The Chicago Public Library recently established a partnership with online content sharing service Hoopla, which among other things means I suddenly have access to several thousand old comics I've never read before, including most of the back catalog of Dark Horse, Top Shelf and Boom! Studios. This is the third graphic novel I've now read through Hoopla, mostly because I was attracted to its "self-aware Matrix" concept: that in the future, a mysterious new virus wipes out 99 percent of the human race, and in desperation all their minds are "uploaded" into a vastly complicated new version of the internet that was being developed at the time, the 1 percent of "meat-based" humans who are left now in charge of maintaining the city-sized server farms around the planet that house the other "virtual" 99 percent, all of whom are supposedly continuing to work on finding a cure to the virus. Our story, then, opens on a time of mounting conflict between these two groups -- the energy needed to keep the virtual population "alive" is starting to drain more and more resources from the Meat, while the citizens of the virtual Arcadia are starting to grouse more and more about wanting root access to their own source code, currently held by the 1-percenters and able to be switched off at any time.
Unfortunately, though, the execution of this concept is only mediocre, for a variety of reasons: the story itself is doled out in this way that makes it complicated to follow along; adding to this confusion is the so-so artwork, in which not only do too many people look like each other, but even single characters don't look consistently like themselves from one page to the next; too many of the characters are dumbed down to this Joss Whedon, 14-year-old Young Adult level; and perhaps most damningly, I had fundamental questions about the storyline's very concept as I was reading through the book, which kept yanking me out of the story's enjoyment because I kept spending too much time wondering why they weren't addressing my very simplistic questions. (If the entire reason the wiped-out population is being kept virtually alive is so they can come up with a cure to the virus, why do you need all four billion of them? If the biological Earth can no longer maintain the resources to keep all four billion of them and their ridiculously detailed simulacrum of the entire planet running, why not simply shut all of them down except for the scientists actively working on the cure, and house all of them in one virtual city that doesn't need an entire planet's worth of computing resources to render?)
Granted, not all novels should be dismissed just because a reader has a few nagging questions about the novel's concept; but in this case, these questions seemed so self-evident, and were such at the heart of the book's main conflict, that it kept pulling out me out of the act of enjoying it every time the conflict would arise, and they failed once again to address what seemed like the most logical and simple solution to their problem. Combined with the other problems just mentioned, this was enough to make this a more frustrating than enjoyable read, still worth checking out if you're a hardcore sci-fi comics fan but easily skippable if you're not.