Deep in outer space in the not-too-distant future, a ship, the U.S.S. Montgomery floats toward its destination - a colony on a distant planet where mankind can escape the dying Earth and start anew. The ship is full of peaceful families who just want a chance to thrive. The ship is controlled and navigated by an A.I. named Valarie, or just Val for short.
The colony is having trouble with separatists, though, who want to overthrow the Earth Gov and assert their own control. The Montgomery is about to sail into the so-called "black zone," where no communications can reach either Earth or the colony. It is a tense time for all the passengers...
To make matters worse, though, one of the ship's crewmen is secretly a separatist! She launches a chemical attack on the assembled adults, killing them all!
Now, only the children remain alive, guided by the A.I. Val. Can they survive? Can they learn to work together? And can Val show that she can supersede her programming and become a mother-figure to them all?
Sentient, courtesy writer Jeff Lemire and artist Gabriel Walta, is from the latest wave of books from hot new publisher TKO. If you’re unaware, TKO has a very unique and accessible business model: all of their books are available simultaneously for download, in trade, or in a slipcase of single issues. Frankly, it’s a brilliant strategy, tapping into all three divergent corners of fandom for maximum exposure and brand awareness. Sentient benefits from being consumed in one sitting; it’s deliberately staged like a widescreen movie and carries a strong cinematic pacing.
As described above, the story focuses on the surviving group of children after their parents are slaughtered and their ship’s A.I. Val, who must assume both a maternal and teacher role in light of the tragedy. It’s often said that children are known for their resilience, and although Lemire doesn’t make them emotionally immune to the situation by any means, he definitely leans into that resiliency. The kids, lead by Lillian (Lil) Wu because she’s the oldest, one by one learn the necessary roles to keep the ship running, based on what they excel at in school. The odd kid out is Isaac, because his mother was the secret separatist responsible for all their parents’ deaths. But instead of going to stereotypical “nobody likes me so I’m going to become the bad guy” trope, Lemire shows Isaac’s determination to rise above everybody’s assumptions about him, and in the end, he’s as much – if not more – the hero than Lil is. Throughout Sentient, Lemire slyly subverts expectations of well-trod storytelling tropes.
Outside of Lil and Isaac, though, the kids don’t have a ton of distinct personality. They more or less are assigned roles within the needs of the story and act solely in that capacity, which seems like an area Lemire could have fleshed out a bit more. The kids aren’t unlikeable or bland or anything, but nothing about them particularly stands out, either. It’s not necessarily fair, though, to ding the story for not giving fully-realized arcs to each supporting character; after all, the real protagonists are Lil, Isaac, and Val. And sure enough, each one of them has a fully-realized character arc with a beginning, middle, and end throughout the course of these six issues.
Val, though, is the spark that makes the story run, even though she’s only present as a mechanized dialogue box and through various mechanics of the ship. I could almost make the argument that, really, Val is the lead character of the story, as she’s the one who has to play both mother and teacher to this group of children – sometimes having to overcome her own programming to succeed. Yes, robots do dream of electric sheep.
Stylistically, Gabriel Walta may bring a bit of a sparse style to these pages at first, but when buoyed by the muted color pallet and expert page layouts, those minor shortcomings fall away. His pages effortlessly evoke the vast emptiness of space, which is in and of itself an echo of what the children are feeling. There are many wide-angle shots, sometimes straddling one page and other times a double-splash. It’s an awesome effect that shows what can be done with a minimalist style when properly utilized.
You don't have to be a sci-fi buff to get into Sentient, as it's a human drama above all else. The art sings and the central question at it's heart - "Can machines learn to be human?" - will have you pondering this series for days after finishing.
Sentient #1-6: I Believe the Children are Our Future
Writing - 8/108/10
Storyline - 7.5/107.5/10
Art - 8.5/108.5/10
Color - 9/109/10
Cover Art - 7/107/10
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