Vertigo’s New Romancer is an action/comedy that mixes modern tech culture with Romantic poetry for an offbeat, oddly entertaining series.
Lexy is a brilliant young coder working for the eponymous struggling dating site. Given an untraditional upbringing by her imprisoned scientist father, Lexy latched onto the poetry of Lord Byron as an emotional tether in her world of extreme logic. Mixing her work for New Romancer with A.I. tech that Lexy stole from her previous employer (the vaguely menacing Incubator), she accidentally brings Lord Byron back to life (or something like it) and learns the ups and downs of romance with her idol. Not only does Lexy have Incubator eager to exploit her unintended achievement, she’s also accidentally resurrected Casanova (an amoral, slightly homicidal emotional vampire) and Mata Hari (desperate to bring back her executed lover).
Writer Peter Milligan unleashes a lot of imagination on New Romancer. He doesn’t get too bogged down in the technicalities, instead exploring the entertaining aspects of a libertine Romantic poet unleashed on the modern dating scene. There’s a lot of humor and heart on display in the story and Lexy proves to be a strong focal point for the madcap shenanigans that unfold around her. Seeing her reconcile the reality of Byron with her fantasies about him can be poignant and funny in equal measure. Milligan gets a lot of mileage contrasting Byron’s pre-feminist conceptions of womanhood with modern notions of empowerment, often inverting the formula by having Lexy rescue Byron and helping him become a better person.
After the plot builds in manic and entertaining ways, it sort of just stops. Lexy figures out a tech solution to the main problems, which might make sense but isn’t as visually arresting. And a final confrontation with Incubator almost feels like an afterthought. But those turn out to be minor flaws. The story overall is very ingratiating, witty and surprisingly humane. Milligan largely succeeds in bringing the Romantic spirit into the modern age with a very contemporary sensibility. He even assays a sort of happy ending that leaves open some possibilities for a sequel.
Artist Brett Parson is a good fit for New Romancer. He employs an exaggerated, cartoonish style, with some clear Manga influences, that’s an apt visual representation of the plots modern-meets-Romantic ethos. Parson does some solid, expressive design work with the characters and employs a canny mix of traditional and creative layouts that move the action along briskly, while packing in smart, amusing details along the edges. Colorist Brian Miller wraps it all in a bright, warm palette that gives the proceedings the appropriate shimmer and glow, helping to keep the atmosphere light and fun.
While it carries a Mature rating, New Romancer isn’t especially graphic or vulgar. There’s the cursing expected in a creator-owned title, but the sexual content is mostly tasteful or played for laughs and never stumbles into gratuitousness. As a whimsical change of pace, it’s worth picking up.