“Life is hard. ‘Non-life’ is easier.”
Thumbs is a harrowing experience. Taking the technology that we all hold so dear to our hearts, it turns devices we see as basic necessities into our greatest downfall in a way that any one of us could see coming. Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman take full advantage of a simple and classic concept and make it as real as it has ever been by preying on our greatest associated fears and worries in order to hook us in, excite us, and make us think about the future. Even if you don’t play video games, surf the web, or constantly check your smart phone, you can’t escape this book’s core and cautionary messages.
Charley Fellows and Mom™ make one hell of a team. Charley stands out because he’s very skilled, but not the best. He was good enough to make it into Camus’s elite academy, but there are still plenty of people that were better than he was. So many stories follow these prodigies who move through the world trying to be the best and prove everyone wrong, but not everyone can be this type of protagonist. Sometimes all it takes is someone who knows what they’re skilled at and puts in the effort. Mom™ is also an interesting character, as it is not as programmed and loyal to its creator as it once seemed. In fact, it seems more loyal to Charley than to Camus itself. This makes Charley a lot stronger and helps us feel a bit more for an emotionless robot because it’s choosing to help Charley. He’s not alone anymore and he has a small chance to save his sister and friend. Lewis is also able to focus more on the social commentary by keeping the stakes more localized. It’s easy to think that Charley’s mission must be to save the world from this evil and dictatorial oppression, but that isn’t what it feel like. Instead, Charley just wants to see his friend and sister not worrying as much about next steps. That allows Lewis and Sherman to give more attention to the world around Charley, and just how much it’s changed.
Thumbs #1 introduced a world slightly more advanced than our own with an overdependence on technology that ultimately leads to large-scale conflicts. Thumbs #2 shows us the results. The first issue gave us feasible and seemingly imminent technological implications that are only a few years away. The VR technology is already here, and the AI technology appears only a few years away. This is a world we can easily place ourselves into, and just like Sherman’s bright pink coloring that makes technology stand out on the page from a monochrome world, our eyes always seem to be moving from one screen to another. Watching TV while surfing the web with our phones attached to our hip. Maybe the future isn’t coming. Maybe it’s already here. Now we see the very serious consequences to our possible actions. The world became so dependent and toxic from its use of technology that governments had to outlaw it. It’s scary to even think about and almost impossible to imagine. It is through these means that Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman introduce a secondary topic of this series: addiction.
Addiction is a very heavy and disheartening topic, and Hayden Sherman is able to present it in a way that allows you to face the reality of the issue and grasp the cold truths without coming across as overwhelming. The harsh realities of an oppressive dystopian world are there, but there is still enough explosive sci-fi action to keep you on the edge of your seat. Sherman is balancing very heavy themes and character moments, and he’s doing so with a very limited color palette. Despite that, however, there are subtle differences that make each part of this new world stand out. The violent and scary streets of the city gives off a different tone than the haunting and depressing sights in the sewers underground which feels different from the uptight, clean appearance of Power City. They all give off different and meaningful impressions that are accented by the lettering. Sherman uses lettering primarily for suspense in this issue, and it works. There are a lot of SFX that trail from one panel to the next or follow the movement of characters on the page. It constantly keeps you look to see where that noise is coming from or what’s going to happen. There is one exception early on where Charley is moving down a long hallway and the caption boxes are organized in a pattern that makes reading difficult when you’re doing so digitally, but that only happens once.
Charley has awoken to a world that rejects the only thing he had growing up other than his sister. He had a childhood filled with noble intentions and s----y results. The only thing that came through for him was technology and video games. Raised on tasteless jokes such as “Kids are disposable,” Charley can’t help but be cynical towards the fact that nobody cares about the next generation. He even starts to believe it and feel lucky that he didn’t have to experience the difficulties of growing up in that environment. How many people would sleep through their childhood if they had the option? It’s probably more than you think. Charley’s belief that his coma was a blessing is even more cemented once he sees the tech junkies in the sewers. That could’ve been him. Is it him? These people are more technology than person. They can barely function without a screen and they, “‘like the idea of sleeping through the bullshit.'” Charley identifies more with them than he’d care to admit.
Meanwhile, Tabby did have to grow up in the real world. She became a champion for the tech-free society, and can you blame her? After all, Adrian Camus and his technology empire is what took her brother away from her. In this world, even a calculator is considered “gateway tech.” Maybe it is better this way? Could regressing technological advancement be the key to progressing our humanity? Unfortunately, in the world Lewis and Sherman have created, this couldn’t be farther from the truth. The people in power have gone much further than eliminating technology; they have eliminated individuality. Students are forced to repeat a mantra about the selfishness of individuality because it breeds competition. Instead of guiding society back to moderation, it embraced an absolutist philosophy aimed at complete elimination. In the world that Lewis and Sherman have created, there is no winning side.
“Humans need contact and not applications.” It’s a statement definitely rooted in truth. We are so obsessed with our screens and the digital universe that sometimes we forget the personal connections we can make right in front of us. For all the positivity, creative endeavors, and discoveries made using technology, there seem to be just as many examples of negativity, destructive behaviors, and toxic attitudes. If you can’t find a way to immediately stand out, it’s easy to get lost in the vastness of the digital system. But there has to be a better answer than complete homogenization, and that’s where we are right now. Charley is a rare counterbalance at a tipping point towards complete and utter oppression. The only question is: What will happen next?
In Thumbs #2 Sean Lewis and Hayden Sherman give another sobering look at the potential dangers technology can bring. It is brutal and scary but never ceases to be entertaining. Following a young child forced to grow up too fast and in way over his head, Sean Lewis is able to make Charley compelling not only because of his character, but also because of his position in the world. Charley doesn’t have that much power here. He’s just like any other young adult, and that’s what makes Thumbs compelling.