Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Story: Zac Thompson & Donny Cates
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artist: Andy Clarke
Colours: Dan Brown
Lettering: Charles Pritchett
Release Date: 11th July 2018
There’s no messing about with this. If you pick up Relay #1 wanting some preamble easing you into a monoculture hard future then tough, you’re not getting it. Nope, instead you’re getting kicked out of a flying taxi into free fall from hundreds of feet up to land in a sprawling metropolis which wouldn’t be out of place in 2000 AD or Transmet. That’s not to say that it’s a good start, but it’s definitely different.
Our implied protagonist, Jad Carter, is a Relay Agent. Think future cop dealing with dissidents, protestors and malcontents. An oversimplified synopsis could sum up the issue by saying that it follows a day in the life of said Relay agent as they tackle the problems of enforcing a controlled monoculture ideology. Of course, there’s a lot more here than can be summed up in a single sentence. Even with a second and third reading, there’s little bits and pieces that throw philosophical wrenches at you – although these will inevitably irritate some as much as they will delight others.
The Relay itself is a cyclopean broadcasting monolith that unifies the universe; all submit before it or are extinguished. Each newly colonised world is brought into the fold with the booming edict to find Donaldson’s world – Donaldson here being the almost mythical founder of the Relay. Carter is a true believer or follower and it’s an interesting choice to see the doubt and apathy from the supporting characters opposing the fervent ideology of the protagonist and not vice versa. For good or for ill Relay takes important questions of today and forces you to confront them in the style of the science fiction classics of Asimov, Dick, or Bradbury. Religion, integration, and the notion of self and expression are all bundled up here in a pretty well paced first issue. With so much going on though, there is the potential for one failing to see the wood for the trees.
The story is wonderfully complimented by the precision and detail of Andy Clarke and Dan Brown. The cityscapes and action are wonderful to behold but some stylistic choices were lost on me. It’s an issue of personal taste but having a switch from portrait to landscape, albeit to convey the literally awesome sight of the Relay, irks slightly, as does some of the touches which appear to be homages but are maybe too blunt? Interestingly, the cover is fantastic but upon reading one can’t help but think there was an opportunity missed. Of course, I could be ‘overthinking’ all of this but given the questions posited by this issue, it’s not entirely my fault…
There’s no easy way to sum up this issue as Relay is a difficult story in a number of ways. Despite a solid core there’s a frustrating obfuscating mystery keeping it under wraps. Ultimately, Relay gave a perverse pleasure in not understanding what’s going on. The all too common fixation and need for knowledge of comprehension of a story in its entirety is hampered here which means this is being either very or too clever.
The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster