Monday, February 10, 2014

Review: Alyssa Milano's "Hacktivist"

When news hit that Archaia Entertainment would be releasing a title called "Hacktivist" the security community let out a collective groan.  The skepticism was not abated when Alyssa Milano was attributed to the project.  How can the Hollywood actress best known for her roles on the television series' "Who's the Boss?", "Melrose Place" and "Charmed" write a comic about a subject that is regularly misrepresented in the media?

In truth Ms. Milano is more than just an actress and author.  She is the Founding Ambassador for the Global Network for Neglected Tropical Diseases and a UNICEF Goodwill Ambassador for the United States.  Her trips to India, Kosovo, and Angola in support of these missions have at least given her some exposure to the regions portrayed in this story.  Ms. Milano had this to say about her inspiration:
"I’m very involved with global activism and philanthropy. I like the idea of everyday people doing good.  My inspiration for Hacktivist is actually Jack Dorsey, the creator of Twitter and Square. I picture him leaving the office at night and going home, where he locks himself in his room and starts hacking to change the world. 
"I felt Hacktivist was a strong story that I really wanted to tell visually.  Doing a graphic novel allowed me to dream big and it gave me the freedom to create without boundaries."
I can't say that I see Mr. Dorsey in the same light. There's a big difference in hacking to be innovative versus attacking companies and governments.

While the comic seems to be Ms. Milano's concept she is only listed as the creator.  The story is credited to Jackson Lanzing and Collin Kelly.  Both of these authors are relatively unknown so it remains to be seen how they will influence the narrative.

Characters 

The publisher describes Hacktivist as:
"a fast-paced cyber-thriller about friendship and freedom in a time of war. The story follows Ed Hiccox and Nate Graft, the young founders of the world’s most innovative social media company who moonlight secretly as one of the most notorious black-hat hacker teams on the planet. When the U.S. government discovers their operation, they must face the real world beyond the code and choose between loyalty and what they believe to be is right."
Personality wise, the characters read as a blend of Mark Zuckerberg and Anonymous, but with personalities at either end of the spectrum.  Ed is a suit-wearing savant who would rather spend his free time memorizing traffic patterns.  Nate is a jeans-and-hoody-wearing non-conformist who would rather spend his evenings throwing a party that, "makes Gatsby look like a bounce house."

"Hacktivist" is a four issue mini-series so the story has yet to delve into the characters' motivations but the plot is interesting enough to warrant spending a couple of bucks on each issue.

Technical Merits

If you work in information security, don't read this comic expecting familiar jargon or novelty screenshots of nmap and Metasploit.  I doubt they consulted any experts when they wrote dialog such as, "and now they're plugging us into an onion router" and the verbal exchange depicted below:

click to enlarge
I tend not to get too worked up about trivial inaccuracies in entertainment media (movies, television, books, comics, etc.).  The purpose of these stories is to entertain the general public who doesn't particularly care if a scene is technically accurate.  No doubt doctors, lawyers and other professionals can point out issues with how their profession is portrayed.

Verdict

Whether you are a comic book reader or not, the first issue of "Hacktivist" was entertaining.  Without giving anything away, the issue leaves the reader wanting to know what happens next.  "Hacktivist" is a fully contained story with a beginning, middle and end (not always the case with comics).  If you don't like cliff hangers, you can wait until all issues have been released or wait for the trade paperback to be published.

You can pick up a copy of "Hacktivist" at your local comic shop or a digital copy at Comixology.com.



Controversy Around The Word "Hacktivist"

Back in July (2013) TechDirt obtained one of the 500 preview copies of Hacktivist that were distributed at San Diego ComiCon. They published an article where TechDirt noted that "HACKTIVIST™ is © and TM 2013 by Alyssa Milano."  As you can imagine this caused some stir in the Information Security community.  To her credit Alyssa Milano spoke up on Twitter and directed inquires to the publisher.  Archaia quickly followed up with a post clarifying their claim.  In it they state:
"Archaia and Ms. Milano do claim trademark and copyright protection, as appropriate, for the book, the title, the characters, and content included of The Hacktivist. However, no claim is made to other uses of the term ‘hacktivist.’ In accord with Ms. Milano’s wishes, we support the attention to the issues of philanthropy and activism."