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Veda: Assembly Required by Dark Horse Comics is the very first comic from the mind of writer Samuel Teer, alongside illustrator Hyeondo Park and colorist Kelly Fitzpatrick. Our Cody Tromler assembled this review to tell you whether or not Veda is required reading.
Veda: Assembly Required paints a picture of a futuristic factory and it’s youngest inhabitant. A young girl, named Veda, lives in the factory, watched over by the machines that work there. Yet as she grows older and new inhabitants move into the factory, Veda’s impressionable young mind is pulled in multiple directions. This is the tale of one young girl’s struggles in discovering whether she wants to be a machine, a human or something else entirely. It makes for a compelling read and makes this comic worthy of a ComiConverse review!
Veda: Assembly Required takes no time in setting the plot into motion, with Veda’s mom unfortunately being caught in a machine and leaving Veda an orphan. Luckily, one of the robots, aptly named Assembly, breaks one of the three laws shared by all the robots in the factory (similar to all the robot/human stories you’ve ever hear). Assembly does his best to raise the young human despite another robot’s attempts to destroy Veda. Veda thrives, even learning the language of the robots, however, when the factory’s Gremlin comes into the picture, Veda slowly starts to rebel against Assembly and the robot rules.
The Gremlin infecting Veda and slowly turning her into a Gremlin herself doesn’t help the situation. Veda’s rebellion culminates in a vicious feud between the Gremlin and Assembly. When the results of the feud upset Veda, she begins a vendetta against the Gremlin and finally realizes just what exactly her destiny is.
When you hear the words “bleak factory”, “body transformation” and “all-ages comic” together it can sound like an incompatible mix, yet the elements present in Veda: Assembly Required prove that – when in the hands of capable creators – any topic can be covered to great effect. The primary triumph of Veda: Assembly Required is the flawless blending of the odd themes and imagery, which is due in equal parts to the skill of the writer and the artists.
In the field of writing Veda manages to accomplish a nearly impossible task, while making it look easy. I am, of course, referring to this book’s ability to make you feel for, and care about, a nearly emotionless robot. The character of Assembly is a tool, in the most literal sense of the word, and as such his range of expressions and thoughts don’t tend to be overly complicated. Add to that his inability to speak any language other than hand signs and emojis and you would seem to have a very difficult character to relate to and care about – not so here.
When it comes to the other main characters, Veda and the Gremlin, it’s easy to understand what they are saying and what they feel. We want to root for them or to hate them. Assembly doesn’t have that luxury. Yet, even with that obvious disadvantage, Teer moulds the assembly line robot into a loving father figure to rival the best of them. While we are never able to directly understand what Assembly thinks or wants, Teer uses the ancient trick of having a character, usually Veda, give us the jist of it. Teer does this, not by having Veda repeat it word for word, but instead has her respond in a natural way. Using Veda as a way to build Assembly’s character is an inspired choice and is a definite “two birds” situation.
Teer also manages to walk the dreaded “kid line” with Veda. Needless to say, but everyone can find kids annoying from time to time and writing children is tough because of it. Authors don’t want to make them too wild or whiny because they can be grating to the audience, nor do you want to make them seem too in control or serious (because that means you are just writing a tiny adult). This means that you have to write them just kiddie enough, but not too kiddie.
Teer managed to straddle that line rather well, by making Veda eager to explore the expansive factory against her parental unit’s (robot pun) wishes. It showed that Veda is just like any other kid. Yet when push comes to shove, she still listens to her parent and that keeps her in line with reality. She isn’t a tiny adult, nor is she an unlikable hellion, Veda is simply a kid and, while that might not seem like anything to write home about, it can make all the difference. For reference look at the way Runaways star Molly Hayes acted when written by Brian K Vaughan compared to when Christos Gage wrote her for Avengers Academy #27 and #28. In addition to the character work, Teer does a very good job of making this a tight story, with a reasonable scope. Veda does not become the chosen one destined to save the world from Gremlins and machines or any such nonsense, she is a girl living in a factory and little else. At the same time, Teer does not shy away from putting Veda in real danger. While, again, that seems like something that is to be expected, there is more to talk about with those choices.
There is a growing trend in comics that star young women, where tension is built up only to be instantly resolved, leaving the reader wondering why the author even bothered to include opposition at all (Lumberjanes is one of the biggest offenders of this).
There is nothing wrong with us knowing Veda will win in the end, everyone wants to see the hero succeed, but it’s nice to worry how our hero will get out of one jam or another. Teer pulls no punches just because Veda is a young kid, and that is a breath of fresh air.
However, as with any story, this writing is not without it’s flaws. It’s difficult to care too much for the Gremlin’s speeches about the over mechanization of the world, and perhaps that’s the point, but when Veda seems reasonably convinced it would be nice to understand the merit in her thinking. In addition to that, the ineptitude of the factory staff that appears later is a bit too convenient. I love that Teer took the time to explain how Veda replaced the security guard, but it is a bit harder to swallow that no one saw her amazing contraptions in their various stages of construction.
Luckily, the problems with the writing are small and easily covered-up with the eye candy that is Park and Fitzpatrick’s art. A palette of fiery reds, lush greens and chilling blues from Fitzpatrick make Park’s dynamic designs jump off the pages. The blending of those two elements might not seem very impressive at first (something of a running theme of this review), but creating a bleak factory setting, while keeping it all-ages friendly is a daunting task.
Perhaps the best example of this is the design of the Gremlin himself. As a self-proclaimed defender of the natural order, and some kind of nature-like spirit that is still bent on punishing machines and humans, the Gremlin needs to look intimidating (difficult when he is even smaller than Veda), a little gross (to drive home the point that he is a bad guy) and still look like something produced in nature and not a science lab. This is accomplished by a few brilliant decisions from Park and Fitzpatrick. The first of which is the heavy use of scales on his body. It’s off-putting and gives him a much needed animal quality about him, the same with using his claws a lot as well.
The second smart decision made was to make the Gremlin green, while that is probably the color that comes to mind first when you think of Gremlins, he is one of the few things that is ever green in the book. The Gremlin and Veda’s jacket (tied to her humanity) being green clearly represent the natural aspects of them, as opposed to the cold blues of the factory robots. There are other intelligent decisions regarding design and color too, like Veda’s red hair being so juxtaposed against the heavy blues of the robots and greens of the Gremlin; showing that as much as she wants to be, she is neither a robot nor a Gremlin. Making the factory as big and empty as it is really helps us imagine the isolation that Veda has, having no ties to humans. Finally, the robots are all brilliantly put together too, none of them have any real human qualities, they all look like something one would find assembling a car in Detroit; yet they are able to be expressive enough with their hands and body language that we grow attached to them.
There isn’t a single element in the design and coloring in this book that fails to do it’s job, and do it well.
There is one element shared between the art and writing that should be an utter failure when you examine it on paper. A very sizable portion of this comic’s dialogue is written via emoji. From thumbs ups to everyone’s favorite poop emoji to many symbols invented just for this comic, every machine speaks in a way similar to teenage kids on their cell phones. It would sound like this would be difficult to understand for the reader, but the creative team on this book manages to get all the points across perfectly and it adds an element that is unique to this book. It’s not a revolution in the way we view comics, but it’s a nice little idiosyncrasy.
As a package, Veda: Assembly Required is a book that manages to pull out all the little tricks needed to make a concept like this work. We’ve seen all the various elements in this book before, orphaned kids, nature vs machines but Veda’s ability to spin the minor details in a unique way around the main plot, combined with a noticeable lack of a heavy handed “nature is better than technology” message makes it stand out from the crowd.
Cody Tromler is a Contributor to ComiConverse. Follow him on Twitter: @Dan_Dashly
A book with a lot of heart that manages to take old concepts and gives them a new spin through quality art and writing.