Relay, a new science fiction comic series from Aftershock Comics, is both refreshingly original and frustratingly opaque. The story is set far in the future. In accord with the dominant religion, humans invite a giant device known as a “relay” onto each planet they have colonized. The relays guide human evolution, speeding up the process of civilization, but also impose uniformity. The main character, Jad, begins as a true believer, but ultimately starts to wonder about the true purpose of the relays.
This is a comic that is clearly interested in big ideas about the nature of truth and the dangers of cultural stagnation. Relay is ambitious, it’s weird, and it’s not afraid to challenge its readers.At times, it comes across like a blend between the vast sweep of 2001: A Space Odyssey and mind-bending nature of a Philip K. Dick novel. The plot moves quickly and often shifts before it’s settled – just like a PKD story.
If anything, I found the comic a bit too disorienting. Relay doesn’t invest much time in word-building. It expects readers to learn about the setting and the characters as the story unfolds. That approach have could worked if the plot didn’t move so quickly. This volume only has six issues, yet I barely got to know the characters before they were killed, radically altered, or underwent an existential crisis. In a few cases, the artwork didn’t clearly communicate the action, adding to the confusion. Truthfully, I’m not even sure if the story concluded at the end of this volume or if Aftershock plans to continue the series.
I could see how Relay might not catch on with most readers. It’s a challenging read, not always helped by the writing or the art. But it is a story that has something to say – a rare commodity these days. I’m glad I read Relay and might try it again, taking time to appreciate the Dickensian nature of the tale. The story might make more sense on a second pass. It’s definitely not a book I’d recommend to everyone.
[Note: I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.]