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In the Future, Everything Will
Be Exactly the Same
At least this is true of Jonathon Dalton's vision in A Mad Tea Party. Okay, some things are different. A war with dangerously psychotic aliens has forced earth to unite (sort of) and develop human genetic engineering to the point where a powerful minority of "superhumans" exist in gated communities. And there are flying cars.
But, on the whole, society hasn't changed. Teenagers still whine about their parents, even genetically "improved" ones. Siblings still indulge in that love/hate relationship that made Freud so rich. Young people still indulge in closed-minded liberations with potentially disastrous consequences.
Dalton's future is bleak but hopeful. Just emerging from the interstellar war into which they had been thrust, the people of MTP's Earth are at a crossroads. They played a pivotal role in defeating an ancient evil and bringing some kind of peace (or, at least detente) to the multiple space-capable civilizations, but they remain a backward world, both socially and technologically. What they had provided that turned the tide of the war had been humanity. More to the point it had been a sort of hyper-humanity, genetically engineered humans who were as strong as possible, as smart as possible, aswell you get the idea: they were some institute's idea of the perfect human, at least for the purposes of fighting and winning a war against an implacable foe.
That war is now over, however, and has been for some years. The genetically engineered warriors long ago returned to a world that disappointed them. Political peccadillos and old rivalries had prevented any real or lasting form of unification, and the resulting factionism distracted the inhabitants and disparate governments from confronting the problems of rebuilding what had been lost, or even properly caring for those who remained. It had also left the Earth as a backwater. In response, the "genies" settled in gated communities, shut off from the world around them, in order to create their own private world where everything was done "right". They "gen'gineered" children for themselves, selecting attributes as if from an a la carte menu, and tried to raise families within the bubble of their own vision.
Now these children are starting to grow up, and this is where MTP starts. Dalton focuses on the lives of two sisters: Matilda, the teenager, gen'gineered by her parents but not noticeably different from mainline humanity, and Connie, just on the edge of adolescence, the essential little sister, but more so because she has been gen'gineered to excel. Presented as an online comic book with facing pages opening with each advance, Dalton's tale unfolds with precise timing and a keen eye to sibling relationships. No ink is wasted on bulky exposition: the paragraphs above were gleaned naturally, as the story unfolded.
And the story unfolds naturally. The whole first issue is dedicated to introducing the main characters and the situation into which they are born. For much of it you feel that perhaps the genies have created the Utopia they want, and it's not until near the end that you learn that the world outside is about to intrude.
The art is beautiful. Dalton inks lines over meticulous pencil shades, and the resulting effort is at once unique and hauntingly reminiscent of the old-school oriental water colors like Hokusai's Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji. You quickly forget that the comic is done in greytones.
You do not forget the size of the pages, however. Nor do you forget that they are presented in a flash format (it is available in a small-screen version for improved accessibility to the visually handicapped). These difficulties of bulk and formatting are the only considerations which prevent me giving MTP the full five stars it deserves. If you're on dial-up, go there and look, but prepare to spend some time waiting on downloads.
Of course, you should also prepare to be enchanted.
A Mad Tea Party by Jonathon Dalton
Caveats: Flash format presentation, large file sizes.