Most times you hear about robots in comic books, you can be sure to expect their creators fighting against their own extermination at the hands of mechanized beings who think of them as dirty, inferior fleshbags, or a friendly robot trying to learn what it means to be this magical, wonderful thing called human. The Image series Alex + Ada may eventually involve both of those things, but for its first three issues, it’s been more about one average man’s general discomfort with the notion of a facsimile of humanity designed to be his subservient companion.
Alex is a regular office drone sort of guy in a not-too-distant future which seems entirely plausible, including little floating household-chore ‘bots and a chip in his head that allows him to communicate with people through thought as well as operate his home electronics with a mental remote control. His grandmother is obscenely wealthy and has her own boy-toy robot programmed for her pleasure, and after Alex suffers a breakup with his girlfriend, she tries to cheer him up by buying him a girl-bot of his own, which he names Ada. Alex wanted to return her, but as we see in Alex + Ada #3, he likened that to drowning a puppy, so he experimented a little. He seems to have no interest in the standard coital services – instead, he keeps trying to interact with her and discover a personality beyond servitude to his whims, because it’s just eerie to have a willing slave in your house. In this latest issue, he’s introduced her to his friends, who are understandably curious (and non-judgmental, since it wasn’t like he went out and got her himself), and Alex gets tired of her lack of any opinion or decision-making abilities (thanks to the A.I. Restrictions Act which came about as a result of some gruesome event called the Nexaware Massacre), so he consults strange corners of the internet looking for ways around that, which could lead to a deeper examination of the concept of independence.
Jonathan Luna & Sarah Vaughn are taking a very low-key approach to this chunk of science fiction, keeping it grounded in the domestically mundane and not getting too fantastical about it (Alex’s search for information about robot sentience feels like he could just as well be seeking out a particular bit-torrent of a pirated movie), and it seems to work so far. Alex continually reacts how most reasonably intelligent and empathetic human beings would in the face of this development in his life – which is to say that it’s different from the types of people who would actively seek out the liveliest of sex dolls to administer unto them their preferred flavor of butt stuff. The artwork is very bright and shiny, like an Apple store, which fits this pristinely high-tech setting well.
Alex + Ada isn’t any kind of exciting, action-packed adventure, nor is it a supremely engrossing drama. But it’s got an easy comfort to it that doesn’t demand much of any suspension of disbelief, and yet it also brings an awkward, real-life sensibility to a situation we all know is something we’ll have to face someday soon – perhaps even within our lifetimes.