Mark Russell and Mike Deodato, Jr. kick off their new series with a deep dive into a world where human choice has essentially been taken away. After ruining the world, mankind was more than happy to let robots take the reins and keep the world moving. But of course, every tortured working class will eventually give rise to revolution, and this darkly comic first issue shows the beginning of the end for this delicate system.
With Not All Robots, Russell proves once again that he has his finger on the pulse of American paranoia. Even the jokes in the issue feel like they straddle the line between biting satire and ominous speculative fiction.
The world has just about ended, and the last holdouts of humanity are living in domed cities. Everyone’s priorities seem entirely screwed up — of course one of the cities that was saved would have to be Orlando, FL, complete with and entirely intact Disney World. After all, the humans that are left have gotta have some place they can go to look away from the steaming wreckage they’ve made of the world. There’s a lot of exposition throughout this issue, particularly right at the top, but the conceit of a television debate between humans and robots helps to keep these sections fresh and interesting.
There are some excellent jokes about the banality of day-to-day life that tie in perfectly with this vision of a dystopian future. The automation of America has become a snake eating its own tail at this point in the story. Even murders committed by bots are being investigated by bots, with one dark moment echoing the unheard cries for justice following officer-involved shootings. As humans are having more and more responsibilities stripped away from them, the ultimate question becomes: Who watches the automaton watchmen?
Mike Deodato’s realistic style serves to make the satire hit even closer to home. The robots and other tech feel like they could actually exist, featuring very utilitarian designs that seem to fit each of their jobs and functions. The sight gags somehow totally mesh with the hard sci-fi elements. While there are a ton of competing tones at play here, they coalesce into a book that feels fully off-kilter in an intriguing way. The humans of the story have authentic physical reactions and facial expressions, which really brings much of the horror in the premise to the forefront. The book occasionally feels a little too real, particularly when the story is touching on actual modern fears and injustices.
Dark humor oozes from every corner of this issue, resulting in some excellent sight gags and exchanges of dialogue. There are several bizarre and brilliant jokes about the banality of day-to-day life. A robotic hairdresser terrifies a client with its bladed appendages. One motivational droid finds out a fellow bot is depressed and responds by beating them with a broom. Many of these cutaways are not only very funny, but they also further our understanding of just how screwed up this world has become. Robots have the same damn problems we do, and they’re just as unsure about how to fix them. The only real problem is that they’re stronger and smarter than us — and now they get to decide if we live or die.
Naturally, there are several moments when the dark humor gives way to full-on horror, only for Russell to expertly pull back at the last second — until finally delivering on the fears of these characters in a truly unexpected way. Even so, the eerie final images of this issue imply that things are only about to get worse for the people under the watchful eyes of the robots.
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