If you enjoy hard science fiction, this book will definitely scratch that itch. The stage Matt Hawkins and Raffaele Ienco set with issue #1 of Symmetry provokes an endless number of interesting and thoughtful possibilities.
There’s two prevailing schools of thought when writers take on speculative science fiction: Bleak or post apocalyptic and technologically induced peace and perfection. This particular story – in its first issue, anyway – seems to settle nicely in the middle of the two. Read the opening summary, then we’ll talk some more:
When Artificial Intelligence became ubiquitous, humanity was confronted with a choice: continue the endless cycle of violence or make a real change.
The System Optimizer for Longevity (SOL) was engineered. When it came online it worked under humanity’s guidance to build a better future.
Ambition, diversity, creativity and instruments of capital were eliminated for the greater good.
Everyone was given a personal A.I. joined with their brain in utero to connect them with SOL and the community. These Responsive Artificial Intelligence Network Archetypes became know as RAINA.
Society now has Four Pillars: COMMUNITY, PEACE, HARMONY, and EQUALITY.
Everything was designed to support this Ideology.
Robots took over all labor. Humanity entered its most harmonious age.
It had finally found Symmetry.
Sounds cool, right? On their own, you’ve already heard or seen most of these takes on AI and Robot Takeovers (see Skynet). But what Symmetry does to separate itself from the myriad of others is to successfully hint at what was and what’s to come. Was there a WWIII that led to the choices described in the intro? Or are those same choices what lead humanity to its final and most devastating conflict? Are machines the source of the conflict, or is humanity both its worst enemy and its eventual savior?
Putting it into words:
Matt Hawkins’ resume is a bit all over the place: Publishing Exec, Producer, Editor and Writer covers some of it. In several cases I could go on and on about when you see someone in this type of industry shift from role to role and how it often indicates a lack of specific aptitude or an unfocused, unsure attempt to be creative. Most of those cases land on the negative pile of reviews. But with Matt’s work, don’t make that assumption. Instead, envision a man with a pile of text books and a giant box of crayons when you think about who’s writing this book.
Matt, like in several of his other titles, infuses the wonder and humor only humanity can conjure into hard, fact-based science. Remember that math teacher who never smiled and only concerned himself with algorithms and the art teacher who was everyone’s best friend and dressed like a hippie? Matt’s their baby.
In most cases I don’t get too wrapped up in characterization when talking about a title’s first issue. There’s just not enough pages to draw a fair conclusion on what a character is or will be. This time also falls into the wait-and-see category, but what I’ve seen so far has me chomping at the bit for the next issue. I want to see what’s coming next and how the cast deals with the challenges. More than that I want to see what those challenges bring out of the characters. What decisions will they make? What will the consequences of those decisions be?
Matt does a masterful job of balancing the story, characters and settings across the opening 24 pages, making it feel more like watching a very satisfying first television episode than reading. You follow Michael – not me, silly – as the story opens during the climax of what seems to be him – or someone close to him – attempting some kind of escape, but then suddenly jump back to the very beginning of Michael’s life, allowing you to get some perspective on the world he inhabits. At a glance you might feel like you’re dodging overused tropes from the Terminator series, but that will quickly fade as you start to become sympathetic to Michael’s life and the odd, yet familiar, choices he has to make.
Still not sure about the plausibility of it all? In addition to the 24 pages of story, there are 3 pages closing out the issue where Matt conducts his “Science Class.” I won’t spoil it with a description, but there’s a good chance you’ll be a little smarter once you’re done reading it.
Where to draw the line:
Raffaele Ienco might not be the name of a comics artist that rings a bell for even the seasoned reader, but it will be. Or at the very least, it damn well should be.
I was first introduced to his work on the creator owned title, Epic Kill. Now that you’ve added that to your to-read list, let’s talk about how awesome his art is.
When I picked up Epic Kill, it wasn’t due to a recommendation or assigned review. I was simply scanning indie titles at my local comic shop looking for something new and saw his art on the cover. After flipping through just a few pages I was sold. I had no idea what the story was about, but I knew that my eyes would thank me later. Even my attorney-by-day-comic-geek-by-night of a wife devoured the series.
As you step into the world of Symmetry, Raffaele is your cinematographer, showing you what you need to see from endlessly interesting angles. What I noticed right away were the points of perspective he was choosing. Each panel had the informational quality of a still photo from a great action sequence.
It’s funny, I once read a criticism of his work listing it as static and unmoving, but where the reviewer failed – like the vast majority of them do – was in understanding what the artist was trying to accomplish. A face frozen in terror while the action plays out behind the character in a setting so well drawn you can close your eyes and still see it is not static, it’s cinematic.
And while it would be enough to compliment his wonderful line work in issue #1, don’t let the fact he’s also the colorist slip by. Except for Troy Peteri’s very competent lettering, everything you see on the page comes from Mr. Ienco.
Symmetry has all the elements of a great sci-fi serial: fantastical setting, complicated characters and more questions than answers. Matt’s words and Raffaele’s pictures blend early and often as this first chapter gets moving in the right direction. So what should you do?
READ THIS BOOK!