Relay #1 by Aftershock Comics brings us a word inspired by The Fifth Element and Philip K. Dick. With a story by Donny Cates, we are introduced to an Earth-like planet that has an imposing monolithic building standing along the skyline like it’s from 1984. Why it is there and what is its purpose is unknown, but it keeps giving the directive, “Find Donaldson’s World.”
Relay is written by Zac Thompson, with art by Andy Clarke, and colors by Jose Villarrubia & Dan Brown. From the first page, I was sold on the aesthetic of this comic. You're immediately transported to a world that feels straight from the scenes of The Fifth Element. The first panel begins with a grimy flying taxi whizzing through the skyway. It’s controlled by a mechanical driver with a ridiculous happy-go-lucky smile on its face. Scenes throughout the book continue with a vibe of light-dystopia, cyberpunk, political unrest, and multiculturalism.
The main story follows a peace enforcer who works for the “Relay”, which is the name of the giant monolith building in the center of the city. The tension in the city is palpable, with a climate of the US in the 60s as protestors gather to shout down and oppose whatever this giant building is. What the building actually does, we don’t really know. Writer Zac Thompson does very little narration and leaves it up to the reader to understand the universe we have been dropped into. Through the natural conversations of the main protagonist with other members of his enforcer squad, we begin to understand the world. I wasn’t quite able to follow everything that was happening, but I felt satisfied that we were given enough script to slowly follow along and learn from a first-person perspective. After reading the comic, I found out that there was a Relay #0 issue from free comic book day that provides additional backstory. If you missed it, don’t worry, you can download it for free on sites like ComiXology.
The art in Relay is truly astounding. Cityscapes are drawn detailed and complex, people are lively and engaged in the backgrounds. In one panel, our main character is ordering a bowl of ramen for lunch. You can see the ramen truck with signage, the chef cooking inside, pots and pans on the stove, ingredients in the background, passers-by walking up stairs in a building behind the food truck, a boy with a balloon on a bench looking bored, an old man with a beard and a cowboy hat arching his back against a bench and people watching. The depth goes on and on. Everything feels real. Andy Clarke packs a lot of love into each of his panels and it shows.
Relay #1 is a complex world building story set in a dystopian-light sci-fi future. You would think this kind of setting would be depressing like most, but it actually has a hopeful feel to it because of a brighter color palette and a likable main character. Relay is worth picking up for the art alone, but I think you’ll love the story as well.