Shell: Global Neural Network is the most interesting that the franchise has been in what feels like a decade. One can only hope this is a sign of the series’ renewed vitality. Far from a shell of its former self, the ghost is very much alive in this one.
Toussaint Egan is a culturally omnivorous writer who has written for several publications such as Kill Screen, Playboy, Mental Floss and Paste. Give him a shout on Twitter.