Tailgunner Jo Shrine

The Original Matrix

Created by Peter Gillis and Tomosina Artis

Tailgunner JO was a six issue mini-series published by DC in 1988. The series is related to Senator McCarthy only by the title. Instead it is a dystopian tale of cyborg assassins and virtual reality. Mixing imaginary teddy bears and and ruthless corporations, it's one of the best comic books I've ever seen, being perhaps a decade too soon and in the wrong country. Thematically, it's more related to manga or French comics than the American comics of its time. Lars and Maire Gunnar are two very gifted and amoral scientists who get a very intense ethics lesson on the ramifications of their research. Their first payment installment is their daughter, the eponymous JO, who is born hideously deformed due to prenatal exposure to mutagenic chemicals used by Satrap Corporation. They jump ship to Telemachus along with their work on the hideous Double Star technology which allows two or more human brains to be cybernetically linked together. The one hitch is to to genetically match "donors" together. The corporation decides to accelerate the process by arranging for a traffic accident involving JO and her dad. Maire is tricked into operating on them, much to her horror when she she starts to recognize the medical stats. JO loses what deformed body she did have and becomes just a disembodied brain in a dome shaped package on her father's back. He is also highly modified, although superficially in street clothes he can pass for a human. JO becomes his "tailgunner" watching their collective rear and operating the special cyborg weapons suite. Her father is in charge of the software and creates a virtual fairyland world for her, complete with endless luncheons, dinners, and picnics with talking animals, a princess, and heroes. The outside, "real" world appears symbolically in Jo's world, and when the software gets confused, the two worlds start to meld together. JO can take over the Cyborg body and does so in one sequence when her father becomes indisposed. She is a very moral 10 year old and hates the killing of cyborg warfare, but does what she must to survive and to find her mother. This future world is divided between economically self-sufficient freeholders and the giant multinational corporations, whose only role is to supply technology for entertainment and arms. Those who fall under the rule of the corporations are referred to as "barrackers" for whom life can be very cheap, as we see in one scene.

The Covers

Issue 1

Issue 2

Issue 3

Issue 4

Issue 5

Issue 6

JO as she was originally was, the victim of birth defects caused by chemicals used at her parents' company

The evil operation, performed by JO's own Mom

JO's Mom realizing that she has been betrayed into operating on her own husband and daughter.

JO and her Dad pledge to fight the evil corporations that have turned them into a monster cyborg.

JO's Virtual World

Princess Anara

Inez, a playmate JO creates from a girl her father sees.

After involuntarily participating in a performance demonstration of the power of the Double Star cyborg, JO and her father escape and take their vengeance on the executive who tricked them into their predicament. They are then captured by the rival corporation, the father's former employer Satrap, where they learn of renewed research into Beyond Earth Orbit (BEO) technology. Lars makes the wild guess that his wife must be involved in this and heads for the equator where "skyhooks" connect to geosynchronous orbit platforms. Along the way he is helped by the Freeholder Lalique Fonseca and her men, seemingly because Lalique thinks he's cute and to help anyone who's against the multinationals. Lars is rather excited by the sight of Lalique and becomes confused since he knows that JO will be aware of his feelings. This eventually causes a temporary shut down of his operating system.

JO summoned to action.

The book is full of sharp contrasts, on one hand appearing as a saccharine and safe children's fantasy, and then as a gory and violent cyber-nightmare, like something out of Ghost in the Shell. In fact it's a combination seen usually only in anime and manga. The story does take some concentration to follow, and even then it's tricky since many incidents appear symbolically to JO, in forms such as the "Hanged Man." It's also a disturbing tale in that a 10-year old is participating in bloody cyborg combat and learning to kill, although she never starts to like it. She has the role of many underage soldiers in armies of revolution or the child gunmen of inner city gangs.
The battle on Alpha Alley
Cyborg combat.

Freeholder Lalique Fonseca gives Gunnar a ride to the Gates of Heaven, end entry to the Satrap/Telemachus Skyhook.

Captain Destrier's "death" during the battle for Heaven.

Death of Outlaw

The funeral.

JO and Dad relate

War in Heaven

JO in Combat

After fighting their way to "Heaven", the orbital platform jointly operated by Telemachus and Satrap, JO and her father find Maire working on a multi-brain control system for the BEO ship. The ship is set for self-destruction by a repentant Maire and she and the cyborg JO/dad escape in the last pod, we think. The story is often told from JO's virtual reality point of view, so it is often hard to tell what's happening. Realities are easily mixed as when the barracker girl Inez is pulled into JO's world. Sometimes JO does see the world as it really is, as when her father flakes out during the fight and she has to take over the entire cyborg.

The story seems to end on a hopeful note with the family at least reunited and Maire thinking that somehow she can restore her husband and daughter back to normal bodies. However, that doesn't quite fit in with the tone of the book. Although JO is portrayed as a sympathetic character and we're rooting for her, if not for her opportunistic parents, we suspect that it's not going to be easy for her in any form in this hellish world of the future. JO Gunnar does seem to be one of those unusual people who can cope, such as those refugee kids you read about who are forced to grow up too quickly.

Destruction of the BEO ship as seen by JO

the Final panel

Tailgunner JO is property of DC Comics as far as I know.

Last Update: 25January 2002
Web Author: Doug Ikemi