While reading novels and watching films that have moved me, I have shed tears innumerable times. But while reading comics, as much as I love them, I could probably count the number of times this has happened on one hand. But by the end of this first collected volume of Alex + Ada, my eyes welled and a single, ecstatic tear made its way down my face.
Why ecstatic? Well, I’ve briefly mentioned in other posts how it’s been years since I’ve read comics regularly, and how intermittent attempts to get back into the hobby were met with a bit of frustration, at least when it came to certain genres. But now, upon finishing Alex + Ada, the magic was back. Something that had been turned off had turned back on. I felt purified, renewed, innocent and susceptible once again to the world of graphic storytelling and all the magic it is capable of.
And for that I love, love, love this comic and its creators.
But like the titular protagonist of this series, Alex, I could not have predicted upon first glance how much I would fall in love. When I first saw the press release I thought, “Yet another android/artificial intelligence story? Didn’t last year’s Her pretty much say everything there was to be said on that topic, at least for a while?”
So it might have seemed. But despite the early, similar scenes of an obviously lonely young man waking up and going about his morning ritual, and how this becomes an opportunity to show off the tech of this future, Alex + Ada isn’t interested in becoming a clone of Spike Jonze’s film or of the 2013 graphic novel A Boy and a Girl. Nor is it interested in being an obvious, straight male fantasy of the perfect, domicile mate.
When protagonist Alex’s wealthy grandmother buys him an X5 android as a gift, he is perturbed and uncomfortable. As far as housework is concerned, he already gets by just fine with his little droid Otto, and as for that other thing that a lonely, single guy would want with a gorgeous, submissive robot woman, well, to the co-writers’ credit this is so far handled in a non-obvious way.
Ada’s behavior, as well as the current events being reported on the news about androids, intrigues Alex just enough for him to explore the world of artificial intelligence that is hidden from the public. And as he embarks on a journey to learn and understand more about the inner world of androids he finds himself entering a mysterious new sub-culture in sequences that are as fascinating and engaging as anything I’ve ever seen or read in sci-fi film and literature.
Without a doubt, this comic has joined my list of all-time favorites for science fiction of any medium. The art, the story, the dialogue—they are all superb.
Artist and co-writer Jonathan Luna‘s style is simple and minimalist. And given the aim and nature of this particular title, it is also very soothing. His framing and composition are exquisite. He and co-writer Sarah Vaughn (who is also an artist) have sequenced and paced the panels to be deliberately slow, hushed and gorgeous. I often stopped mid-reading just to stare and soak in the resonance of the moment.
Below is just one of my favorite page-long sequences (among many):
It’s sublime. There’s nothing much happening here except coffee being made automatically and served, but in this one page Luna and Vaughn manage to at once establish a meditative mood, convey an atmosphere of domestic comfort and show the sophisticated level of commonplace technology that this future enjoys.
One complaint that’s been leveled at Luna’s art is that his characters look the same but I did not find this to be true here at all. However, he is definitely of the less-is-more school and he practices that ethic well. With just a subtle shift in the curvature of a character’s lips he is able to signify an important internal event. Characters often stare off into space with vacant expressions but this contributes to the overall sense of loneliness and ennui.
One of the things about Alex + Ada that I like best is that Vaughn and Luna willfully take their time to build up to an effect rather than rush and cram everything like most comics I see do. Obviously, this kind of pacing wouldn’t work in a lot of other titles, but here, with such stillness and restraint, even a single, quiet “klk” sound effect as a door closes broadcasts volumes of significance. This is a work of fiction that’s not afraid to be quiet and slow (in the peaceful sense of the word, not the boring sense) and I cherish it for that. Hats off once again to Image Comics for using its resources to platform something different and challenging.
While reading this comic I gave some thought to what it is about these human and android love stories that continue to fascinate us so, even still after we’ve seen so many of them. It’s not the fantasy that robots will agree with whatever we say since we are their masters. That would get tiresome and even annoying after a while. What moves us about androids like Ada is that their love, if you can call it that, is unconditional. Their forgiveness is unconditional. In one scene, after doing something a bit mean to Ada, Alex apologizes. Ada looks at him and simply replies, gently, “You do not need to apologize.” It takes Alex two entire panels of silence just to process this response (again, the sweet, deliberate pacing) and we can see his heart move just as ours does. (That might sound like the male fantasy of being able to do anything and get away with it but, trust me, in this particular scene it’s not. I’m not giving more details only to avoid spoilers.)
Such unconditional forgiveness isn’t just some unattainable fantasy. I believe that it is a symbol of something that human beings, at the deepest core of their being, both aspire to and are capable of. And so even as androids often dream of becoming human, humans dream of becoming more like androids.
To be honest, at this point I would like to see an android or A.I.-meets-human story in which the woman is the human and the android or the A.I. is the male. Some interesting themes could be explored that way. But I cannot fault Alex + Ada for not being that story. It is simply being true to itself.
All in all, let my experience with Alex + Ada serve as another reminder to not let the cover, blurb, synopsis, initial impressions or whatever of a comic completely determine your decision to read or not read it, and to sometimes take chances on titles you might not be inclined to choose for you might be very surprised and rewarded. To be fair, those things (cover, blurb, etc.) are all we usually have to go on when making choices of what to buy and read. But there is something that overrides all of that: the sincere and fervent recommendation of a fellow reader which I offer to you now.
Buy this comic. Read it. Meditate on it. It is beautiful, ethereal, magnificent.