Publisher: Cabal Comics
Writer: Fraser Campbell
Artwork: James Corcoran
Colours: David B. Cooper
Letters & Design: Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou
Currently funding on Kickstarter until 24th May 2020 (CLICK HERE)
Alex Anderson is back in another explosive, reality blurring thrill ride. The subject of secret government experiments, where specific skill sets and scenarios can be grafted directly into his brain, Alex is the perfect operative – efficient, rewritable, and with the ability of being turned on and off like a light switch. The process has, however, fractured Alex’s mind, leaving him believing he is a robot super-spy from the 1970s spy thriller Alex Automatic.
This latest issue(s) delves deeper into Alex’s time training to be a PRISM Agent, as well as his early life. Elsewhere, Lara is on a mission to kill the man who funded the kidnap and murder of her family but is stopped dead in her tracks upon discovering that they are holding Alex prisoner. A twisted, monstrous figure creeps in through the edges of the story bringing us closer to the tormentor responsible for Alex’ condition and the forces harrying him and his friends at every turn.
I am going to assume for the sake of argument that if you’re reading this review, you aren’t already familiar with this series, so apologies to those who are and if you’re already a fan then rest assured that this bumper release of the next two issues in the forthcoming Kickstarter campaign are just as action packed and insane as the previous issues.
Cast your mind back to the great spy thriller shows of the 1970s. Mission Impossible, The Professionals, The Man From U.N.C.L.E, The Avengers, The Champions, Danger Man (and its spin off The Prisoner), and The Six Million Dollar Man to name but a few. This was the heyday of the genre for me, showcasing thrillers that were bold, loud and embraced an unusual but satisfying mixture of kitsch and the suave sophistication where men were men and women were as lethal as they were alluring.
Alex Automatic draws unashamedly from all these shows, takes more than the recommended number of tabs of acid, and explodes onto the page in a psychedelic blur of reality and fantasy as our hero battles everything from shadowy agents to mutant creatures hellbent on taking over the world. I would like to point out that thankfully, where Alex Automatic does differ from these shows is that it leaves the casual racism and misogyny back in the ‘70s where it belongs.
Alex Automatic is a comic series that is going to have you repeatedly uttering the phrase “what the hell did I just read?” It’s gloriously and unrepentantly insane, and I have long since given up on trying to make sense of what is going on. This instalment switches rapidly between the past and present, both in the real world and Alex’s fractured and fantastical view of it, leaving the reader as disoriented as he is throughout.
There are several ‘presents’ that are being told in this book, and at this point, I honestly don’t know which one is the real one. Having read several of Fraser Campbell’s other titles, I expect to be disoriented, I expect creepy and weird and cryptic, but this is a whole other level of Twin Peaks meets The Prisoner. I actually wouldn’t be surprised at this point if we end up with the last issue being set in Portmeirion with the supreme antagonist being a dancing dwarf wearing monk’s robes and a monkey mask!
The artwork, provided by James Corcoran and David B. Cooper, captures Fraser Campbell’s insane rollercoaster of a ride perfectly. There are so many different styles of work going on here, all representing different facets of the story and Alex’s psyche and these, to a point, keep us following the plot as best as is possible. Corcoran and Cooper also do an incredible job of using these varying styles (assisted by some great design work from Hassan Otsmane-Elhaou) to show the increasing blurring of realities in Alex’s world.
Alex’s training as part of the secret projects team run by PRISM is delivered in a way that, for me, felt just like the old pulp comic strips of the ‘50s & ‘60s. However, there are also scenes that, whilst not in his distinctive style, reminded me of Junji Ito’s horror. There are sci-fi scenes rendered in glorious technicolour, there are scenes that are so weird that (one of my personal favourites), Iain Laurie himself could have illustrated them. It’s almost impossible to work out exactly what timeline the real Alex lives in. Indeed, there are references and styles that could place this story anywhere from the ‘40s through to some fantastical sci-fi future, and there is always something monstrous is trying to break through those images, reminding you that this is the memory and experiences of a tortured, shattered mind.
As I said earlier, I won’t even pretend to have the answers as to what’s going on here, and you know what? I really don’t care. This is such a fun and mind-bending thrill ride that I’m going to continue to read this series all the way to whatever final resolution Campbell and the rest of the team deliver to us, dancing monkey dwarves be damned!
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek