Everyone’s favorite aristocratic, bisexual, British Romantic poet, whose personal life was probably more fascinating than his actual writing, Lord Byron comes to the 21st century in veteran Vertigo writer Peter Milligan (Hellblazer) and up and coming artist Brett Parson’s (21st Century Tank Girl) New Romancer #1. This comic is part romantic comedy and part speculative science fiction tale with a touch of poetry. The basic premise is that Lexi is a skilled coder, hopeless romantic, and poetry fan , who was fired from her old job for Silicon Valley mega-corporation Incubator and found a new job working on the love matching perfect algorithm for an online dating start-up called New Romancer. Her hobbies include making fake dating profiles for famous lovers, including Lord Byron and Casanova, but she secretly is trying to make them real people through a stolen Incubator A.I. program from their Wollstonecraft project. (Milligan excels at literature nerd jokes in this comic.) New Romancer #1 has a lot of things to set up, including the sci-fi elements and Lexi’s sad backstory, but by the time Byron “wakes up”, this dark, funny, and romantic comic shows signs of being something special.
Parson’s art in New Romancer #1 could be described as cute with the bitter tang of mortality always waiting around the corner of the page, especially in his color palette. Even though Lexi was her father’s science experiment as a child, is lonely and isolated, and self harms, she is the 21st century embodiment of the great Romantic poets. (I’m still surprised that she didn’t shout out the famous John Keats quote “Beauty is truth, truth beauty,- that is all ye know on Earth and to know.” like Josh Radnor in that white boy angst sapfest that was Liberal Arts.) Parson gives her bright red hair and an earnestness to both her facial expressions and movements, and she confidently says that she can create true love and compatibility through a computer program. But he’s not afraid to show the dark side of love and this science with the opening page showing a dying Lord Byron with Milligan’s dialogue a little less than poetic as well as Lexi’s frustration and cutting when some random woman in a bright yellow convertible takes him to a club and immediately starts groping him. Lexi still believes in the power of romantic love, but her reality disagrees with her.
Even though most of New Romancer #1 is dedicate to building its transhumanism meets pre-Industrial Revolution world, there are little slices of commentary on the current state of dating, romance, and love through Milligan’s script. Lexi desperately wants to have a normal romance with someone, but because she was literally programmed by her dad to be at peak performance in the Internet age, her amours are reserved for dead white guys. (Whose problematic nature she does get to call out in a witty battle of words where she calls out Byron for abandoning his daughter Ada for women and writing. She would be Ada Lovelace, the first computer programmer.) But she wants to be in a romantic relationship with a real person and makes some fumbling attempts with the time travel lagged, but still quite gorgeous and charming Byron. This is also goal of her New Romancer program, which is meant to abolish the awkwardness and creepiness of OK Cupid, Tinder, Grindr etc, and create the kind of connections that were celebrated in the beautiful poetry of Byron and his Romantic era buddies.
Although its story and themes can be a little muddled beneath computer and corporate speak, New Romancer #1 is a touching, heartbreaking, and funny first chapter in an unlikely love story between a Romantic poet and lonely computer programmer. But Peter Milligan and Brett Parson have placed a variety of dangerous pitfalls in the way of this starcrossed pair, including another famous historical lover, who makes a worthy antagonist for the series.
If you’ve ever wanted to read “She Walks in Beauty” to someone and really mean every word, New Romancer #1 is the comic for you.
New Romancer #1
Written by Peter Milligan
Art by Brett Parson
Letters by Todd Klein
Published by Vertigo
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