By Ryan Ferrier and Valentin Ramon
Sigh. Crack open a beer, pump Glory Days and drift off to better days. You used to be somebody. You used to have people respect you. Hell, YOU used to respect you. A rock god of kick ass and a sound night of sleep knowing you made a difference. There was…purpose. Now look at you. Get up. Go to work for someone else. “Honey, I’m home!” and then go to bed to do it all again the next day. Tedium ad nauseam. And you’re a robot, a once top of the line defense-bot serving aliens their own asses on a silver platter of thunder fists, now relegated to being another cog in a perpetual motion machine of monotony. Well, balls to that. This is the story of D4VE, a robot in a human-less future world that would have Asimov spinning in his grave with equal parts horror and delight. Written with impeccable irreverent care by Ryan Ferrier and masterfully illustrated by Valentin Ramon, D4VE is a must-read experience of unabashed heart, imagination and middle-finger flipping exuberance. A mid-life crisis search for identity that could only come through the lens of masturbating robots and on-point social commentary, this is a book in the vein of American Beauty and Office Space, as brought to you by a mashup of South Park and Saga. Ferrier and Ramon charmingly and inexplicably capture what it means to be human through the single eye of an automaton regular Joe in need of an upgrade.
The only “living” things on the planet are robots, the direct result of exactly what every science fiction story ever has been warning us about. Humans built robots, eventually robots rose up and overthrew the flabby meat sacks, robots defended planet from invading threats, and finally adopted the menial lifestyles of their creators. D4VE was a war hero, he was literally made to kick alien ass, but now he’s stuck in a job he sucks at, his wife 54LLY is leaving him and a bratty robo-teenager named 5COTTY just jerked his way into his life. But a new threat has arrived on a complacent 34RTH (the numbers for letters thing isn’t as annoying in the book as it is in this review, I swear) and provides D4VE the opportunity to not just recapture the greatest years of his life, but to redefine who he is.
Ferrier is a devilishly smart and funny writer, who manages to fool you into thinking this is a book littered with vulgarity and computer puns before you realize the all-encompassing truth bombs he’s actually dropping left and right about what it feels like to be trapped. Not just in your particular job, but what it’s like to feel inescapably stuck in your place in life. And while humans can at least cynically look forward to retirement or death, D4VE is a near immortal robot who has no choice but to perform his function or be obsolete. The eternal redundancy is suffocating. It would be soul-crushing if we could be sure that robots had souls. Ferrier paints a bleak existence as an introduction, sure, but quickly turns the tale into a hopeful one. We can be control our own destinies, not merely adhere to our societal programming as another cubicle jockey whose biggest thrills come from an afternoon at a strip-club. There’s hope and there’s escape even when it feels like the walls are closing in. And Ferrier lets the reader know all this in between one of the most bizarre and funniest comics you’ll ever find.
D4VE is fucking hilarious from start to finish. It’s occasionally crass (okay, frequently) and constantly facetious, but brilliantly has the reader and lead character in complete beguiling synch. “Wait, what?” is a common utterance while reading, both for the reader and from D4VE himself with each flip of the page. Beyond just the sharp, truthful and swear riddled dialogue, so much of the humor is the ideas themselves. Yes, robots masturbate. Hells yeah, using a spine as sword is a good idea. An oil company is the largest conglomerate on a world populated entirely by robots because of course it is. Evil aliens speak in a language that mimic famous commercial jingles (“plop plop fizz fizz”)? Sure, why not. Steve Jobs, Steve Wozniak and Bill Gates’ surnames are used as stand-ins for taking the lords’ name in vain exasperations. There’s a Jodorowsky level of inventiveness on display in D4VE, but it’s also endearingly heartfelt. D4VE is a lovable loser, a relatable asshole in a world populated with metallic versions of ourselves. It’s all so fully realized, so familiar yet impossibly unreal while still delivering the laughs. The scripting (and lettering!) of Ferrier is phenomenal, of course, but D4VE’s success is the result of the ideal example of comic book collaboration between writer and artist.
How Valentin Ramon is not one of the biggest names in comics right now is mind-boggling. Not only does he brilliantly layer detail upon detail in every frame, inserting his own hilarious gags and jabs, but his mastery of body language is astounding. Seriously, this is a comic that features characters with essentially expressionless faces (D4VE has only one circular eye for instance) and Ramon communicates a myriad of emotions via his nuanced anatomy and posturing skills. So much of the humor is the direct result of a slumped shoulder here or a facepalm there, but his intuition for comedic pacing is dead on as well. The three panel sequence of 5COTTY playing video games on the floor with D4VE feverishly running past, then poking his head back and finally awkwardly standing and waving “hello” is a perfect example. Stylistically, there’s a Frank Quietly level of attention to detail and page layout, but Ramon has a more restrained line when texturing that is reminiscent of Ramón Pérez. The colors are as vibrant as the characters themselves, spilling bright green blood and charcoal smoke throughout. Beyond just the importance of the body language (which again, is so so so well done) there’s a wonderful design sense in Ramon’s work here as well. Every robot on 34RTH has a distinct design, but also a unique fashion sense as well. Putting D4VE is a wrinkled shirt, messed tie and those signature sneakers communicates everything the reader needs to know about where that character is in life. There’s a ton of great design choices, as Ramon gets to essentially build the world’s civilization up from scratch before wrecking a good part of it again. And it’s all good. It’s like the first time you saw HD television and you couldn’t figure out what specifically made it so much better, but you were awed by how unbelievably in-focus everything was at once. That’s what looking at Ramon’s work feels like, there are no shortcuts in his work. Plus, he lays out some excellent robot versus alien fight scenes that are amongst the funniest moments in the book.
Go read D4VE if you’ve ever felt like you were driving in circles on the road of life. Go read D4VE if you’re not getting actual laugh out loud moments from other comics. Go read D4VE to get a better grasp on comedic story pacing and execution. Go read D4VE if, for some reason, you wondered if robots jerking off was funny or disturbing or something in between. There’s a vajazzling amount of reasons to go pick this book up, so don’t be a butthorn. Go read D4VE.