Relay #3 by Zac Thompson, Eric Bromberg, Donny Cates, Andy Clarke, Jose Villarrubia, & Charles Pritchett

By Zack Quaintance — When I finished reading Relay #3, I took a moment, inhaled, and stretched a one-syllable expletive into five or six. I don’t use much profanity (or I didn't before November 2016, ahem), and I usually say words with the regular amount of syllables (because I’m not Pauly Shore in the ‘90s...anyone get that? sorry, never mind). This comic, however, is as intricate and complex as any I’ve reviewed, as laden with disparate and heady ideas as it is with plot twists and perils for our hero.

Relay is, simply put, a precisely-executed hard sci-fi book that sets out to disorient and misdirect its reader...and then wildly accomplishes its goals. It’s why I love this book, and it’s also why I, quite frankly, find this book a major challenge to review. I, however, will bravely soldier on (hold your applause) throughout the length of this series, because I think Relay’s complexity will attract a large and loyal audience, catapulting this book into a massive hit, and also I want to engage with it on a deeper level, hopefully catching as much of what’s happening as possible before my head explodes (no regrets!).

Phew. Okay, now about this issue: in some ways it’s utterly different from all that came before, yet how it expands your perception of this story is entirely consistent with the first two issues. What actually sets Relay #3 apart is the long stretches within where Andy Clarke and Jose Villarrubia absolutely decimate eyes and minds with their artwork.

I’m becoming (somewhat) used to Zac Thompson’s whip-smart scripting and the brain twists of the story he cooked up with Eric Bromberg and Donny Cates, which point one way while suddenly teleporting another. Until now, however, Clarke’s linework has been detailed and imaginative yet fairly grounded in a futuristic vision of reality. That changes here. There is a stretch in Relay #3 where the art is grotesque in its design but stunning in its execution, abstract in a way that disorients while also serving the goals of the story. It’s really impressive, and based on the cover for Relay #4, we’re surely in for more.

As with the end of the first two issues, the final panel of Relay #3 leaves our story with an entirely new status quo. As such, I think it’s becoming clear that part of this story’s ambition is a statement about reality, showing us how fallible our perceptions are due to the inherently-limited nature of the information we as individuals have access to. We just believe so much because it’s what we’ve been told, be it history, customs, religion, politics, power structures, technology. In past reviews I’ve talked about how this story’s interests are colonialism, conformity, and God, and I think all of that is still true, but I’m starting to also suspect Relay has a point to make about the very nature of reality.  

Overall: This book is becoming more engrossing with each issue, so much so that I suspect word of mouth will soon catapult it to much wider audience. I highly recommend jumping on board now. Start at the beginning, of course, but whatever you do, read this comic—this series is not to be missed. 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.