From writer Shane Riches and artist Jared Barel comes an intense sci-fi thriller in the form of hA.I.ley. Equal parts Black Mirror and Play Misty For Me, hA.I.ley is a sharp and highly engrossing tale of cybernetic terror coupled with human flaws.
A husband and wife fight for their survival after he has an affair with a cutting-edge, housekeeping A.I. whose obsessive software calculates that it must purge the family. The encroaching, parental dread of A Quiet Place sliced with the technological fear and paranoia of Ex Machina with a new breed of monster — a lethal, hi-tech physical threat who also controls all things digital. Sold as the ultimate household aid, the dream becomes a nightmare. Coded. Driven. Unrelenting.
Writing & Plot
Shane Riches’ script is adorned with stellar pacing from beginning to end, entwined with natural dialogue and fantastic twists. The steady build-up in this graphic novel is unnerving and taut with tension from the moment the first warning signs show that this A.I. is a bit too good at its job. This book intelligently sidesteps the often tack trope of “technology is bad” warning signs and instead focuses on human nature and fallibility. Everything from the corrupt CEO over hA.I.ley’s creation to the easily preyed upon vices of the husband that serves as the protagonist are appropriately frustrating to witness and serve as nice foreshadowing fuel. The latter third of this book seems to flash by as the climax hits and the plot’s intensity reaches top-dead-center. It’s a fantastic ride of helpless terror that culminates in one of the best last-page twists in recent comics memory. All of the ingredients found in hA.I.ley, from the unpredictable A.I. to a stagnated marriage, have been seen in abundance in this genre. While Riches doesn’t necessarily do anything incredibly new with these ingredients, he still manages to make a serious impression on the genre.
The hybrid digital and photo-realistic art of Jared Barel likely wouldn’t work in most comics. Fortunately, it works great for a story like this. The articulated realism and detail in the human (and non-human) characters makes them more easily identifiable than in most other examples of the medium. Facial expressions are realistic almost to the point of eerieness. Speaking of eerie, the color choices tend to stick to a dark overtone, as if everything is constantly draped in some form of shadow. This could be completely coincidental or serve to parallel the ever-presence of the hA.I.ley A.I. Regardless, it bolsters the book’s tone fantastically. Barel’s art is perfect for this sort of close-quarters character-driven sci-fi thriller.
HA.I.ley is a smart and riveting science-fiction thriller in every regard. Shane Riches manages to take familiar genre tropes and capitalize on what makes them compelling while stripping away some of the more antiquated fat. Jared Barel’s unique art style capitalizes on the plot and adds to the tone with both believable and unnerving character art and a darkened color palette. This graphic novel from publisher Paper Movies is a highly entertaining experience of cinematic proportions. Pick it up online or order it from your local comic shop today!