Human beings have always wanted to believe in a re-set. In more traditional terms this has taken the form of an afterlife, but as technology has progressed, some form of virtual reality alternative to the physical universe has become desired. Well, apparently. I don’t think I know anyone who thinks seriously about packing it all up and hooking themselves up to a computer that would create a perception fo a new reality for them, but damn if futurists and science fiction writers aren’t convinced that’s what we all want.

Maybe it is, and maybe that’s because while we don’t dream of full-blown virtuality, we dip our toes on a daily basis in the form of online communities via social networking, or perhaps in multi-player games. Some people were obviously ready to go when Second Life was released on the world, but that didn’t add up to too many people. We’re still evolving to the point where most of us want to do that with our consciousnesses.

In Alt-Life, circumstances have dictated that humans depend more and more on various levels of unreality in order to just get by in the world, but the next big leap is about to arrive and Josiane and Rene are the test subjects in the vast new virtual universe that the human race is about to give itself to.

During their year of exploration, Josiane is living out her wildest fantasies, but only able to enjoy doing so by acknowledging that they are not with real people, rather than letting herself perceive the virtual as the real. Rene, by contrast, wants to do the same but can’t, and multiple attempts to embrace his situation as a sex fantasy wonderland has proven fruitless for him. The perceived fake-ness is a turn-off for him.

In a lot of ways, the preoccupation with sex makes sense as a meeting point of various aspects of the human experience. In a virtual world where people crave touch, sex and violence are the two ways that touch is experienced with the most intensity. Sex also gives understandable parameters to limitless possibilities. In the end, it’s a formula that leads to defined success, a form of exploration that always brings you to the same basic discovery.

The experiment heralds in what is presented as an inevitable truth, not only the passing of biological life, but the desire of sentient biological life to pass. The idea is that participants will enter into the new virtual reality technology and remain there for the rest of their lives, disembodied personalities moving onto a new stage of existence where no one has to go to the bathroom or anything else gross unless the fantasy in the experience prefers something like that.

Unfortunately, copyrights do dictate your freedom. You can’t just have sex with celebrity likenesses. You can’t just wear costumes that are the intellectual property of some other entity. And though the possibilities are limitless, they are still controlled by your wealth, in the form of memory points. The more memory you have, the more extravagant your virtual world can be, but you need memory points for all that. Meager memory points mean meager lives.

The parallels with the Internet are obvious here, but Thomas Cadene’s script explores these ideas in a fresh way, mixing philosophy and satire with a literary intelligence, and in Josiane and Rene offering two characters that become very relatable in their different experiences. Artist Joseph Falzon has a definite Moebius vibe going on, balancing the psychedelic and fantastic with the more intimate sexual moments using the same energy regardless of scope. The talents of both make this one of the strongest of Europe Comics‘ ebook releases.

There is a lot of fairly graphic sex, but I found what sets it apart from so many comics presenting the same is the way these scenes are integral to the themes of the story. The expressive panels of people touching tenderly and intensely, juxtaposed with the more over the top sexual fantasy scenes, reveal a lot about the experience of the characters and also their personalities, adding dimensions to the story that wouldn’t be there without the scenes.