Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Gabriel Walta
Letterer: Steve Wands
What They Say:
When an attack kills the adults on a colony ship, the onboard A.I. Valerie must help the ship’s children survive the perils of space. Can Valerie rise to the task?
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers):
I like publishers that try to find new ways to do things. TKO Studios is doing that in working with some pretty strong creative folks where they produce something like Sentient, a six-issue series that you can get as a slightly oversized trade on archival paper or you can get six singles in a special box to hold it all. We got in the four books from their second wave from TKO and I was instantly drawn to Sentient because of Jeff Lemire and because science fiction. I’ve had a mixed relationship with Lemire’s works in that the more work he does outside of established superhero Big Two continuity the more I like him. Being a huge fan of Descender and Black Hammer, checking out a self-contained six-issue story is a no brainer. Here, he’s paired with Gabriel Walta on the artwork, a Spanish artist whose US work I’m not familiar with having been out of the Marvel loop for a few years. But more of this, please.
The premise for the book is solid in that mankind is doing its best to escape the gravity well that is Earth amid an ecological collapse. A colony world has been established some distance away and with a supposed twenty years to try and move people offworld, they’re not focusing on bringing families out through the ships. The problem is that things are getting worse and worse on Earth and many are hearing that there’s just ten years left before a point of no return. So, whoever gets away now is definitely among the lucky. The journey is a long one that takes a few years by my reckoning and we’re introduced to the diverse group of people that are going through this mission. Everyone has kids with them as that’s needed for the biological diversity in expanding any colony and the parents are all pretty skilled at maintaining the ship that they’re using.
The problem that they face is that there’s a yearlong gap they’re just coming up to where they’ll be out of communications with either side. There’s a refueling depot halfway through but communications are non-existent otherwise. And just after they get into that space, one of the crew turns traitor, revealing themselves to be a separatist that wants to stop Earth from coming into space any further. It leaves the adults all dead as the AI that runs the ship also takes out the attacker, and essentially strands something like a dozen kids that are likely all in the single-digit range. That stresses the AI system, “Valarie,” as it’s not designed to handle this and the kids are in a rough way as well as having witnessed the killings. How does it come back from that? Can it? And, in some ways, should it?
Lemire puts these kids through their paces pretty well, especially since one of them is the child of a traitor and that raises all sorts of tension and division. The whole refueling port adds its own chaos to the mix as well as the kids have a hard time truly discerning who is their enemy and who is just a bit off their rocker. What helps is that we do get some passage of time going on here where the kids are able to take to their new roles in trying to run the ship and have no real hurdles until that halfway mark. It shows how well they were able to adjust and learn from Val and how she became a mother to them during all of this. The bond that grows between the children and the AI is great, especially since some resent her and we see how the one child is ostracized in different ways across the run because he did take to the identity well.
With Lemire providing for a solid pace across it, Walta’s able to take us into this space that the kids exist in and really ramp up the loneliness of it all through the artwork. It’s not a dark and dank ship but it is worn down and has an earthy tone that works far better than shadowed tones. It’s here that we see how they operate without adults, memories bringing them back to a different time and place throughout it. They all move and act like kids – not short adults – and with Lemire’s dialogue and motivations, it all has a pretty realistic feeling about it in how they’d act. The story builds up well with the separatist side, touching on events on Earth, and moving the timeline forward so that you do get a sense of real closure to it. But it is, at its heart, a story of these kids surviving witnessing an act of terrorism that killed all their parents and finding a way to survive that. It’s definitely impressive.
As a first introduction to TKO and the kind of projects they intend to bring out, well, I’m definitely paying attention. There’s a lot to like here with the physical quality and presentation as it looked great throughout, had a solid heft to it when you pick it up, and was just professional from top to bottom that made it a keeper. Jeff Lemire and Gabriel Walta are definitely a combination team I want to see more of, either in this story or something else, as they definitely click and understand what the other wants and needs in order to put out their best work. Walta’s definitely a treasure and Lemire’s story made out better because of how well Wata was able to humanize the kids and breathe the dialogue into their lives. Definitely, recommend for fans of this genre.
Age Rating: 15+
Released By: TKO Presents
Release Date: October 31st, 2019