Of all the artificial intelligence stories we have seen from books, comics and movies over the years, one theme always resonates throughout, what happens when the machine switches off. Whether this be a chance to dream or an opportunity to be downloaded and reborn. It ties into our own questions and theories of how our brain processes whilst we sleep and what happens when we die. Surely if an artificial intelligence is made by man then there will be nothing else for them, because we are unable to create anything further or even begin to imagine anything that wondrous. Jeff Lemire dares to imagine as he creates an innocent naïve child who happens to be a robot. It is a cliché trope because it is easier to imagine an artificial intelligence as a youth because an adolescent would begin to process in similar fashion. Not only is Tim-21 wide-eyed and fresh faced but also his responses to the events around him draw out our empathy, allowing us to feel his amazement and apprehension. And slowly but surely the answers to his questions will begin to surface and inevitably they will be hard to bear.
This issue begins with Tim in a dreamscape, meeting other robots that have travelled to an unknown destination upon death by a cleansing set of bots, called the Harvesters. As he spends time in this apparent afterlife, he is being rescued by his pet robots in reality on a mining planet. All the while, his creator Quon and rescue mission leader Telsa are investigating the former colony looking for the mysterious signal that is Tim. The bulk of plot exposition occurs throughout the conversations between humans tracing the young boy’s signal. This dialogue also allows for some underlying plot threads of mistrust and misgivings between the inventor and the sceptic. Jeff Lemire has a direct and straightforward style but hits you with some fantastic emotional dialogue. The angst between his creator and the strong female lead correlates complementarily with the confusion of Tim and the love driving his robotic friends to rescue. There is a really pleasing balance of story themes. Lemire affords the opportunity to explore the robot rescue and Tim’s emotional development to Nguyen, which he firmly grasps through delightful facial expressions and the physical determination of the mining bot Driller.
The emotive tones of Lemire’s writing are echoed in the Dustin’s watercolours because the absence of black inking highlights a softness and warmth. Tim’s character is made of gentle blues, whites and pinks and they transition into the peach hue of his dreams and the stark white of reality. It is this quality that removes the intensity from the attacking androids, which is thematically important as it is a dreamscape. The clothing he wears is well rendered and his backpack and red/white boots look so stylised. His shape is key to the conveyance of his age because Tim is drawn proportionally and poses nervously as he stares into the unknown. His facial expressions are so beautiful employing a wide gaze and raised eyebrows. His skin tone is ever so light because of the delicate watercolouring but expresses confusion and fear. There is rarely a moment where Lemire needs to describe the emotions of the character, because Nguyen is masterful at emotive articulation. The darker scenes of combat are very cleverly worked so that the use of lighting and shade make the actions quite clear.
As the story progresses the pertinent themes slowly converge, as the issue ends with a rather startling revelation. Tim’s exploration of his own being and the lives of robots lost before him, slowly washes away his innocence. And as he returns to the real world to confront the ever-present artificial intelligence xenophobia, the paths open to him slowly close and he has to make a decision. After three issues the seedlings to a deeper story have been planted, not only does Tim have to meet his creator and understand his creation but he has to confront the naysayers. Although we have yet to truly elicit why, Tim 21 is a very special boy and he holds the key to something even greater that nobody predicted. You can imagine these scenarios because it has become a well-recognised storyline over the years. However that really isn’t important because the fragile innocence of a child and the fight for life is beautifully rendered by Lemire and Nguyen and a pure joy to read. The aesthetic blending watercolours are relatively unique in such a story and do present a brand new world to enjoy. Whatever twists and turns that may come our way, they will be so delicately handled and emotionally emphatic that you cannot help, but be moved with it.
“Yes I have been destroyed, just like you”