REVIEW: Relay #2 by Zac Thompson, Andy Clarke, Jose Villarrubia, & Charles Pritchett

The Relay features a story conceived by Zac Thompson, Eric Broomberg, & Donny Cates.

By Zack Quaintance — The Relay, as those who read the first issue are aware, is an epic science fiction story about messiah figures, the evolution of ideals, the safety of conforming, and colonization. In issue one, we glimpsed daily life on Earth—complete with dissident unrest. In issue two, the focus shifts to how denizens of powerful Earth interact with colonial worlds. The Relay #2, however, is far more than just a statement about imperialism, which has been done often in modern sci-fi.

No, in this issue the book places a welcome and heavy emphasis on ideological debate. It’s nearly impossible to go into specifics without tipping the twists—of which there are nearly half a dozen—but I’ll try my best now to discuss what this story is about and why I found it so engaging.

Essentially, The Relay #2 examines what happens when a dissident’s original teachings evolve into dominant rule, inherently turning them against the values of the dissident who created them. If it sounds familiar, that’s because it’s likely intended to be. There’s a Jesus allegory at work here. Historically, Christianity in its earliest throes was subversive, a loving approach to life under Roman oppression. Christianity ultimately won, of course, and so the society we live in now is shaped by its rule. Basically, the same teachings that were once subversive have assumed power, gaining the ability to do the oppressing or to grant rationale for colonization (it’s all a good deal more complex, but that’s my own abbreviate, comic book review take).

In The Relay #2, this allegory is clearly tipped when one character is surprised to meet another, blurting Jesus, you’re really him, to which the subject character responds, I’ve been called many things, but never Christ-like a line as one could conceive of. It’s all very complex, and this is a text-heavy issue, to be sure, but the team has done such great foundational work establishing mystery and stakes (what’s more important than the fragility of a protagonist with a beloved and deeply-held world view?) that simple conversations in this issue are as tense and compelling as any laser battle or lightsaber duel could ever be.

In my The Relay #1 review, I drew comparisons between that comic and the writing of Ursula K. Le Guin or Philip K. Dick. This second issue re-enforces that comparison, especially to Le Guin, whose own anthropological sci-fi is such a clear influence. Le Guin is my favorite science fiction writer, as well as one of my favorite writers period, which is perhaps why I’m loving this comic so much. Simply put, for fans of hard sci-fi or complex societal explorations in comics, this series is not to be missed.

Overall: The Relay #2 continues establishing this series as one of the smartest comics today, diving deeper into the anthropological concerns of the debut. Heady and dense, the stakes here involve our perception of reality itself. Is there anything more consequential? This book makes readers work hard, to be sure, but the intellectual payoff is well-worth the effort. 9.5/10

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Zack Quaintance is a journalist who also writes fiction and makes comics. Find him on Twitter at @zackquaintance. He lives in Sacramento, California.