Image Comics released the first issue of Made in Korea in May, and it's already shaping up to be an exciting story. Written by Jeremy Holt with art by George Schall, the story is set in a near-future where one of the only paths to parenting is to buy a "proxy" — a lifelike robot child. The story centers on Kim Dong Chul, a software engineer at Wook-Jin Industries who discovers a breakthrough in AI sentience, and an American couple named Bill and Suelynn Evans, who long for a proxy but worry about the cost. Chul tries to hide his intellectual property from the corporation by uploading it into a discounted proxy model called Jesse, who ends up getting adopted by the Evans — who are both delighted and overwhelmed to learn that their new robot child is even more precocious than they expected. But of course, Chul considers the child to be his own kind of "property," which he'd like to reclaim.
Holt draws on their personal experience as a triplet and a transracial Korean adoptee to explore the meaning of parenthood, when all questions of biology are completely removed from the equation. As they told SyFy:
I started to think of my life experience as an adoptee, I realized that all AI stories are rooted in adoption stories. They are foreign to their maker, they are foreign to the family that ends up adopting them, and at its core, it's an adoption story.
I wanted to explore the duality of being Asian American but also, what does it mean to be a parent? What does it take to be a caretaker? Just because you create a kid doesn't mean you're suitable to be that kid's parent. The struggles some adoptee parents deal with is that "this is not my biological child," then it becomes a nature versus nurture debate. I don't think you have to give birth to call yourself a parent, you just have to be there and support them when they need it most.
It's a neat twist on a typical AI story. Robots have obviously been used to reflect human society and psychology, but Made In Korea removes any threat of replacing or deceiving humanity, and instead uses the AI metaphor to examine our relationships with our families (or, in Chul's case, his corporate colleagues, which are, erm, also a family, of a sort, I guess). Schall's clean line art makes the characters feel approachable and relatable, and I particularly appreciated the differences in coloring and busy architecture that separated the scenes set in America against those in Korea.
While it's only two issues in, Made in Korea is a charming look at the overlaps between family drama and corporate espionage. Maybe it hit me extra hard as a new father as well. You can read the individual issues along with me via Comixology, or pre-order the collected trade paperback that's due out next February. The series is scheduled to run for six issues, although Holt has some rough ideas for two follow-up storylines if there's enough demand for it.