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If You Like Then Read: ‘Westworld’

If you like “Westworld,” read “Alex + Ada” — a comic about sex, love, and robots.

By Entertainment

Illustration by Brian Fabry Dorsam.

In IYLTR, Brian Fabry Dorsam puts his passion for unsolicited recommendations to use. Like a certain bit of pop media? Brian’s got a comic book suggestion for you!

You know the story. Boy meets robot girl. Robot girl becomes sentient. Boy is forced to confront his romantic feelings for a non-human being, which causes him to question the very nature of selfhood and humanness and expand humanity’s understanding of the conscious mind to include the capacity for self awareness, adaptive intellect, and true, complex emotion in inorganic organisms. You know the story.
HBO’s “Westworld,” like much sci-fi before it, explores the ethics and politics of sentient AI, but ups the adventure factor by setting its future-tech pop-philosophy in a Wild West theme park. “The Matrix” meets John Wayne? It’s basically my dad’s favorite thing ever.

You’d be forgiven for thinking that this whole nightmare robot-park-gone-wrong sounds like “Jurassic Park” with cowboy droids (cowboids? droidboys?), because the HBO series is based on a 1973 film written and directed by none other than terrible-fictional-theme-park designer, and Dr. Ian Malcolm creator, Michael Crichton.

You probably already know this, because you, like every other human and passing sentient robot in the world, probably already watched “Westworld” last December.

What you may not have read, however, is a fantastic comic miniseries by Sarah Vaughn and Jonathan Luna called, “Alex + Ada.”

Alex is a lonely, recently-ditched young man whose maybe-too-hip grandmother sends him a sex robot named Ada to cheer him up. What follows is a beautiful and utterly heartbreaking examination of free will and forbidden love in a world that has outlawed robot sentience. It’s a classic love-on-the-run story set in the near future where surveillance tech is everywhere. But it’s also a sharp commentary on our present world, which still seeks to limit who and how we can love.

“Alex + Ada” is Vaughn’s first foray into comic writing, but she writes with so much confidence and elegance that you’d never know it. Vaughn is also a welcome addition to an industry and a subject matter in desperate need of commanding female voices.

Luna’s artwork has been criticized for its simplicity, but naysayers seem to be missing the point. The world of “Alex + Ada is uncomfortably sterile, creating an almost tangible, inevitable fragility, as if ruin is lurking just beneath the paper-thin surface. Luna’s airplane-safety-pamphlet line-work recalls the blank-faced suburban tech-horror of Radiohead’s “Fitter Happier,” and works as a perfect metaphor for the complexity beneath Ada’s austere façade.

The writing and artwork combine for a thrilling lesson in pacing and tone. While “Alex + Ada” certainly lacks “Westworld’s” leather-chapped gunslinging, it is just as astute as an exploration of artificial intelligence, with all the desperate us-against-the-world of “True Romance.” For love and sentience in the future age, you can pick up “Alex + Ada” in three volumes from any comic shop worth its weight in fluid ounces of that “Westworld” robot milk-bath.

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