Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Bionic by Koren Shadmi

Victor is a geeky teenager, mildly bullied by the jockish types at his high school - but also smart and skilled enough to be rebuilding old game consoles to make a serious side income. He's obsessed with Patricia (Patty), who is gorgeous and rich and blonde, in the way of a million boys before him, and has about as much chance as they do.

Maybe less of a chance, since I'd estimate nearly 5% of the panels of Koren Shadmi's graphic novel Bionic are of Victor looking at something, usually Patty, and if he's not gaping open-mouthed and frozen every time, well, he's close to it. This is very much a book from the point of view of a tentative young man who doesn't know what to do, what to say, or even what he actually wants. It's full of moments of Victor's confusion and indecision and longing and desire: those moments are the core of the book.

There's more to Bionic than that, of course, as the title and cover imply. Victor and Patty have an almost-relationship: they sit together for at least one class (this isn't clear) and he adopts a pet from the shop where she works. That's probably where it would have stayed, with Victor whining to his friend Gus about his crush and Patty getting deeper into her relationship with probably-not-as-much-of-an-asshole-as-he-seems Brian.

But then something happens.

Patty's father is CEO of a tech company, and...you see that cover? That's Patty, after the something that happens. Hence the title. She's suddenly not as popular as she was: Brian isn't interested in a half-robot girl, and her former BFF is now a queen bee angling for him and being casually cruel to Patty. But, then: these are all teenagers. They are casually cruel in any case, all of them, almost all of the time. Maybe they will outgrow it eventually, some of them.

There are other layers, but that's the core: cruel teenagers, body transformation, sexual desire, with a bit of technological and capitalist paranoia lurking around the edges. Victor and Patty are both difficult people to like: Victor is horribly passive and whiny; Patty is oblivious before her change and horribly moody afterward. This could have been the story of how two imperfect people helped each other, but that's not the story Shadmi wants to tell here: it's much more conventional than that, with Patty as the figure of lust (in spite of her bionics? or, for Victor, even more so because of her bionics?) and Victor as the perpetually yearning horny teen boy.

There are a lot of conventional elements here, I have to admit. I haven't even mentioned Patty's relationship with her father, which checks off a couple of clich├ęs by itself. The SF elements are equally as shopworn as the teen-crush plot, though both are handled subtly and well. But if you think you've seen this story before, you probably have - it's that kind of story.

Shadmi has a soft art style, mostly mid-range colors (maybe with colored pencils?) over mostly thin, not overly dark lines. His people are a bit cartoony: the boys, especially the geeky boys, more so than the girls. Or maybe I mean the attractive people are less cartoony.

I don't think Bionic is as new or different or interesting as perhaps it wanted to be, or thought it is. But it's a solid story, set in the intersection of teen-drama and SF, that uses its familiar elements solidly and has a lot to admire.

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