By Zack Quaintance — Relay has been on a break, presumably due to the departure of Andy Clarke, who drew the first three issues of the series. In fact, the last issue—Relay #3—came out on Sept. 5, just over four months ago. In just three issues, this comic has amassed a steady set of rabid fans, folks who were respectful-yet-forceful with me on Twitter in recent weeks, asking when they should expect a new issue (I’m not any sort of official representative friends, just an appreciator of this comic).
Anyway, the point is that all seems to be behind us now, with Clarke leaving the book in favor of another uber-talented imaginative artist, Dalibor Talajic, who is fresh off drawing Relay publisher AfterShock Comics’ first-ever original graphic novel, Witch Hammer (a book we liked quite a bit). Before we delve into the individuality of this specific issue, let me just say this about the art shift: 1. Clarke was doing singular and nigh-visionary work on this comic, and it is regretful that he has now seemingly departed; 2. Talajic is a more-than capable replacement and will also do strong work. These two thoughts can and do exist. They’re not bad or good as they apply to Relay (more discussion of that in a moment), they just are.
I suppose the chief question is whether this is still the book we remember from last fall. And yes, it absolutely is. Pretty much everything that made Relay such a mind-bending and intriguing sci-fi trip is back, as are the deep thematic interests and the always-earned and never-obvious plot twists. This is still a very, very good comic that I can endorse resolutely without any sort of hesitation.
The one visual change I noticed most was that Talajic’s work lends the proceedings a grittier feel than we had under Clarke. The way Clarke drew the sci-fi worlds in Relay, they felt like a false utopia, a world that’s surface was gleaming and enlightened but its deeper reaches were a maze of psychological misgivings. Much of that remains with Talajic, yet the danger seems a bit more present, just a bit more looming. This is also perhaps by design, as the danger has become more blatant as our story has gone on. I don’t prefer either rendering—they both work and work well. Although I will note that this issue feels like a bit of a come down from the absurdly trippy heights we hit in #3.
Now comes the hard part for me as a reviewer: parsing through one of the most complex stories in comics to tell you all what to expect in terms of quality and also maybe help you to understand what might be going on. Our main characters perceptions feel as muddled as they have from the start, his ideas about what might be true and false, and who might be pushing forward misleading information and why. There is mystery around all that, but—and this is massively to writer Zac Thompson’s credit—there is never disorientation. We have a close perspective with our protagonist that allows us to experience a clear story with him, knowing what he does while wondering all his same questions. It’s a great way to take an audience through such an intellectually-ambitious science fiction story, and Thompson nails it (yet again).
The way the Relay is depicted is a perfect example of this. We as an audience don’t really know what it’s for or why...but neither does our hero. He knows it’s always been apart of the world he’s lived on (Earth), and he knows that he’s always been told it is crucial to civilization, a benefit to any and all systems. He continues to doubt whether any (or all) of that is true, while searching for the answers. I don’t know what he’s going to find, but I continue to love being part of this journey.
Overall: With artist Dalibor Talajic now on board for at least the next two issues, Relay returns and loses very little. This issue features all the deeply-smart sci-fi themes and perfectly-executed plot twists that made the first three chapters so exciting. 9.2/10
Story: Zac Thompson, Eric Bromberg, & Donny Cates
Writer: Zac Thompson
Artist: Dalibor Talajic
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: Charles Pritchett
Publisher: AfterShock Comics
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Zack Quaintance is a tech reporter by day and freelance writer by night/weekend. He Tweets compulsively about storytelling and comics as BatmansBookcase.