Above all else, TKO’s latest Sci-fi adventure, Sentient is gripping, intense and downright horrifying. Underneath those layers, however, lies a heartwarming story. A story that thrives off of its core characters the best of which isn’t even human. A comic series that completely pulls you into its world. Not just through its fantastic storytelling but through is wonderfully dark and gritty artwork. Sentient is a must-read for fans of sci-fi horror.
Whilst the first part of this review will be completely spoiler-free for those of you yet to read Sentient. I highly recommend you give it a read by the way. I will be delving deep into spoilers with a fair warning because there is just so much to discuss. Sentient is written by Jeff Lemire (known for his work on Black Hammer). Sentient’s fantastic artwork is also drawn by Gabriel Walters (who has previously worked on The Vision). It tells a tale of a colony ship heading from earth to start a new life among the stars. After a separatist sabotages the ship killing all the adult crew it is up to the ships A.I Valerie to keep the surviving children safe.
What started off as a simple space voyage turns dark fast. The children, and Valarie to a certain degree are forced to grow up. While I absolutely loved seeing the kids grow throughout the comic, the character that surprised me most was Valerie. For a character with no physical body or face, she felt the most human. As a result of the children’s parents dying Valarie is literally forced to become a parent to these kids. Her human nature shines through more and more as you read on and it’s great.
Without going into spoilers just yet, the way she tries to help all the kids even when they argue. It’s written in such a natural way that we can all relate to whether we are parents or not. Valarie’s protective nature over the kids was really heartwarming and only added to the tension in the third and fourth issues.
A Dark adventure
Sentient’s world feels truly lived in. A gritty dark take on the sci-fi genre which instantly reminded of watching the Alien movies for the first time. The danger which is littered throughout is made only worse by the fact these are kids who are trying to make their way through it. Having an adult crew would make this far less intense but a bunch of defenseless kids and a computer program. That was a super unique angle that kept me gripped throughout.
For those of you yet to read Sentient it is a must-read for fans of sci-fi horror. A fantastic story, filled with suspense, tension, and drama. All accompanied by great, gritty artwork that completely sells the story. You may want to skip to the end now because its time to dive deep into those spoilers.
The issue begins with Lil and Issac, two children onboard the U.S.S Montgomery, with their mothers. The ship is about to pass through the “black zone” and lose all communications with the Earth. While the crew gathers at the bridge, Issac’s mum a secret separatist sabotages the ship killing her fellow crew with poison gas. As a result of her betrayal, Lil’s mum disables Valarie’s mission protocols allowing her to think freely. Val is able to kill Issac’s mum before she can hurt the kids but it is too late to save her adult crew. Talk about an opening, this really took me back. The series opens with the crew floating, lifeless through space in such a horrific yet surprisingly peaceful way.
Whilst that initial opening was stellar, the series doesn’t take too long to dwell on the kid’s grief. A few months are skipped over in just a couple of pages. Whilst I understand the need to keep the story moving forward, it felt just a little jarring to see the kids kind of ‘over it’ so soon. Watching the ship drift through space was so creepy in the best way possible, espcially because of how lonely the kids already felt on board. I enjoyed the little moments where Val tries to talk to the Issac and Lil and how Lil argued back. That ‘mother, daughter’ relationship is built up even stronger, hence why when Lil is in real danger the tension felt so damn high.
Issues 3 and 4 were by far the scariest of the entire series. Due to the ship running low on fuel the U.S.S Montgomery has to dock at a refueling station. Issac spots a strange signal coming from the station but Val chooses to press on anyway. Lil decides to investigate disobeying Val’s orders. I really loved seeing that rebellious side of Lil come out more and more. The crew at the station are dead except for one lone survivor who tries to kill Lil and take the U.S.S Montgomery for himself, something he would have succeeded at if Issac hadn’t saved Lil. Watching Lil blame Issac for his mother’s actions felt raw and real, but so did watching Issac save Lil, someone he thought of as a friend. Their relationship is set out beautifully throughout the series and I loved the pair of them together.
This is where Sentient felt almost like a horror story and reminded me of Aliens the most. Watching Lil creep around this deserted space station as she is chased by some seemingly unstoppable threat reminded me of Alien isolation, a game I must revisit someday soon. Anyway, Sentinet was at its strongest in these two issues and did not pull any punches.
Sentient’s conclusion sees the U.S.S Montgomery boarded by a group of separatists who use their own A.I Victor to override Valarie and take control of the ship. With time running out for Valarie and the kids they have to defend themselves and their mother from enemy invasion. These last two issues felt a little rushed to me, espcially when Lil just straight up shot one of the separatists. It was brutal and brilliant visually but felt a tad rushed from a narrative perspective. I did, however, adore the build-up of tension as Issac desperately tries to fend of Victor from controlling the ship.
I loved how Lil stepped up to defend the younger ids, showing her natural leadership skills. Also watching Issac outsmart the separatist A.I and showing off his technical skills was great too. When Valarie ‘died’ for lack of a better term it was genuinely sad, and a real emotional point for the series but of course her eventual return at the end was great too see.
Despite having a rather large cast of characters only 4 properly stood out to me, and two of them wernt even human. Lil and Issac are the leads and I loved their back and fourths. They are so obviously different but at the same time, they need each other. Lil’s disdain towards him and her eventually forgiveness about what his mother did were really nice, and both of them had a beautiful arc throughout. Lil takes no crap from anyone and was as fierce as she was rebellious. Issac was a little more nervous and took longer to come out of his shell. He was, however, also fantastic espcially near the end of the series.
Valarie, the A.I controller of the U.S.S Montgomery was the clear standout to me. For a character that never really had a true body, other than the machines she controlled. She felt incredibly human. She really did start to sound and feel like a mother to those kids. Her dialogue was expertly written in a way that captivated me completely.
Victor, on the other hand, was the complete opposite of Val. A ruthless, coldhearted A.I that definitely had human traits about him but felt far more computer than human. He made for a really great antagonist for the kids and for Val herself. I kind of wished we saw more of him as a villain because the separatist themselves were kind of nameless wonders who didn’t survive long enough to make a real impression.
Sentinet is one of the darkest, grittiest and most beautiful comics series I have ever read. The world feels real and lived in. Dirty and used rather than clean and perfect. Space feels empty and lonely, and when it wants to ramp the tension up it does with gloomy, creepy environments that really set the tone. Sentinet isn’t afraid of gore either, and the violence we do see is not only brutal but done in a sophisticated way. No blood and guts for the sake of blood and guts. It accompanied the narrative brilliantly and some of Sentient’s best moments are when there’s no dialogue and you just get to gaze at the brilliant artwork.
Overall Sentient is a must-read for Sci-fi and horror fans alike. A tension-filled gripping story that has real heart at its core, wrapped up in great action, horror-filled moments, amazing artwork and wonderful writing. Minor pacing issues weren’t enough to spoil this one for me, and I don’t think they’ll bother you too much either.
If you want to learn more about Sentient you can right here.