Ian: Lessons of Darkness (Book Two) – Fabien Vehlmann

4 out of 5

Ian… in the city.

Our advanced human robot, Ian, is invited out for a casual dinner-at-home with his SRS mates, when a riot that breaks out on the streets of LA sends the group scurrying to assist.  Engaging in his trying-to-adapt ways, Ian is conflicted over helping those caught in the riot’s midst versus heading straight toward protecting the rich folks to whom the squad has been tasked.  His logical – but against orders – decisions end up having truly unpredictable repercussions.

The bulk of volume two is much smoother than book one, thanks to not having to do character introductions and origins at the same time as including an adventure.  This gives Fabien and artist Ralph Meyer the room to do the low key dinner party at the start, which has some truly charming character building, and also juxtaposes well with the group’s sudden shift from cool and calm into commanding, calling each other code names and gather gear to wade in the streets.  Fabien inserts little notes of fascinating sociopolitical subtext, which is weird to reflect on in 2019 when this was written in 2004; when that happens, I pause to think what might’ve been going on then, and then get a little weirded out to recognize that it’s still relevant now.

Towards the end, the book hints toward taking a particularly dark turn and doesn’t, but then takes two different dark turns instead.  One of these shifts the story into some kind of supernatural angle (or so it seems, as this point), which is honestly very weird and doesn’t sit well with the rest of the story, but the after effect is nonetheless chilling, leading up to (along with the other mentioned turn) an affectingly bleak conclusion.

Ralph Meyer’s art is perfect.  I was caught in several panels by how capable he is at layering several actions at once, splitting action / reaction and differently directed motions within a small square frame.  His facial animation is perfect, and if the colors are his as well, there’s an ideal use of blended tones and a smoother, more painted look to really give things depth and a lived in feel.