Operation Avalanche is in full swing and things are looking dicey for sentient and non-sentient androids alike. Some people defend robot rights while others hate and fear what artificial life can do. But despite the situation and their personal doubts, Alex and his X5 android Ada have decided to stick things out, together. Issue #11 of Alex + Ada marks the beginning of the third arc of the series and begins the real tests of their relationship, as well as Ada’s very existence.
I started reading Alex + Ada on issue #1 because I wanted a story about human relationships. That sounds funny, considering it’s a story about a relationship between a human and a robot, but bear with me here. I’m interested in exploring the bounds of humanity. How do we decide when something is worthy of compassion? Can we feel real emotions for a robot? Can a robot feel real emotions at all? People have been trying to answer these questions throughout the history of science fiction, from Frankenstein and I Robot to Terminator and Wall-E. So far, Alex + Ada has brushed up against these big, philosophical questions, but I don’t feel like it has provided a solid, unique point of view yet. The only angle that stands out to me is that the book focuses largely on the domestic angle rather than the revolutionary or battle-driven one. I think there may be something there if writer Jonathan Luna can hone in on it and make it personal. I find myself caring about Ada and what happens to her, but it’s largely formulaic so far. Ada is in distress, and as a reader, I want to see her happy. But as a critical reader, I want to see her struggle and grow and earn her happiness.
In fact, I find myself caring less and less about Alex and more about Ada. The first arc of the series was mostly about Alex struggling to accept the idea of owning a robot in the first place, and then struggling with his illegal compulsion to unlock her sentience. Once Ada was unlocked, she quickly became the more dynamic and interesting of the two main characters as she was faced with the pain of self-awareness for the first time. It’s gotten to the point where she has become more human than Alex, who spent this issue spouting tired White Knight comfort and condolences to her. Alex is getting a bit dull and could use some more conflict in his characterization again.
Luna tells a very gentle story that is as much about subtlety and silence (characterized by the frequent ellipses hanging in the air between characters) as it is about words and movement. A lot of this is reflected in Sarah Vaughn’s art, which is minimalistic and subdued. Both Luna and Vaughn use simple and straightforward composition. One might even say it’s vaguely robotic, which could be spun as an interesting parallel to the subject matter of the book. But for this book to really draw me in, I need more tension. I need something to really throw them for a loop that they might not get out of. Based on how this issue ended, I think both Alex and Ada will be getting just that, so I’m hopeful the series will pick up a bit.
As a side, I really appreciated the nod to Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? at the beginning of the issue. By the second page, I suddenly really wanted to go watch Harrison Ford get conflicted over a pretty robot face.