“Alex + Ada” #4 by Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna pick up right where the last issue left off, with Alex entering a restricted chatroom using Prime Wave.
The story obviously is moving towards the game-changer of Ada acquiring volition and sentience, but Vaughn and Luna are a little too rushed to make this happen. They don’t make this critically important conversation come off as believable, because Alex learns some secret and dangerous information much too easily. The conversation is thus partly an awkward information dump, meant to move things along faster. Levi feels merely instrumental to the plot, despite Luna’s attention to his character design, giving him a memorable face and folksy demeanor. He is there to ask Alex the important questions and pass on information. However, Alex’s dialogue and the dialogue of the short X5 robot are better and more natural-sounding, enhanced by Luna’s dead-on facial expressions for Alex’s thoughts and reactions.
The rest of “Alex + Ada” #4 is excellent. Once Alex leaves the chatroom, the rest of “Alex + Ada” #4 returns to a more natural flow of exposition and pacing. Alex is contemplating an act that is illegal and possibly foolhardy and misguided, and it’s not clear if any of his motives are self-serving, but Vaughn and Luna do everything to make Alex’s thoughts and feelings sympathetic. Each time Ada says something robot-like, Alex’s hesitant dismay at the chasm between human free will and robotic servility is written on his face.
The huge power differential between Alex and Ada is shaky ground for affection, but so far Vaughn and Luna have handled the potential relationship with grace and tenderness. Alex’s protective concern for Ada comes across as genuine and cute in the final scene.
There is a joke halfway through that is the best kind of surprise, perfectly unexpected and placed to relieve tensions for both the characters and the reader. This is characteristic of the style of humor in “Alex + Ada,” which is understated but well-executed.
Luna’s artwork again sets a specific mood, and his controlled, slightly stiff line and approach to composition emphasizes flat light colors, spacious open exteriors and interiors. There’s a lot of space, creating breathing room for the reader, even when the plot is moving along at a fast clip. The pauses in conversation and the pools of silent panels on the road and elsewhere feel peaceful and meditative or lonely, and the emotions that surface from the silence thus feel muted but deep. Luna’s body language is finely calibrated too, in the wary hunch of the rogue X5 and the tension from fear in Alex’s eyes and shoulders.
“Alex + Ada” #4 begins with a mechanical-feeling plot device, and the ending cliffhanger is logical and predictable, if still effective. The meat in the middle has a lot of substance, however. Watching the characters and witnessing the Alex’s decision-making process is to delight in visual psychological subtlety. Boy Meets Robot isn’t a new story, but “Alex + Ada” is an original take on the idea, and Vaughn and Luna’s skill make it one of most attractive and distinctive stories on the shelves right now.