I’m always easily sold on any dystopian sci-fi comic series, especially those on a mission to mirror our modern-day culture of self-obsession/-absorption, or the myriad ways in which tech simultaneously enhances and breaks down the fabric of society. Latest on my list is Image Comics’ Mechanism, a brand-new series by writer-artist-letterer Raffaele Ienco (Epic Kill, Symmetry). Originally intended for a 2015 summer release on the Heavy Metal imprint, the series has found a perfect home at pro-creator-owned Image (who has been killing it on the sci-fi tip these last couple of years).
In a futuristic Philadelphia overrun with Gill-man-like alien predators (nicknamed “geckos”), two on-duty cops–one level-headed and collected, one an angry, misanthropic hothead–are assigned to “train” “the new guy”: Protos, a refurbished military robotic prototype meant to–after some reconditioning and a lobotomy of sorts to remove a heretofore unnamed previous threat–observe human behavior, remaining detached from all incidents taking place in its presence, presumably storing all data away for future use as examples of what reactions and solutions humans find appropriate. What the two officers do not know about their charge is that he was injected into the field prematurely and, due to said prior disaster, was never intended to see potentially harmful situations (such as being hunted down by rabid amphibi-men). Crisis and survival instincts bring out both the best and the worst in people; in the custody of humans entrenched in an everyday struggle against the bloodthirsty geckos to stay alive, what type of human example will be set for Protos, and can he emerge unscathed by an increasingly dehumanized, demoralized society?
Ienco’s story is efficient yet background-rich, packing in as much information as possible using every available device without the tiniest split-second of contrivance or obviousness; this is seamless comic storytelling at its finest, using the art and the dialogue and narration to the fullest to get the point across. Mechanism is especially successful on a visual level thanks to Ienco’s cinematic and startlingly emotional renderings of his characters: the emotionless, faceless face of Protos; the blank faces and savage body language of the geckos; the hard, embittered Gibbons…in one particularly shocking turn of events, Ienco cuts to a startling panel so abruptly that I gasped and went back a page to relive the moment (whenever that happens in a comic, I think of it as the “Mommy-you-fucking-cunt” moment, after the shocking fate of poor young Patrick in Crossed).
With beautiful art and taut, no-nonsense storytelling, Mechanism is one I’ll be adding to my pulls for sure. In roughly thirty pages we’re given just enough background on everyone and everything involved (the arrival of the geckos, the resurrection of Protos and the role of other “automated mechanized protectors” like him in society), and somehow, despite all that its premiere issue divulges, dystopia-philes like myself can count on being left with enough burning questions to want to come back for the next installment.