First thing out of the gate, credit to Donna Matrix creator Mike Saenz where credit is due; At a time when digital publishing was dynamically on the rise, comics were still drawn in the traditional manner. Saenz – the original artist on First Comics’ digitally-illustrated comic Shatter, and then the writer and artist on the first digital graphic novel Iron Man:Crash – was willing to implement new technologies in the creation of comics, even as imperfect as they were. Saenz' pages were illustrated on the computer but – as the technology hit a roadblock at that stage of production – had to be printed out then traditionally photographed in order to be printed as a physical comic.
|Those dead eyes are judging you for|
reading this comic.
All of that being said, there is that pesky ol' necessary imperfection of Saenz' comic book work to address, as the technology becomes something of an impediment to artistry. Even by 1993, the 3-D modelling he uses in his debut effort with Reactor Comics – the slightly spooneristic but, come on, admittedly clever Donna Matrix – has the nasty habit of making every character look like a package of hot dogs speared on a hatrack. I mean, they make the Money for Nothing guys look like hot shit wrapped in a cat’s pancake, so it’s got that going for it, right?
You could gleefully wallow in the technical achievements – as modest as they seem by contemporary standards – of Donna Matrix, were it not for the fact that Donna Matrix is a comic book about a rogue sex bot largely comprised of visually incomprehensible panels of vector edges and sound effects.
|"I get my money for nothing and my kicks for free!"|
Saenz, additionally, already had one foot in the other side of sex-in-early-technology, having been the creator of something called Virtual Valerie, which your humble editor had to Google and apparently it’s a game where you take an imaginary hooker to a motel on your computer and use your keyboard to stick things in her hoo-ha until she climaxes. It was apparently a Mac thing. I had a PCjr.
The opening five or six pages of Donna Matrix cover the short jump from Robo-Prostitute to Robo-Prostitute-Terminator in a concise story which would have made for a better-than-average entry into Creepy or 1984, maybe even (post-Eastman) Heavy Metal, one of the oversized horror and sci-fi magazines which owed a lot to the EC model of shock and suspense; a gentleman masochist buys hisself a sexbot, but sexbots are prohibited by law from indulging in any kind of rough stuff (Apparently the government had legislated the morality of BDSM but not the morality of lifelike sex bots, which I guess implies the politicians were once again bowing to the influence of Big Sexbot). Illegally modeming what he thinks is a BDSM subroutine that he can Ctrl-Alt-Delete on his sexbot’s monitor (did I get the terminology right?), it turns out he actually got himself some kind of super-commando routine instead and gets snuffed when his sexbot dishes out a “punishment” that’s slightly more capital than carnal. The safe word is “EYAAAAAARGH”
All well and good, it would have been a nice contribution to an anthology at this point, but IT WOULD NOT ENNNND. Heck, I suppose if you went through all of the trouble to create the 3-D models, you may as well have them wander around in front of fluorescent shoeboxes blurting dull dialogue until an orange-and-white panel implies something’s exploded.
|What do you think it was going to say in that first panel before it was interrupted?|
There’s no real story after the first few pages, just Donna Matrix encountering things to blow up, one after the other, and everyone’s face looks like a clear plastic pillow filled with hot dog meat. Likewise, the printing doesn't do the limited palette and grim lighting any favors, so that the often-slightly-blurred figures are additionally muddled and colored in an assortment of earth tones and shades of chewed food to form a palette which we’re calling “The Chili Disagrees With Dad On The Flagstone Patio”.
Most disappointingly – in the back of the book, Saenz's character sketches were presented for review. They ended up looking much better than the finished characters within the book, which seemed to imply that there was not only a cannier design sense at work in the book than the technology allowed for, but a sense of design that probably would have been better served by having been in the service of a more fully-aware storyteller.
Donna Matrix is, after all, a story about a human(oid) being reduced to an object for the purposes of physical pleasure who then inverts her obligation to serve and becomes a deadly threat – at the very least, it’s a story that reveals volumes about contemporary American male middle class entitlement and its puritanical dread of retribution. Or, in the case of what actually happens in Donna Matrix, Blat Blat Blat CHOM.
|That's not a nice thing to say, fat and tired Steven Seagal-lookin' guy!|