Since its humble, crowdfunding beginnings in 2016, Alex Automatic has been busily combining hooky eccentricity with high-stakes adventure and espionage like few other comics that share its genre. Modelling itself on the camp yet cool spy-fi thrillers of late 60’s TV, it’s proven to be a difficult comic to unbox, but all the more rewarding when all the pieces are laid out, and #3, the darkest and maddest of the bunch so far, proves to be an engrossing read.
Indeed, #3 cranks up the weirdness factor to Spinal Tap levels of surreal yet sublime awesomeness. Our unfortunate soul of a hero figure, Alex Anderson, is thrust into a world of emotional carnage as he continues to do imaginary battle with the very real evil organisation Prysm. In the past two issues, the concept of Alex believing himself to be a cyborg-esque super-spy via intense hallucinations has given way to some superbly subversive story-telling. It doesn’t quite fall into the unreliable narrator category, since James Coorcoran‘s art and David B. Cooper‘s colours split fantasy and reality with ease. However, Fraser Campbell‘s script is keen to blur those lines intensely.
Alex’s hallucinations become all the more strange when he now imagines Alex Automatic to be not himself, but a fictional character he’s writing for a TV21 or Eagle-esque boys’ own adventure comic. A desperate situation crumbles into something from a nightmare as a character from his own comic returns to haunt him, in the most literal sense. That seems a rather odd word to use here, ‘literal’, since we’ve not even reached what’s happening back in reality throughout #3. To this issue’s credit, it’s debatable when we reach reality and when fantasy ends. Agents Wylde and Harry have managed to capture their runaway target, but much like Alex’s comic, all is not as it seems.
A manic sense of urgency ripples through #3 of Alex Automatic. Not that it hasn’t done so with past issues, but the narrative twists and emotional development for Alex is more forthright here than ever before. The aforementioned ‘deceased’ character from Alex’s comic gives way to opening up Alex’s backstory as a child, its ensuing depressive story lending the action-heavy story some heartfelt respite. It’s also this particular character who encapsulates how #3 gleefully blurs the lines between reality and fantasy for both Alex and for the readers. Sure enough, we’re occasionally left as dazed and confused as Alex. The confusion surrounding Alex’s mental state isn’t recommended for the faint-hearted of readers, even if it does give way to some rip-roaring story-telling.
Oddly enough, that raises the question of what kind of story is Alex Automatic telling? Anchoring the comic’s events is the fact that Prysm exist both in fantasy and reality. Those two elements are surely suspect to crashing into each other as this arc reaches its finale, but it remains to be seen whether or not Alex Automatic will evolve into something more than the dark pastiche of cult television it’s been so far. There’s definitely something bubbling under the surface here, and even with this explosive third outing, that something is content to lurk away beneath the story, for now…
#3 is the most deceptive Alex Automatic has been, as both a character and a comic book. Campbell’s story-telling ambitions appear to increase with each issue so far, given the events of #3’s climax, it’s as perplexing as it is exciting to figure out where Alex Automatic goes from here. This comic’s bizarre yet rollicking melding of moods and ideas from Bourne, The Prisoner and Joe 90 makes it a continued winner. More than anything though, it’s just purely, innocently, sincerely weird. And all the better for it.
Following its successful campaign on Kickstarter, Fraser will be taking Alex Automatic to this year’s Thought Bubble Festival on the 22nd of September. You can find him in the “Ask for Mercy” Marquee. Are you already a fan of Alex Automatic? Let us know in the comments section below or send us a Tweet!