Publisher: AfterShock Comics
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artist: Jen Hickman
Lettering: Simon Bowland
Release Date: 14th April 2021
Ever had a really bad breakup? The really messy, soul destroying kind, that drives you inside yourself and sends you on a self-destructive spiral that 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 that is totally, and unquestioningly devoted to you for life. But what happens then when that life partner rejects you, cuts you off and disappears without warning or 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.
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, creating surreal and nightmarish worlds which on the surface are so inviting and tempting that by the time the horrific denouement is revealed there’s absolutely no escape. Thompson has an incredible ability to write stories that get under your skin, make your flesh crawl and set every single hair on end – one of the reasons that he’s among my favourite writers at the moment.
On its surface, Catrina’s world is idyllic. But, as with all apparently utopian existences, there is a dark undercurrent that threatens to break through at any moment. As a society, we are already physically and emotionally dependent on technology and the ability to interact instantaneously; and with the speed this technology is advancing, do we know what the real limits of human interaction and sharing could to be? How many of you reading this make checking social media the first and last thing you do every day? I know I’m as guilty of it as the next person. That human need for validation has become so meaningless,- being able to reach out and hope for the recognition of total strangers, being uplifted by the simplicity of someone clicking “like” on a brief and vapid musing…
So where do we go next?
Elon Musk has just implanted a neural chip in a monkey and taught a computer to understand its mental commands. We’re looking at human trials of this technology within the year. Now, without getting dragged too far into this, I think it’s great that this technology can hopefully be used to help repair and circumnavigate damaged parts of the brain and the nervous system, but the cynic in me is terrified of the wider implications of having remotely programmable hardware wired into the mushy grey matter I call a brain. If a kid in China can bring down stock markets from his bedroom, what could someone with real purpose do to a population surgically wired into the net?
As this is a series for mature readers, I’m going to assume we’re all adults here and just leave you with this thought. Every major advance in media and how it is delivered to us for the last hundred years and more, has been driven by the sex industry. Colour photography? Porn. Home video? Porn. High definition, 3D, handheld device apps, social media? Porn. Given this history, what are the likely first applications of this Neural Link once it becomes freely available?
There are moments in this story where I genuinely felt empathy for Catrina. Anyone who has been through a really bad breakup will recognise a little of themselves in the reactions and actions of our protagonist, and will understand the dark places the mind can go in these situations. That’s not to say that I find her a particularly sympathetic character, she is after all presented as an extreme, but I do see the shades of past relationships in her narrative.
As this story progresses, we witness an absolute masterclass in storytelling as Catrina sinks further and further into paranoia and madness, spiraling out of control as her search for Rhion moves ever inward towards the truth she desperately doesn’t want to see. There is something of Jacob Singer’s madness (Jacob’s Ladder, 1990) in this story, and Christine of Charles Forsman’s “Slasher” – albeit lavishly crafted in that Cronenberg/Lynch style that makes Thompson’s work so damn addictive.
Jen Hickman’s contribution to this story is to put flesh on the world that Thompson has created, and she does so in masterful style. The artwork in this series will send you hurtling through a complete range of emotions. The artwork is erotic and disturbing and beautiful and horrifying all at the same time, and while there are some amazing visuals and detail there is as much to be enjoyed in what is not shown, or just barely glimpsed. There are moments which for Catrina are dizzying, psychedelic and utterly disorienting, and Hickman delivers these moments with an incredible level of skill; and there are scenes that are delivered in such a way as to be almost Lovecraftian in their indescribably cosmic horror (and beauty).
This is a series that will make you uncomfortable, and I love that about it. If you aren’t already questioning how much time you’re spending online and what you’re sharing, then this series will set those questions scratching away at the back of your brain. This is a series that will make you question how healthy your relationships are. It will make you look at what your own boundaries are, both emotionally and sexually; make you question whether you want to push those boundaries, whether you’re prepared to push your partner to match them, and how far you’ll push/coerce that person. And ultimately, this is a series that will lead you to question whether you believe you are truly capable and deserving of love and being loved.
The writer of this piece was: Mark Scott
Mark Tweets from @macoy_comicgeek