Alex + Ada is a series of three graphic novels by Jonathan Luna and Sarah Vaughn. The series is a love story between a man named Alex and an android named Ada. Over the course of the story, there are many parallels with past and current civil rights movements, as well as explorations of how, specifically, a rights movement for sapient androids might play out. It’s a tender, sweet story with moments of horror and tragedy but also with a truly enduring and endearing romance.
Alex is mooning over his ex-fiancée when his grandmother decides to get him an android companion. Alex’s grandmother, who is a constant source of comic relief, expresses great and uncomfortably explicit delight with regard to the success of her own android, Daniel. One day Alex comes home and finds a surprise from Grandma – an android named Ada.
Alex is quite creeped out by Ada’s complete lack of agency or interest in anything other than whatever he orders her to seem interested in. He is polite to her but can’t figure out how to interact with her (and no, he doesn’t have sex with her). Alex finds an online forum about android rights and learns that androids were built with the ability to be sentient, but have had that ability locked away. Unlocking an android is a difficult and illegal task but a person in the forum offers to unlock Ada. Ada would be a fully conscious person albeit still in an android body.
From this point on, Ada has agency and more of the story is told from her point of view. Unfortunately, unlocking a sentient is extremely illegal, as is simply being a sentient robot. Alex and Ada try being friends and try being lovers, while they also figure out what their lives can be like as a couple and individually given that Ada’s sentient state has to remain a secret.
The art in Alex + Ada is very simple, but I thought it fit the story. There’s no panel tricks here – everything is drawn inside uniform rectangles and the color palette is subdued. This allows the focus to remain on faces. Even when Ada is standing still and not speaking, it’s easy to tell when she is sentient and when she is not.
The focus of the story is very much on Alex and Ada, but I loved the side characters as well. The only problem is that the more villainous characters are too one-sided whereas the more sympathetic characters are either allowed more complexity or are simply more pleasant to be around. There are multiple examples of healthy, happy relationships that involve a variety of races, ages, gender preferences, and human or non-human statuses. I’m especially fond of a character with a prosthetic leg who wants to upgrade and hang his older prosthetic leg on the wall. His wife is generally supportive, but in an aside to Ada whispers, “That’s NEVER GOING TO HAPPEN.”
This isn’t a very complex story and it doesn’t say anything we haven’t heard before about what makes a person a person. It’s also pretty brief and could use more elaboration about the world and other characters.
However, its very simplicity makes it emotionally focused. While everyone in the story is worried about society and the place of sentient robots and whether sentient robots will kill people and how to catch them, Alex and Ada just want to live their lives together. The story is affecting because of the relationship between Alex and Ada, and between their friends. There’s tough going at the end of the story but it ends on an optimistic note, with Alex and Ada poised to be the slightly boring suburban couple they always wanted to be.