Art by: Jonathan Luna
Alex & Ada is a really special comic. It excels not on the strength of its over-the-top visuals, not on the number of pouches per costume, not on the incredible superhuman abilities of its protagonists, not on a diabolical villain hell-bent on world domination. It excels on a few simple truths; that you will empathize with the characters and through that empathy you’ll grow to care about what happens to them. And thus drama is created not just from outside sources like the one we find at the end of this issue, but also within the very goings-on of the relationship itself. There are a lot of comics that get by on the strength of their main characters, in fact, it’s a marketing technique used by Marvel and DC all the time, but there are very few books that rely on their characters in much the same way that Alex & Ada does.
Jonathan Luna, artist and co-writer, along with Sarah Vaughn, lead writer, have created a story whose characters are so strong that it doesn’t matter that things aren’t exploding and bullets aren’t flying. In fact, those things would greatly diminish the story. The two lead us down the rabbit hole of robotics, androids and a technological future, one I’ll likely live to see, where humans must be careful around those issues. Fear, both warranted and irrational, make the world of Alex & Ada a compelling one to sift through now that Alex has decided to make Ada sentient.
The idea isn’t a new one for science fiction, but few works have been able to capture the human element to our electronic counter-parts so well. Alex & Ada likely bears its strongest resemblance to the science-fiction classic by Isaac Asimov, I, Robot, which some of you will have read and others still will have seen the motion picture adaptation starring Will Smith (it’s important to note that the movie is vastly different from Asimov’s original stories). Originally a collection of short stories, modern versions of I, Robot are now widely read as a whole in which Asimov explores some of the inherent dangers in humanity creating intelligent technology. The cliff-hanger on the final page of “Alex & Ada #7” strongly hints toward Luna and Vaughn’s intention to begin pursuing some of those dangers in earnest.
Going back to the robot and android issue for a minute, there’s an important distinction to be made there. Robots exist in plentiful numbers today. They act as vacuum cleaners for technologically inclined families, they assemble our cars, diffuse bombs in warzones and have given us our first look at Mars. Androids, are still robots by definition, but with one important qualifier: they’re designed to look like humans.
This makes things unsettling in a numbers of ways. Something this book examines in several permutations. This issue, when a jogger notices Alex and Ada outside their home he stops and has an interesting conversation with Alex. He asks Alex “how she rides” the implication of the question is all too obvious. And it’s an uncomfortable moment, for us as the reader and for Alex. But is this only uncomfortable because we know that Ada is more than just a slave to her circuit board? If that’s the case, what does that say about us? To long for something almost entirely human but dependent upon us for everything and completely submissive to our will is a tricky moral dilemma and one that has been a joy to watch Luna and Vaughn play around with. Thanks for making me feel like a monster, you guys.
Luna’s art is very much like the rest of the book, it relies on its charm, its accessible and attainable qualities and his phenomenal ability to convince you these people are real. Very few artists could survive drawing a comic book that doesn’t feature any of the things I talked about in the first paragraph, but Luna has managed to hold his own for seven issues. There may be more action oriented scenes to draw in the coming issues, however, the visualization of this incredibly personal drama has been flashy enough all its own.
There’s a scene this issue where Alex offers to take Ada anywhere in the world, via the internet, and they decide on the Washington Monument. They arrive there and Ada quickly appreciates the beauty of the structure itself but criticises the cyber experience as lacking any real depth. Gone are the crowds, the wind, the warmth of the sun on her skin. Replaced by a virtual representation of the building itself that is perfectly accurate in every way and yet completely inadequate. Luna captures exactly what this experience would be like, and having visited Washington D.C. in high school, I know what Ada means when she says that her experience was empty.
This section calls into question massive facets of our daily lives and how we experience things. It’s interesting to note how often we buy things, read on electronic devices, or talk and hang out with friends online. While all of these things are great conveniences and in some ways enhance our way of life, there has to be a stopping point, or we’ll end up like the people onboard the Axiom in Wall-E.
Alex & Ada isn’t a comic that is going to appeal to the broadest audience within the community but I believe it will find its niche and survive to tell its story. It’s just too good not to. Luna and Vaughn are telling one of the most compelling, and relevant, stories in comics right now and the book is probably being written off for not having grown men wearing tights punching each other over ideological differences. I mean, come on. If you were on the fence about this series take a chance on it, you won’t regret it.