What Did I Learn?
“A philosophical road comic about two unemployed robots on an improvised interplanetary voyage of self discovery.” That was the tagline for Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life by someone pseudonamed Kit Roebuck; did that line sound as vague to you as it did to me upon first blush? As I read, I kept looking for more. What was it that these robots were actually going to do?
I am happy to report that one of the first things they do is take a bus. This bus, as a matter of fact, which is probably the coolest bus ever. That picture gave me hope that there were some surprises to be found in Nine Planets.
But I was a bit distracted. The comic uses mostly horizontal scrolling which I approached with some annoyance. It was going to be tiresome, I thought, to have to keep reaching to the side to pull the story to me. And it was for the first few panels and by the time I got to the second I found myself preferring it. It flowed easier reading it sideways and soon I found that I was annoyed by the vertical scrolling.
And now I’m in a pickle. If I describe to you anything that the robots did, then I’m cheating you of the discovery. They are doing robot type things – specifically they are reacting like the fictiony robots that you might expect them to be with the misreading of social cues and following their basic, predetermined course in life. However, they also need to eat, some enjoy getting drunk and they all talk like individuals, albeit somewhat tired sounding. Like robots accustomed to their menial existence.
This made me chuckle a bit. My mind keeps wanting me to categorize them as people but then they act like robots. Once I accept they are really robots, they do something all too human. And I’m sure you’ll agree that’s a nice parlor trick but it would be easy to get tired of, flopping back and forth like that. It’s not quite like that though.
The robots are talking about life and philosophy and practicality and more. Little things about robot life are dropped in there too. The episodes in the twenties tell you why the robots eat and behave somewhat like the humans that … well, I’m not spoiling that reveal here. You can almost find yourself siding with the robots on that one and shaking your head. It’s all so logical.
Nine Planets, if you can’t tell, subtly messes with your head. The art has a lot of character yet retains a plain feel that you would expect robots to prefer. That distinct lack of textures in the comic helps the flat colors carry a lot of mood. And then there is the story being told on different levels and in different ways all the time, clearly seen in episode thirty four. But it does that all the time, really. It doesn’t necessarily hit you at first because the story seems to always turn on the frustrating of mundane expectations.
The robots themselves are named Ben and Chris, with both of them having opposite viewpoints on almost everything. But being robots, one or the other goes with the flow even if they have to drag their feet to do it. And the best part about it all is that even though they are walking the same path they are in separate places. That tag line is super accurate but now I wonder if there is anything they won’t do?
What Did I Learn?
Lately, I’ve wanted a comic to study with good examples of the story being mirrored in the dialog, the art and the story itself. Each element can then play up a different facet of the subject and answer a related story question. But enough of reading reviews, go enjoy Nine Planets Without Intelligent Life right now, starting here.