Lonely Receiver #1, Aftershock's latest series from writer Zac Thompson and artist Jen Hickman, is a break-up turned into a sci-fi horror story. Both creators have produced engaging and original creator-owned comics in the past, with Thompson's creeping, thoughtful body horror Come into Me from Black Mask Studios, and Hickman's beautifully drawn Moth & Whisper. What kind of beauty, or horror, could these two powerhouse creators forge when paired?
Lonely Receiver is a brutal debut, in both the way it packs an emotional punch and the way harsh truths about relationships are delivered through sci-fi metaphor. We meet a woman named Catrin in a future (a future is just enough like ours to be unsettling) where a romantic partner can be created through a company that produces Artificial Intelligence. She creates Rhion, and the two of them are instantly bonded: it's what Catrin paid for, after all. Zac Thompson, who weaves various timelines together to create a surrealist, painful portrait of a break-up in this comic, jumps to a point in their life years down the line when Rhion's interests have moved on (and on, and on, and on) from being monogamous to Catrin. The sci-fi element here elevates and underlines questions of monogamy, of how much a romantic relationship feels like ownership, and, maybe most of all, the way that we, in creating a relationship with another person, also create a version of that person. There are shades of Her and Alex & Ada because of the plot set-up, but Zac Thompson's execution and thematic, almost surgical deconstruction of a relationship makes Lonely Receiver wholly its own beast.
Jen Hickman, who has been delivering show-stopping art on creator-owned projects all the way back to their work on The Dead, creates an equally unique vision here that elevates both the tragedy and horror in Zac Thompson's script. The artwork is enthralling throughout, but the sequence in which Catrin and Rhion go to the Garden, a secret place of sorts where they are meant to be bonded, emotionally and sexually, alone… a surprise that Catrin sees creates a moment of genuine horror, which is difficult to pull off in the static images that make up a comics page. Hickman's art doesn't feel static, though, as they create a sense of fluid, dripping motion from page to page. Letterer Simon Bowland, who chooses a color palette for his captions to match Jen's stylized colors, excels here as well.
Bleeding Cool readers can look forward to conversations with Zac Thompson after every issue of Aftershock's Lonely Receiver.