Review - The Machine Stops #1

"The pod is lit neither by window nor by lamp, yet filled with a soft radiance..."

Life is full of philosophical arguments that challenge those conversing. It's these thoughts that keep conversations moving along and engaging and they also make for pretty fantastic sci-fi stories. Alterna Comics has one such story in The Machine Stops #1, written by Michael Lent and illustrated by Marc Rene.

There's a world where humans have lost the ability to live on the surface of the Earth. As such, they live in vast colonies of individual pods underground, where all life functions and interactions with others are handled by the Machine. One character named Kuno seems to think there's more to life than pod living and sets out to sate his curiosity. What he doesn't know is that there may be grander forces at play that may destroy the entirety of humanity and there's nothing the Machine can do to prevent it.

The work is based on E.M. Forster's short story of the same name and it manages to tackle some pretty heady material. The core of the story is free will vs. determinism, as the humans remaining in the pods are living a life that is force fed to them. That life is done so under the guise of information, as the pod dwellers are given access to any information they desire, as long as it's through the machine and not in person. Lent does a great job conveying this with some fairly concise dialogue that has a very rigid staccato to it. It helps in making the book feel somewhat robotic and artificial, which fits in line with what the story is going for.

Rene's art is equally as haunting as the story itself. There's an abundance of black shading throughout the book, primarily because the entire issue is black and white, but also because it contributes to the tone of depression. An atmosphere of intellect and thought are presented thanks to his impressive illustrations, as characters exhibit intense emotional facial expressions. Some of the panels where the characters emerge into the light are depicted very powerfully, fully bathing the reader in the same realizations that the characters are coming to themselves. There are some interesting panel layouts as well, with a couple of pages that emphasize a spiral layout fanning outward and carrying conversations effectively.

Good, old-fashioned sci-fi is somewhat a thing of the past, but The Machine Stops #1 waxes nostalgic for those stories. Sure, it's an adaptation of another story, but the adaptation is handled very well and really provokes thought in the reader. Lent's handling of the story is done very deftly, offering a steady pace and dialogue that really provokes thought in the characters. Rene's illustrations are equally up to the task of matching the story, as he relies on an almost excess of shadow to depict the darkness that comes with lack of insight. The Machine Stops #1 is an interesting book that promises to offer the reader something that challenges their traditional way of thinking.

The Machine Stops #1 is available now.