The first page of “Alex + Ada” #6 by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn is both a recap and a hint of the shape of ensuing events: Ada wakes up. It’s a simple sequence, but it’s perfect as both an echo of her coming into sentience in the last issue and as a compressed symbol of the morning to come. Ada’s second entrance into the world defines the pacing for almost the whole issue. “Alex + Ada” #6 is unrushed. After the more psychologically harrowing events of the last issue, it encourages the reader to slow down and notice small details.
Ada’s thrilled by things that jaded adult humans would find mundane. The scene in which she is fascinated and elated by a saucepan of boiling water is a defining moment that reminds the reader of her unique mental state. It’s a combination of a toddler’s curiosity and enthusiasm, but with an adult’s ability to quickly process complex new information. She is physically composed, in keeping with the subdued atmosphere that Luna and Vaughn create, but Luna’s facial expressions convey her child-like excitement about the world. Her reactions are affecting and endearing, and they also magnify the feeling of her increased vulnerability. The curiosity and agency that sentience has bestowed upon her also makes her less safe for both herself and for Alex.
The facial expressions and dialogue are understated but funny, and make up for the slow pacing and lack of theatrics in interactions and the artwork. Luna’s backgrounds are spare as usual, though his interiors and landscapes are always spacious. The lack of detail is a deliberate choice to avoid clutter and to direct the reader’s attention to only what matters. The effect is Zen-like calm or eerily spare, depending on taste. The same goes for clothing choices. Alex and Ada have worn pretty much the same clothes since issue #1, with Alex in simple neutral t-shirt and jeans combos and Ada in her white tank top and pants, which emphasize her purity and innocence and the almost-blank slate of her life experiences.
A previous review has also mentioned the similarity in passing, but in Alex + Ada” #6, but the similarity of Luna’s aesthetic approach to late American painter Agnes Martin’s is even more striking due to the Luna’s panel compositions. His arrangements are always symmetrical, emphasizing bright action against a dark grid, like a window. There are several sequences where Luna repeats images, only making small adjustments to the placement of figures. Classified alternately as an abstract expressionist and a minimalist, Agnes Martin worked in pale washes of color and grids of thin dark lines. Her work was partly informed and inspired by Eastern philosophy, particularly Taoism. Martin once praised fellow painter Mark Rothko for “[reaching] zero so that nothing could stand in the way of truth.” Likewise, her own work was valued for its transcendent spiritual calm. Luna’s aesthetic is much the same, except his work is representational and narrative instead of abstract and singular.
Though it’s a color comic, Luna keeps the palette limited to pale neutrals until the bloom of the only slightly more vibrant colors in the concluding cliffhanger scene in the garden out back. The last page is lovely yet ominous, with Ada’s wrist that the mark of her stigma in shadow as she looks uncertainly at a friendly neighbor. Luna and Vaughn let Ada’s situation speak for itself. She won’t be content to be locked in the house like a secret, and the tension between safety and freedom will dominate what comes next. “Alex + Ada” #6 is another excellent issue from Luna and Vaughn, with a strong progression of internal psychology dynamics and tone along with the consistently strong artwork and characterization.