After a long break, Relay, from Aftershock Comics, returns to the shelves bringing with it space exploration and complex theological questions. It continues the journey started on last year’s Free Comic Book day; it introduces new worlds; and throws a whole set of new problems at Jad Carter, the central character.
Traveling through the depths of space, Jad Carter is in search of the First World and the Relay creator Hank Donaldson. All because of a message on a mug. His journey sees him pitted against space pirates, inhospitable planets and former co-workers from the Relay.
Zac Thompson uses this issue to recap the story so far before taking it to new places. He achieves this by giving his central character an internal monologue befitting of a man trying to convince himself he is on the right track. The voice over works to develop Jad’s character showing the mental process he experiences as he encounters the various obstacles blocking his search for the Truth. It also helps to portray his inner turmoil when faced with the possibility of failure.
The voice over acts as narrator, exposition and character enhancement. Thompson makes it fit snuggly within the framing of his narrative so that it is not intrusive and feels like a natural part of the story.
This issue of Relay also takes some large leaps forward in plot development. Jad experiences a lot as he searches for The Donaldson and the First World but this is just a gateway into a whole new area for the comic. Thompson opens up the world and introduces several groups of characters who all have the potential for future conflict.
One of the central themes of this comic is the quest for the Truth on a universal scale. Who is God? lays at the heart of Jad’s journey and the new characters that Thompson introduces builds on this, adding several new dimensions to the initial problem. The Relay system is a symbol of a controlling religion, an all knowing force that should not be questioned. Additional elements of religious dogma and philosophical pondering are added into the mix this issue. Thompson does not want to give simple, clear cut answers to some of the most difficult questions ever asked; instead he provides a number of alternatives and uses Jad as a relay between the concepts and the reader.
Dalibor Talajic has a clean pencil style with inking to match. This allows for density and detail in each panel on each page with a result that is sometimes over powering but mostly absorbing. Talajic pulls you into the story by creating a world that is 100% believable.
The design of the space vessels is Giger-esq and the costumes, especially on the lost world of Zalis, look like they have been tailored in Frank Herbert’s Dune novels. In fact, the general aesthetic for Relay doesn’t come from one source but is an amalgamation of many different Sci-Fi influences.
The coloring style on the planets is a blend of bold pastel colors behind a foreground of mostly whites and greys. This emphasises the ‘alien’ aspect of the worlds which in turn grounds the ‘human’ characters by contrasting the two. Jose Villarrubia has obviously been influenced by a number of the European comic artists and colorists such as Moebius, who are not afraid to use color in their storytelling. For the remainder of the comic Villarrubia draws on the darkness of space for his color palette, with plenty of purples and blues breaking up the black shadows.
On the lettering side, Charles Pritchett uses slightly different fonts for some of the characters, subtly creating a barrier between Jad and those pursuing him. When he meets like-minded people the lettering matches symbolising that their ideologies are also linked.
There is, however, a lot of text to fit into the pages, especially with the caption boxes for Jad’s internal dialogue. This does result in some placement issues meaning that at a quick glance there isn’t a smooth flow through the pages. This becomes especially apparent when you reach a page devoid of text. It’s like slamming on the breaks in a car and suddenly having the time to take in the surroundings. Thompson does compensate for this by pacing the overall narrative of the comic perfectly so that Jad moves from one situation to another. There is no sense of rushing through the story but also, there isn’t any unnecessary lingering.
For a comic that has taken a long time between issues, Relay does not suffer because of it. This is a self-contained comic which ties into the greater narrative but can easily be read in isolation. A strong narrative runs through the comic with a strong central character. Some of the side characters don’t get much to do and exist simply to serve Jad’s narrative but there is still plenty for a reader to get their teeth into.
Relay is a discussion on the nature of existence and the dangers of searching for your creator. This heavy topic may put some people off the comic, especially as it’s difficult to escape this aspect of it. Relay isn’t ashamed to ask difficult questions while engaging the reader in an exciting sci-fi story. Thompson takes elements of 2001: A Space Odyssey and Dune and throws them into a blender with the Aliens franchise. What he is left with are the building blocks for Relay and the world he builds out of them is extremely intriguing.
This is a title that is not for everyone, it isn’t a title you pick up, read in five minutes then discard. If you enjoy taking time with a comic, pulling apart the different aspects and then questioning what is meant by each, Relay is what you are looking for. And this issue is a great place to start.