I grew up loving sci-fi, but not really the pulpy, mass paperback, day-glo world variation. No, for some reason the sci-fi stories that sucked me in the most were the ones where everyone kind of hated the future. That frequently meant the paranoid visions of Philip K. Dick or the politically cranky epics of Robert Heinlein, but it also meant more suburban shit, like Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series or John Kessel’s Good News from Outer Space. It’s not like I was burned out on workaday life, I started getting into all this when I was just a kid. Maybe it was because my dad worked nonstop and I picked up on his middle class frustrations by osmosis. All I know is that adolescent me would have been hooked on Ryan Ferrier and Valentin Ramon’s D4VE immediately.
A sci-fi workplace sitcom of sorts, D4VE’s elevator pitch probably goes something like “Office Space but with robots and alien invasions.” There’s a good chance that description made you groan a bit, but D4VE is the kind of meta comic that makes its influences so obvious they flip back around to seeming new. The general gist is that D4VE is a former robot war hero who, like Frank Castle before him, came back from a life of war and tried to settle down but now he’s bored as all hell. He spends his days dozing off at his desk to fantasies of past victories while his boss bluntly informs him he sucks at everything that doesn’t involve shooting aliens in the face. But D4VE isn’t the only one who longs for the simpler, more violent days, the whole robot civilization seems to be stuck in stasis, emulating the humans they killed off because they aren’t programmed to be all that original and new.
Ferrier gets some good jokes and one liners in throughout the first issue of IDW’s collection of the MonkeyBrain series, but as is the case with Curb Stomp, his other series hitting the shelves this week, Ferrier gets that great sci-fi is all about crafting a believable but wondrous world, and Ramon is the perfect partner for this. As comfortable designing the weird baddies that D4VE hunts in his daydreams as he is accurately portraying the drudgery of the roboworkplace, Ramon maintains a perfect balance between run down and exotic. There’s some of the same flavor Tony Moore brought to Fear Agent here, which is fitting given that this is also a story about a washed up war hero trying to fit into post-war professional life, but Ramon’s style is pretty unique, somehow both gross and pristine, stuffed full of odd creatures and rich background details yet also highly expressive. It’s a testament to his artistry that he makes all of the robots in D4VE stand out as recognizably different and that he is able to instill their metallic, stoic visages with ample emotion. Ramon’s coloring is also incredible, often startling in its aesthetic decisions, particularly in the scenes where Ramon drops backgrounds altogether and emphasizes a beat by simply dressing up the panel with blocks of color.
As a first issue of a series that flips the script on a lot of sci-fi and sitcom cliches and tropes, D4VE does spend a lot of time on set up, from a Wanted-like “my life sucks, here’s why” opening narration to requisite “here is a thing we do but done by robots” scenes (milk is now oil, children are now ordered “months in advance, strip clubs are “lube bars,” etc). But Ferrier and Ramon always keep it interesting, providing a lot of visual gags in the background and never taking the easy way out on a seemingly straightforward joke. Even before the first issue arrives at its arc-building cliffhanger, there is no shortage of reasons to stick around and get comfy with the world Ferrier and Ramon have crafted.
Unlike Curb Stomp, which is promising to be a darker, tenser future shock, D4VE is light and playful, traits that set it apart from some of those pessimistic middle class sci-fi stories I grew up on. Yeah, D4VE is a mopey dude with a lot of complaints and hang ups, but his story is nonetheless hopeful, albeit in a pretty cynical way. D4VE just wants to kill things and not be stuck in the mundane murk and mire of modern life. He just wants excitement. Which I guess makes him quite like us pop comics fans, doesn’t it?
Nick Hanover got his degree from Disneyland, but he’s the last of the secret agents and he’s your man. Which is to say you can find his particular style of espionage here at Loser City as well as Ovrld, where he contributes music reviews and writes a column on undiscovered Austin bands. You can also flip through his archives at Comics Bulletin, which he is formerly the Co-Managing Editor of, and Spectrum Culture, where he contributed literally hundreds of pieces for a few years. Or if you feel particularly adventurous, you can always witness his odd .gif battles with friends and enemies on twitter: @Nick_Hanover