THIS REVIEW OF ‘VOLITION’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
By Clyde Hall. Is it just me, or do the experts in those ’10 Ways the World Will End’ shows exhibit an elevated dread when discussing the A.I. Apocalypse possibility? They appear far more comfortable talking about Killer Asteroids and Solar Flares, events that have happened before and which will certainly happen again. Perhaps it’s the timeline projections that make the difference: Instead of cosmic ticks of eons or centuries, A.I. threats measure in mere years or decades, with humans keeping time in place of the Universe.
Fiction and pop culture haven’t exactly provided a quantum of solace for us, either. From I, Robot to Ex Machina, Terminator to The Matrix, Ultron to Decepticons, we’ve been conditioned to expect the worst when machines achieve sentience. The Number 5s and Chappies are scarce, stories like Robot & Frank even rarer. The rise of the machines in Volition #1 from AfterShock Comics at least gives humanity a reason to breathe easier. The future automatons don’t want to extinct us or use us as copper-topped batteries.
They’ve achieved a synthetic state of being, which means finding employment, having relationships, raising offspring, and having inalienable rights. Just like us. And just like us, they struggle with loss, union and labor woes, fair representation in their governmental bodies, and remaining relevant in the work force as newer, faster synths with better processors make older models obsolete. Like us, sometimes otherwise law-abiding mechanoids turn to illegal means to sustain their life and viability. They even cope with a communicable virus that eats away at their consciousness level, an artificial Alzheimer’s disease called “Rust”.
Of course, we’re still the scheming, treacherous, temperamental creatures we’ve always been, so any optimism for the future is balanced against that. Artificials have learned from the best when it comes to illicit activity, and Ryan Parrott sets part of his story around a crew of synthetics who’ve adopted a life of crime to obtain the unaffordable upgrades and mods needed to prolong their existences. Dodging corporate security and Chicago’s Finest of 2132 A.D. in a bid for mechanized survival, they provide an empathic hook for readers. It’s easy to admire them, commiserate with them, and even laugh along with their jabs at authority.
Parrott’s other major arc concerns a young artificial named Amber-7T, from her ‘birth’ to her career as a nurse serving in a ward for Rustees. The empathy hook sets even deeper here, as we witness Amber’s caregiving nature overwhelmed by the challenges of tending other synths suffering from the debilitating, incurable virus. Think a robotic TB San of the 1930s, wherein the most you can do to treat the afflicted is keep them comfortable, maybe keep them company, and watch them slowly die. Some experts believe the only person capable of developing a cure for Rust is Dr. Elizabeth Traymor, a Bill Gates-like pioneer who created A.I. in the late years of the 21st Century. But by 2132, she’s become a recluse and an unreachable, dangling thread of hope for her artificials. Even if she could help, Dr. Traymor must be found first. And it’s discovered that a Rustee under Amber’s care may have a connection to Traymor which could provide her location.
Parrott’s narrative is sprightly, disarmingly entertaining in its tone, and it makes the reader consider if it’s omniscient, or perhaps one of the characters relating the events of the tale. And if it’s the second option, is that character human or synth? He does rely on an expositional info-dump early on to get the reader up to speed on development and status of the synths, but it also entertains, assisted ably by the illustration work of Omar Francia. His art and coloration lend the book a European science fiction flavor in all the right ways, with his robots, androids, and human characters equally expressive. Parrott and Francia pack a lot of action and emotion into their collaboration, but it never feels overburdened.
The synth criminal gang provides most of the thrills, Francia again masterful in accelerating the process from reflective, personal exchanges to exchanges of gunfire. The gang members breeze by quickly, though, and we don’t feel as if we know them yet. None do we become as familiar with as Amber, but it’s obvious that’s going to change in coming issues. We’ll also witness the creative team making the already heavy populated field of A.I. future reality into their own unique vision. The final success of Volition will be largely determined by how much innovation they bring to that theme, and just how much their exploration stands apart from, even above, similar fare that’s proceeded it.
They’ve begun well, with an issue showcasing a natural narrative flow, elegant art, and some twisty bits to simmer on. We want to know more, from the process by which artificials create their ‘children’ to how coping with the plague of Rust parallels or differentiates from sad human handlings of our own pandemics. There’s even an overall fostering of hope for this future, that while far from perfect, the conjoined forces of man and intelligent machine will do better facing such challenges than we have on our own.
Written by Ryan Parrott.
Illustrated by Omar Francia.
Colors by Omar Francia.
Letters by Marshall Dillon.
7.5 out of 10
Check out Chris Evenhuis’ variant to ‘Volition #1, courtesy of AfterShock Comics!