Taking the idea of awareness and screwing with it from multiple vantage points — self-awareness, awareness of the space around you, familial awareness, scientific awareness, societal awareness — Aama addresses, among other things, the notion of a hive mind and presents mankind as a damaged entity, one in which each part is out of sync with the other, a crippled super-organism that requires a radical intervention to work correctly.
In tackling such lofty and sweeping themes, Frederik Peeters doesn’t ignore the individual human story. He takes the long road, spending time with characters whose stories play out in context of these ideas, and examining the way information is relayed through the actual structure of the graphic novels.
On its most basic level, Aama follows the journey of Verloc Nim. It’s a cosmic journey, a spiritual and intellectual one that transcends dimensions even as it manifests in a concrete one. It’s also a journey of maturity, with a specific focus on parenting.
Nim, accompanied by a gorilla cyborg, has lost his memory and is working to recover them as they wander a strange landscape. This odyssey of self-discovery takes Nim to another planet, where he encounters a fractured research group and comes face-to-face with the technological mystery of Aama itself. A creation of mankind that is moving beyond its creator, Aama forces humanity to look at itself even as it is turned inside out and stretched into the future, where individual players become simultaneously antiquated even as they are part of the building blocks of what is to come.
What unfolds through Nim’s reading is a bizarre, mind-bending science fiction adventure that has the dysfunctional circumstances of Nim’s familial relationships at center stage. Nim grapples with his own poor parenting, his failed marriage, his father issues, his estranged brother, as well as his business failings and his inability to take care of himself.
Nim’s daughter, in particular, is pivotal to whatever is going on — living with an autism-like condition, she seems unaware of the world around her, including the emotional connections she has. She is everything that Aama is trying to transform.
The first three volumes of Aama are not a straightforward narrative. The story unfolds almost entirely through Nim’s own written recollection of a past he can’t remember. Nim is stalled and reads his own diary in order to move forward, but the narrative structure becomes labyrinthine as it winds through the secondhand sources required to build truth. There are moments when the truth being portrayed is a remembrance during a conversation relayed through a journal read by a person who has no recollection, marking the multiple dimensions that make up reality, as well as stories. It captures the complexity of human consciousness and what Aama is working to harness.
This narrative structure collides with the way Peeters presents a technological future where so much of human existence is networked. Ironically, truth is being presented to the main character in the least networked form of communication there is — handwriting on a physical paper page with one pair of eyes looking at it. A contained account of reality, which is the exact opposite of what is encountered through Aama, an explosion of disenfranchisement from time and space, where reality is defined by the impossible living abstractions of Aama and the psychological landscape within each person.
In volume 4, the themes twist around each other to a strong conclusion that considers the idea that children are the end-product of all the evolutionary turns taken before them, as well as a path for those turns to move into the future, to make change. Aama and its manifestations become a symbol for the development of biology and consciousness, and how they are one in the same. The fate of Nim is that of any parent, and the role one plays in the biological future a parent sets in motion, contributes to the development of, and then is ultimately forced to abandon.
Aama is a strong work on all levels — in regard to plot and character, but also theme, and especially visually. Its tone is that of the best of European comics science fiction, with a sober quality that echoes older science fiction from the likes of Stansislaw Lem and Arthur C. Clarke. It’s thoughtful and understands that the scientific themes must be linked with human ones for it to be successful, and while action can be a component to create dire moments and true momentum, it should never overtake the subtext and splatter it into a free-for-all.
Peeters’ visual realization of Aama’s offerings is some of the best mind-bending comics art in ages. It’s reminiscent of Jack Kirby’s “cosmic” renderings, where abstract design bursts into an impossible landscape. There is no real world equivalent to some of the scenes Kirby put down on paper, and so it is with Peeters, who adds a biological element. The world of Aama is truly only possible in our minds, and therefore, on the page.