24/7: Existentialism With Robots / by David Anderson


Stop me if you've heard this one before. A Cylon, a Terminator, a Geth, a Cyberman, AM, and one of those octopus machines from The Matrix walk into a bar. There were no survivors.

Bad jokes aside, we all know how bad a rep robots get in movies and sci-fi. If there's one sure way to obliterate humankind, it's to make a microwave that can say "Cogito, ergo sum". 24/7, then, is a nice turn down a road less traveled, so if you don't mind I'll enlighten you as to why you should read it.

A quick side note: The picture quality of these images may be off, my scanner is a fickle dame.

I picked up this book from Ivan Brandon (the writer for DC's new Men of War series) after a conversation I had with him in which I proved that the character Abed from the TV show Community  is either my lost twin or my spirit animal. That's to say, my skills in such fields as "small talk" and "sounding normal" are lacking. Remind me never to be the PR face of any startup.

Brandon was the editor for this book and came up with the writing for a couple of the entries in it, but 24/7 is a  collection of 36 very short stories about robots. Every story is different and the art style for each one is different, but their tones are similar and they all meditate on the same subject: What it means to live, even if you're not living. Since I'm a technophile, this struck a chord with me.

The robots in every story vary to a wide degree in terms of their humanity. In "This Mortal Coil" the protagonist pretty much was a human with lines on his body to make him look mechanical, but the story "It's All They Know" features talking robotic dogs complaining about their owners' ignorance of their sapience. In essence these robots can be thought of as "human plus one" in that most of their actions are human, but their aesthetics indicate their nature and they usually are in a setting in which one or more qualities of a synthetic entity might change the story. "Getaway" features a bunch of robots trying to rob a bank--a pretty human activity--while "The Workman" features human-esque robots doing blue collar construction on "NYC"--a city at the bottom of The Mariana Trench.

The stories vary in themes and length, like "Oil For Blood"'s story of a cybernetic Army vet who is about to embark on a killing spree, or "Leap", which is about a robot jumping off a rooftop and is only four pages long, two of which total three panels. The sheer abundance and variety is all tied together with often cynical observations about anything related to the subject of life, whether it's the impermanence of memory, the desirability of death, or the importance of others. The technological angle makes these stories much more interesting, though: if resurrection were simply a matter of rebooting a hard drive, would you do it? If you could box up your memories and store them in perfect condition, would you take them out once every few decades and relive them? Is there an afterlife for robots, and if not, why would there be for us? Would trashing an obsolete android be tantamount to ethnic cleansing? Almost all of them have a very urban feel to them, and lots of them take place in cities, which of course is the best setting for a wide variety of characters.

Sometimes the brevity of each tale left me disappointed- -"$1" was two pages long and I felt like nothing really happened, leaving me wanting, but that brevity is typically counterbalanced by succinctness. "Give Me Some Color" is one of my favorites out of this whole series along with "Cane Story" and a few others. I really can't rank them in any way, because it feels like an apples/oranges deal.

The art styles are all very different and yet hold a common thread. They range from simple black and white to 3D art, but in each one the robots are the main focus while the backgrounds are fairly typical American settings. Since they're robots, it's easy to make highly expressive bodies for each character to let you judge their personalities simply by their looks. Sometimes the bots just look like normal people encased in metal, but other times artists let loose and make some pretty imaginative designs. Overall the art is always high quality. Some have a kind of Gorillaz vibe to them while others have cel shading or are reminiscent of Saturday morning cartoons. "Brother Can You Spare A Dime" has a very hilarious vibe even though it's kind of macabre, mostly because of the neurotic 50s suburban feel and the stunted shapes of the characters.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot to mention the cyborg gorilla, that's pretty cool.

This is volume 2 of 24/7, but you don't need to worry about continuity since it's an anthology of short stories. It's perfectly enjoyable by itself, and it's only $20, so go buy it n' stuff. And try to find the first volume, since, you know, more.

TL;DR 24/7 is a great read about all those questions you hate to dwell on, with fantastic art and plots. Score one more for the non-mainstream crowd.

24/7 is edited by Ivan Brandon and published by Image Comics, Inc. You can buy it on Amazon and visit their website here.