Synthetics (#0) – Julian Darius

5 out of 5

This is Martian Comics at its absolutely most killer: thought-provoking, deep-dive world building, that also forms a comprehensive (and exciting) comic story, with really great art that exactly serves the themes of the issue.

Synthetics – perhaps as suggested by its 0 issue numbering – is a prelude to the Martian robot war / rebellion circled around in Synthetics #1. It’s from the perspective of a sex robot – a whorebot, in Martian palance – which accounts for Cloves Rodrigues’ barely-there clothing design for our POV “female” synth, Landra. She hits upon a conundrum, when one of her suitors takes her to see a popular film, which depicts robots rebelling against their Martian creators, a common theme in the race’s fictions: that the constant expression of this idea is suggestive of a desire, reflected in the way she often fulfills private wishes in her profession – things not spoken of aloud, but secretly wished for.

On a surface level, this is the tale of the synth pursuing that thought to a logical end, another spin on the “humans are designers of their own destruction, and thus must be killed to save humans” paradox, but refigured from the perspective of one in the sex profession. That surface gives us the slowly spreading seeds of the rebellion in issue #1, as Landra purposefully – and slowly, methodically, as only a machine could – spreads words of dissent amongst her fellow synths, all in the hopes of giving Martians what they truly want; meanwhile, this allows Darius to spiral off into realms rarely explored within this theme, as not only is the POV novel, but it can conceptually wrap around how this thought experiment applies to gender, to race relations, and to social constructs in general. It’s massive, but it’s not lecturing, rather fascinatingly philosophical, with every mind-warping beat that’s delivered just leading to another one, a page later. But it captures an organic flow of thought; it’s not just stuffed with Julian tossing out thinkpiece ideas. And it actually has an ending, and not an obvious one, which, narratively, should be an impossibility – like, robots rebelling only leads one way – but Darius plays perfectly into that. It’s insanely smart.

And on the art front, it’s not just titillation, or rather it’s purposeful titillation, juxtaposing Landra’s shred of clothing with the intensity of her thoughts, and also the “dehumanizing” moments when her inner robot self is exposed.

When Martian Comics wasn’t going too hard on satirizing / paralleling human history, it really did offer up some brilliant, heady sci-fi, with this zero issue one of the best examples.