Sentient might be the most anticipated drop across the second wave of releases from TKO Comics, and the series lives up to its high expectations. Readers excited to see Jeff Lemire paired with Gabriel Walta, artist of Marvel’s Vision series written by Tom King, find exactly what they’re looking for in a story that similarly captures humanity within machines that still feel like technology.
The miniseries takes place on the U.S.S. Montgomery, a made up of settlers to a space colony leaving an Earth on the verge of being completely uninhabitable due to climate change. A terrorist attack by Separatists leaves every adult onboard dead, with only children under the age of 13 remaining.
The only thing close to a parental figure left is Val, the ship’s AI which has to care for them independently while traveling through Black Zone, a part of space where it’s impossible to communicate with either their new home or their old one.
Jeff Lemire stories often revolve around family, and Sentient features one of his most unique takes on the concept. Val is an unexpected parent for the readers and even more so for the children aboard the U.S.S. Montgomery.
The story centers on Val, Lilly, the oldest child, and Isaac, whose mother was responsible for the terrorist attack. They have to come together to survive their journey and other sources of danger. All three go through identifiable, satisfying character growth.
The most interesting protagonist is Val, who evolves into a more loving caretaker and parent while still feeling like a machine. One of the most interesting touches is how she adopts the specific language used by the children’s parents, learning to communicate more naturally by imitating others. The only criticism in that regard is that she stutters like a human instead of a piece of technology. All of the details in Sentient don’t need to be scientifically accurate, but the storytelling choice is slightly distracting.
Gabriel Walta’s art has a very honest quality to it, showing the characters for who they are even when they pretend to be something else. The fear and uncertainty on their faces is omnipresent, no matter what expressions they wear. Despite being a vehicle that travels the cosmos, the spaceship feels very mundane, as it does to its inhabitants. His artwork compliments Jeff Lemire’s writing so well that it’s not difficult to picture Walta illustrating some of Lemire’s most personal works like Essex County.
Sentient’s biggest blindspot is how little detail is given about the Separatists. They want the new colony completely disassociated from Earth’s government, which destroyed their original home. But their motivations aren’t expanded upon beyond that, nor why they have so many supports at the Colony and on Earth. Their existence is very compelling, and I found myself wanting to learn more about them and if there are also peaceful factions who similarly hope for a new world that isn’t led by those who doomed the old one. But the Separatists are framed purely as villains when more background would have made them far richer antagonists.
The story also wraps up surprisingly quickly. While the end is largely satisfying, it lacks finality. Perhaps Lemire left the doors open to more at the expense of this miniseries. TKO Comics hasn’t announced plans for future volumes of Sentient but I hope they come to fruition because there’s plenty of story left to tell.
Despite those qualms, Sentient is one of the best comics I’ve read this year. Jeff Lemire and Gabriel are a match made in heaven and deliver a very human story starring a character who’s not human at all. I’m eager for more, but what we’re offered is enough to leave me impressed and still thinking about the book days later.