Are you looking forward to a new comic book but it’s impossible for you to wait for its release before you know what we thought about it? That’s why there’s DoomRocket’s Advanced Reviews—now we assess books you can’t even buy yet. This week: ‘Lonely Receiver’, out September 2 from AfterShock Comics.
THIS ADVANCE REVIEW OF ‘LONELY RECEIVER’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Kate Kowalksi. I am more intimate with my phone than any one person and I bet you are too. It knows I can never remember the route to my friend’s house. It knows what weird questions run through my head minute by minute and that I’ve listened to six continuous hours of Dolly Parton today. It’s tracked my runs on both good days and bad and has seen all the discarded selfies I contemplated posting to Instagram. My phone has become an extension of myself. If it was a person, it would be my closest friend and, potentially, my worst enemy.
In Lonely Receiver, Zac Thompson envisions a Black Mirror-esque not-so-distant future in which “being in a relationship” with your phone goes to a whole new level. This goes beyond the ever-growing AI love story genre and digs deep at the psychological profile that might engage in such a relationship and the resulting after-effects of such a bond. It’s one thing to be in love with an AI and quite another to be in love with an AI that is essentially a database of and gatekeeper to your whole life.
The first installment opens on Catrin, left in the rubble of a harsh breakup. Within the first few pages she discovers the perfect balm for heartache: a new love. And not just any new love, but a custom-created AI alchemized into flesh and bone. Cut to a decade later where Catrin and Rhion, her artificial lover, have lived in easygoing, partnered bliss. Except we find that Rhion has grown and evolved past what Catrin designed her for. Think Her but with the added complications of a physical companion—darker and more raw, with the consequences of a tangible, aching absence. Also Catrin might be crazy.
Lonely Receiver is eerie on many levels. First, like any foreboding futuristic tale—it calls for an examination of our growing dependence on technology and the potentially insidious side effects. But larger than that, through the dissolution of Catrin and Rhion’s relationship and Catrin’s resulting downward spiral, the inevitable singularity of a human existence is strongly felt. Despite the perceived intensity of intimacy between people, inevitably each consciousness is contained, not shared, and therefore pitching forward on its own path. Interestingly enough, it can feel as though smartphones—as extensions of ourselves—fall into a sort of crevice between separate singularities. The phone is not the person, but it functions as another limb, a sixth sense into a virtual reality.
So when Catrin’s “phone” expands into existence on the physical plane, it grows like the leg of a starfish into its own creature. Rhion is her own woman with her own wants and needs. It’s a classic Pygmalion story. But Thompson pushes it a bit further by focusing on the ensuing pain and madness of a creator abandoned. There are levels to be plunged in discovering the full depth of Catrin’s heart and mental breaks.
We see the range of joy, insecurity, agony, and vacancy in Catrin’s face through Jen Hickman’s haunting expressions. Hickman has said that they hope readers are “disturbed, [and] a little grossed out” by the art of Lonely Receiver. There are certainly beautifully grotesque moments. Rhion’s creation sequence is particularly chilling, as the AI is stitched together in mid-air, generated skin climbing up new-knitted muscles and a tangling nervous system. Despite the grisly images and creepy sequences, there is an ambient loveliness to the comic. Light washes around our characters in dreamy watercolor lilacs, oranges, greens. This uneasy not-so-distant future is a bit scary but it is also aesthetically gorgeous.
We are diving ever deeper into a world where intimacy is redefined by the technology we create. The ways we connect will continue to evolve. But not only that, who and what we connect with will also change. Lonely Receiver explores this possibility, showing us a strange alternate reality that we edge closer to inhabiting ourselves. But ultimately it shows us that while the field and players may change, the rules of love and heartbreak seem to stay the same.
AfterShock Comics / $4.99
Written by Zac Thompson.
Art by Jen Hickman.
Letters by Simon Bowland.
8.5 out of 10
‘Lonely Receiver’ #1 hits stores on September 2. Contact your LCS to snag your copy when it arrives.
Check out this 4-page preview of ‘Lonely Receiver’ #1, courtesy of AfterShock Comics!