Korea. The near-future. Kim Dong Chul, a brilliant programmer, accomplishes his life’s work: the creation of an algorithm that enables full-blown no-nonsense sapient artificial intelligence.
Unfortunately, in his driven, sleep-deprived state, Chul forgets a critical clause in his employment contract: any and all work he does on his company computer is company property. That is unacceptable to Chul. He cannot allow the algorithm to fall into his employers’ hands. He needs a solution. Fortunately, thanks to the particulars of his job, he finds one quickly.
Meanwhile, in Texas, Suelynn and Bill Evans attend a birthday party for their friends’ new son, Denny. Denny is not a baby, nor is he adopted in the conventional sense. Denny is a Proxy, one of a line of highly advanced androids created in the wake of something badly damaging human fertility. Some folks adore Proxies (indeed, this first issue of Made in Korea closes with a short comic by Ron Chan detailing the loving relationship between an adopted human girl and her Proxy sister). Others find them deeply unsettling.
Suelynn wants to be a parent, and a Proxy is currently the best way for her to make that happen. And Bill, while hesitant, agrees to take the plunge with her. Soon enough, they’re welcoming a daughter into their lives. Her name is Jesse. And she is extraordinary.
Made in Korea, illustrated by George Schall, written by Jeremy Holt, and lettered by Adam Wollet, is a terrific comic. As a piece of science fiction, it uses its core ideas well — both in its conversation with the reader and its narrative. As a piece of sequential art, it’s frankly stupendous.
Schall’s illustrations spin a deep line of loneliness into Made in Korea. Chul’s world ends at his cubicle, and anywhere else he carries himself like a man out of place. The McMansion where the Evans attend the pivotal birthday party is lavishly attired but so pointlessly huge that even an enormous party feels small.
The Evans’ own home is comparatively spartan, its bare white walls driving home their isolation – giving the sarcophagus Jesse arrives in and the gifts and toys they’ve bought for her all the more space to stand out. Schall’s color work for Made in Korea is similarly striking, from the aggressively calming greens of Chul’s office to the warm, well-worn, and lived-in greens and oranges of Suelynn and Bill’s clothes.
Holt’s script is engaging, thoughtful, and moves through multiple moods with consummate skill. Chul’s sequence is overtly post-cyberpunk, with pronounced threads of paranoia and hope-against-hope. Chul’s algorithm could be wonderful — provided it isn’t ground up into sinister genuine artificial IP products. And provided he survives.
Suelynn and Bill’s sequence is a bit gentler. The paranoia does not disappear, but it manifests through the macho posturing of a rich Texan twerp rather than IP law and corporate goons. When the Evans add Jesse to their family, minus an intriguing rough start, Holt cranks up the script’s warmth. This is especially true for the main story’s terrific final page. It brings together all of the thematic content and moods Holt has worked with throughout the issue in a moment that is as lovely as it is paradigm-setting. And just a tad eerie. It’s an excellent culmination to a strong first issue.
Made in Korea is a really, really good comic. Schall’s art is beautiful. Holt’s script is intriguing. Their near future is an interesting one that reflects on the dreadful normality of horrible things that we grapple with in our own present. Chul and the Evans are dimensional, compelling leads. Jesse’s only just been activated, but what Schall and Holt have crafted for her so far suggests that A: Made in Korea will ultimately be her story and B: It’s going to be a story well worth reading.
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