Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artist: Jen Hickman
Lettering: Simon Bowland
Release Date: 2nd September 2020
Ever had a really bad breakup? I’m talking about the messy, soul destroying kind that drives you inside yourself and sends you on a self-destructive spiral which seems like it won’t end until it consumes your entire life and everyone around you?
In a dystopian future where everything about you is linked to your device, the latest technological advances allow you to not only render your device as a physical human avatar, but also tailor that construct to be a life partner who is totally, and unquestioningly devoted to you for life.
What happens then when that Life Partner rejects you, cuts you off and disappears without warning and without any way of tracing them? What happens when that person is not just your reason for living but your entire identity? Catrina Vand is about to find out the hard way, and it could cost her everything.
Full disclosure, I have been lucky enough to have a preview of the first three issues of this series so my review may be slightly influenced by that advanced knowledge. I do hope however that I can use that insight to reinforce the comments I’m going to make, and urge you to go out and buy this incredible series as soon as you possibly can!
Lonely Receiver is a dystopian horror thriller that, amongst other influences, has the blood of David Cronenberg pumping through its heart. This is where I think Zac Thompson produces his best work; the kind of surreal and nightmarish worlds in which he has an incredible ability to write stories that get under your skin, make your flesh crawl and set every single hair on end almost effortlessly. In other stories that Thompson has written, I’ve found that he doesn’t tend to shy away from asking difficult questions or dealing with uncomfortable themes, and so far this series seems to be quite happy to deal with the difficult, the uncomfortable and in many cases the downright disturbing.
There are so many things in this first issue that at first glance should be a utopian ideal. However, as we’ve learned, if from no other source than over a century’s worth of sci-fi stories, many of mankind’s supposed technological advancements often have a dark, destructive side. There are also many things in this issue that raise red flags right from the off. The creation of the L-POS partner may seem superficially (to some) to be a great idea, but there are all sorts of moral and ethical problems with creating what is essentially a personal sex slave.
We’re also dealing with technology based around artificial intelligence, technology deliberately designed to grow and evolve; technology that, as is evidenced in this first issue, quickly outgrows the individual or even the ability to comprehend our need to feel wanted and validated, and be the centre of someone else’s universe.
The darker side of this narrative is our own need for gratification. In a world where you have absolute control and nothing is off limits, how far will you go to preserve that desire? When you’re used to having every sexual desire fulfilled at the click of your fingers (or in this case reciting a simple poem), what will you do when that power is taken away from you?
I was a huge fan of another of Zac Thompson’s creations “Come Into Me”, which dealt with similar concepts and themes regarding how much of ourselves we give to complete strangers via social media. This issue has many similar themes, but where Come Into Me was from the perspective of the creator of the technology, Lonely Receiver is presented to us from the perspective of the end user and without diminishing the former in any way, makes it a far more relatable story for me.
Catrina, while not always a character you can sympathise with, is certainly a character I can empathise with. Okay, I’m a 46 year old guy married to a goddess who has gifted me with two beautiful children, but I didn’t get to this point in my life without going through my own share of soul crushing relationships, including one spectacularly failed marriage and the mental health issues that are the inevitable result of that kind of betrayal and loss. Having been where Catrina is (within the bounds of our mundane existence), the stages of grief and anger and shock that she’s going through and the impact that it has on her daily life are very believable. I think that this is a narrative that is going to resonate with a lot of people and, while I wouldn’t wish that kind of trauma on anyone, I think it’s something that will make this a much more personal experience while reading it. The purely human drama that comes from that kind of emotional torture could fill a library, but with this being a relationship between two such different souls, and a certain supernatural/ghost in the machine aspect to this story, there is a whole other world of horror and tension yet to be explored.
Jen Hickman’s artwork in this issue is more than a match for the dark imaginings of Zac Thompson, managing to produce some incredibly intense imagery that ranges from the beautiful and sensual to the surreal and horrifying. There’s a neon-cyberpunk feel to their work that really suits the tone of the story without overpowering it. There is subtlety and depth to Hickman’s art that allows us to gauge a wide of emotion from the characters and really feel the more outré and uncomfortable moments in the story. You can visibly see the decline of Catrina, both physically and mentally and it’s both fascinating and disturbing to watch.
A theme that is very much prevalent in this issue is the organic nature of the technology being employed (as is only right with anything that is even remotely referencing Cronenberg). The creation of Rhion is particularly disturbing, but also the nature of the PHYLO X11 phone itself, its direct organic reaction to the user and L-POS, and the healers (rather than technicians) that “treat” your device rather than fix it. While this is supposed to be a huge technological leap forward there is something deeply unsettling about the idea of the devices we carry and communicate with being living things, and Hickman does a great job of bringing this feeling to the page.
As I said at the beginning, I have been lucky enough to preview the first three issues of this series and I can honestly say that while I was blown away by this first one, it just gets better and better and you really do not want to miss this one.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek