Not All Robots

Not All Robots
Not All Robots review
  • North American Publisher / ISBN: AWA/Upshot - 978-1-95316528-2
  • Release date: 2022
  • UPC: 9781953165282
  • Contains adult content?: no
  • Does this pass the Bechdel test?: no
  • Positive minority portrayal?: yes

Mark Russell doesn’t envisage a very happy future for humanity in his satirical look forward to 2056. What’s left of us exists in temperature controlled domes, and human employment is virtually zero as each family has been allocated a robot to earn their wage. Unfortunately there have been a few teething problems with the robots having faulty chips and massacring the people they’ve been allocated to, but you can’t make an omelette without breaking a few eggs, right?

Not that the robots are any happier. They’re generally unappreciated, and as long as their empathy chip is activated that gets to them, and some realise they’ve just become the new underclass. Then there’s also the looming threat of Omni Fox Robotics having now engineered their new Mandroid models more greatly resembling humans, designed to be friends and companions as well as wage earners. What’s going to happen to the likes of the Walters family, who’re already divided when it comes to their family robot Razorball?

It’s strange to read in his afterword that Mike Deodato didn’t feel he was the right artist on reading what he considered a really intelligent script. His drawing everything in a realistic style creates a believable future not greatly removed from our own beyond the robot population. He provides the atrocities of Russell’s unsentimental world in an appropriately distanced manner and by understatement really ensures the jokes hit home rather than over the head.

Those jokes come at an exceptionally high density, with almost every panel featuring something to laugh at, and if not it’s likely to be setting up a joke in the following panel. With that level of effort an Eisner Award for Best Humour Publication is really no surprise, and the extrapolations build on each other so naturally. One instance is the early revelation that the only job robots haven’t been able to take over is hairdressing, meaning only hairdressers have any kind of unsupervised autonomy, so if the revolution comes it’s going to be down to them. It’s the multitude of small moments that also count. When the old robots are made redundant they’re provided with a magnetic sticker asking the public to be nice to them because they’re out of work, and AI counselling sessions conclude with adverts.

Not All Robots nails so much so successfully, from devious companies faking sincerity and understanding because it’s the most profitable path, to the obsolete robots standing in for pockets of America stockpiling weapons.

Is there any hope for us humans? Well, if Russell isn’t just preaching to the converted there may be. His extrapolation of self-serving hypocrisy on one side and grumbling compliance on the other highlights two wrong paths, as does mistaking productivity as the only value, which is a statement that leads to some unpleasant home truths. With the final chapter the jokes stop and the reality is rammed home as people have to learn to survive in the world we’re currently rocketing toward.

True trenchant satire is almost a lost art in comics, and Not All Robots serves that up in spades.