Set in the near future, Alex + Ada volume 2 is part of an ongoing comic book series by Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna that centers around the afore mentioned titular characters. Alex is an average young man working in Washington DC while Ada is a newly awakened sentient robot who is learning what it means to live as an unshackled AI in a world that fears that. You see, in the near future, robots are quite common, but they are limited in their independence and sense of self. They are capable of doing quite a bit, but they are not truly independent or sentient. That is, unless you travel to some of the darker parts of the Internet and have your robot modified so that they can live to the full extent of their ability. That all happened in volume 1 of this series. In this trade, volume 2, both Alex and Ada try to deal with her newfound sense of self. She discovers food that she likes, food she hates, and what it means to fill a day with activities so you don’t just sit on the couch doing nothing. Eventually Ada realizes that she is in love with Alex but he remains hesitant which causes her to leave for a while before returning and they decide to try a romantic relationship as equals.
This book centers on a pretty classic sci-fi concept; the rise of artificial intelligence and how human civilization reacts to it. In this comic, humanity for the most part reacts negativity but there are still a decent amount of people who are in support of A.I. and actually help others unlock their robots. What’s unique about this story is that it’s such a small one; it really only focuses on two, maybe three, characters. Alex and Ada are in many ways not the most interesting characters ever, but they have a simplicity and goodness that shines through the pages and wins you over. You really end up caring for these two even though you know very little about them. Unlike in the first volume of this series, where she was still constrained by her programming and therefore unable to really think for herself, Ada really beings to develop a strong sense of self. Watching her figure out what kind of food she likes, reading and watching the news and even learning about sex is a fun and entertaining thing to do. Alex continues to be endearing as a guy who is in way over his head and ultimately has no real plan for what he wants from Ada or how to provide and protect her from the outside world. The strong characterization of these two is the primary reason the book works as well as it does, since there is very little action, fighting or running around. It’s largely just two, uh, people (?) talking and figuring things out.
Honestly, if it weren’t for the strong writing and excellent art, which we will get to, this book could be considered kind of boring. Which maybe it is. But I kind of like boring things sometimes. I like watching people talk about things regardless of their importance, I enjoy small stories about people just living their lives. I don’t always need the world to be in danger, or for robots to have shotguns built into their forearms (though trust me, I adore those thing as well). Comics are such a wild and diverse medium and it’s nice to see something so small and intimate like this co-exists with something like the Orion Omnibus by Walter Simonson, which is huge and galactic and awesome just in a very different way.
The art continues the theme of simplicity in this book. Jonathan Luna is one half of the very talented Luna brothers and he brings his unique, clean style to this book. The lines are simple and straightforward and the scenes he renders are simple and easy to absorb. This isn’t to say that what he does is easy or simplistic; it’s just really, really, clean. He knows when just a single simple line is enough and he never seems to add more than is really needed for the sake of the story. The characters are expressive and convey emotional weight and depth really well. And they better, because like I said, the main action in this comic book is walking and talking.
Science fiction at it’s best asks us questions about our society and the nature of existence and this book does that really well. It really makes you think about how A.I. might be introduced into human society with out it being intent on our destruction like Ultron or steeped in religious meaning and symbolism so much that it’s hard to figure out what’s going on like in The Matrix. The thing that I like the most about this book is not that it’s science fiction, or that it includes a sexy lady robot, though those are both nice things. It’s the everyday nature and feeling of the story. Yes, ultimately it’s pretty far out there when you really think about it, but it never really feels that way. Alex is just a dude who has a decent job, a nice grandmother who embarrasses him sometimes and some good friends. By the end of this volume he also has a young, nice, and slightly wide-eyed girlfriend. Who happens to be a robot. Ada is a nice young girl who is really experienced life for the first time. Because she was made sentient by her “owner” Alex. And she’s a robot. Who came in a box. Look, just work with me okay? Okay.
Next Book: Orion Omnibus by Walter Simonson or Purple Hibiscus by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie
Next Movie: Clouds of Sils Maria