Writer: Jeff Lemire
Artist: Gabriel Walta
Publisher: TKO Studios
WHAT IS IT?
Have you ever wondered what a super-advanced A.I. babysitting kids in space would be like? Simply put, it's kids in space just trying to survive!
Like Lord of The Flies but the kids get along and survive the experience by working together. And in space, not an island.
Or, taken a different way, it's like 2001: A Space Odyssey, but the A.I. is helpful and not malicious, and it's mixed with a more traditional new-parent/fish-out-of-water story.
WHAT’S IT ABOUT?
Colony ship, U.S.S. Montgomery, is filled with adults and their children, making their way away from Earth and toward their new home.
But when an attack kills said adults, the ship's A.I., Valarie (VAL), takes over the care of the children.
Now, with no adults to help guide them, the kids have to survive deep space and the threats that come with it.
Can Valarie learn to be a parent to these kids? Can she keep them safe until they reach their destination? And do the kids have any choice in the matter?
Sentient's story barely has twists or turns following the beginning issue. Granted, you can't really count the adults being killed a twist, as that's mentioned in all of the advertisements. Instead, the story being told is straightforward. That's not a dig on the plot, or characters, as every story doesn't need enough twists and turns that could make a Chinese knot.
On the subject of characters; each feels unique, going as far as VAL setting up a job for each of them. The way they deal with their pain and the way they respond to VAL, to their parents and to each other is unique for each.
The pacing is near perfect. For the majority of the story, you'll zoom by. But, at a pace that's comfortable.
Walta's art is fantastic, per usual. The panels are kept simple, yet portray everything that's happening elegantly. Panels are often laid-out horizontally, almost always equally measured and paced. It gives a cinematic, widescreen experience that, when combined with TKO's larger-than-life-sized printed comics, is like experiencing Sentient in IMAX.
Walta nails each character interaction, emotion, and facial expression. Not one scene feels boring, nor slows down the pace, and every character and their responses seem so genuine, they're almost like seeing a watercolor filter of a photograph.
The interior designs seen around the ship are amazing – it feels like a great deal of thought went into its layout. Plus, U.S.S. Montgomery's outer design gives off major Alien vibes. Which I'm all for!
Walta's color palette feels akin to many space films in some ways, silvery ships against an inky black, starry background. But it also feels warmer. The only blue or cold silvery steel tones are reserved for VAL, where the kids and their surroundings are bathed in warm earth tones. It creates visual separation between humans and their home and Valarie, the fish-out-of-water A.I. who lacks the programming to feel like a good parent to them.
Shout out to Wands' lettering that never clutters the scenes (and, in fact, looks like they're incorporated into them more than most comics), while showcasing the A.I.'s dialogue with unique caption boxes! The typeface he chose is thick, like Walta's inks. It's not sterile and perfect like you might expect in a sci-fi comic, but not very messy, either – it's a happy medium to complement Walta's style.
It's incredibly fascinating seeing an A.I. try to parents, and how the kids respond to it. They're all young (the oldest is 10), but some become rebellious while some replace their deceased parent with warm feelings toward VAL. Seeing those universal parental hallmarks being used by a machine is humorous, even heart-warming, and always interesting.
Memorable Quote: "No. I'm just the smartest." – Isaac
ICYMI: TKO Studios' style of releasing comics is unlike other publishers. They release the first issue free, then months later publish the complete story in digital, singles collected in a box set, and trade. They dub it "binge reading," much like streaming services. Honestly, it's a different, unique, and cool idea!
WHAT DOESN’T WORK
Sentient has many scenes that use a 2-page spread, which is fine. But what creates confusion is when it's not a spread, but it looks like it. When the gutters line up perfectly on both pages (which happens a handful of times in this comic) but the pages aren't connected, you might have to read the scene a couple times over. And, like trying to plug in a USB drive, the way you start is never the way it should be read.
As amazing as the story is, Sentient starts to feel as if Lemire wrote it as a film pitch.
If you aren't a fan of children being forced into adult situations (nothing sexual, just dangerous), Sentient may not be for you.
For some people, the larger size will annoy them with how it looks on the shelf next to their other trades. As much as I love the unique take on paperback, it would bother me if near my normal-sized trades. Luckily I have a separate shelf for trades with odd sizes.
Similarly unique to TKO, each issue is written as if the issues came out separately. Although readers certainly can buy each issue separately if they purchase from ComiXology, it's kind of strange for a publisher whose model is built on binge-reading comics to build reminders of the previous issue into the dialogue of the current issue. It feels like watching old cartoons with the commercial breaks removed – like, "Yeah, you didn't have to say that again – I just read that on the previous page."
WHY SHOULD I READ IT?
Although it feels like a movie script turned into a comic as proof-of-concept, Sentient is still an amazing nonstop thriller that will have you not wanting to put it down. The first issue alone was immensely enjoyable, to the point I had to stop and tell a friend.
It's Lemire's best since Sweet Tooth, and Walta's art is ALWAYS incredible.
TKO Studios has been producing some great comics, and like I said the first issue for all of the series' are up on their website for free! Plus, Sentient is a great one and done story.
WHAT SHOULD I READ NEXT?
If you like the writing:
Descender, Vol. 1 by Jeff Lemire & Dustin Nguyen
Alien: Dead Orbit By James Stokoe
Elli by Allan Haines & Martyn Lorbiecki
If you like the art:
Vision By Tom King and Gabriel Walta
Wasted Space, Vol. 1 By Michael Moreci and Hayden Sherman
Southern Bastards, Vol. 1 by Jason Aaron & Jason Latour
ABOUT THE CREATORS
Jeff Lemire – Writer
Prolific: Has released a truly stunning number of quality comics in a fairly short amount of time
Multitalented: Often both writes and does art for his comics using his signature watercolor style
Outlander: Lives in Canada
Gabriel Walta – Artist
Outlander: Hails from Spain
New Face: Was "discovered" by Marvel editor CB Cebulski only a few years ago
Steve Wands – Letterer
Multitalented: On top of lettering, Wands draws, and writes novels, with one being released recently
Dream Team: Has lettered a myriad of Lemire's work
Sebastian Girner – Editor
Name Recognition: Is the Editor-In-Chief of TKO
Multitalented: Writes comics, as well as edits them
Jared K Fletcher – Cover & Title Designer
Designed all of TKO's box sets as well as many well-known comic book title logos
HOW DO I BUY IT?
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