In a world ravaged by an alien invasion, humanity is desperate for a saviour. No longer can it simply resist the attacks of the Gecko horde, cleansing areas piece by piece. They need something that can turn the tide, but that something might not be exactly human.
Read on below for our full spoiler free of “Mechanism” #1, a comic created entirely by Raffaele Ienco.
Written & Illustrated by Rafaele Ienco
In the aftermath of an alien invasion, a prototype military robot is rushed into the field before it is combat-ready. Now attached to a group of survivors, it studies them to learn what it means to be human. Will it come to understand man as a noble creature worth preserving or that the human race isn’t worth saving at all?
“Mechanism” #1 is something you don’t see all that often from larger publishers in comics these days. A series written, illustrated and even lettered by the same person. Comics are generally seen as a kind of collaborative process with the almost production-line style of creation meaning a group of creators all work on the same book to bring it to fruition. “Mechanism” #1 isn’t that. It’s creation is credited entirely to Raffale Ienco and, given the subject matter, that feels almost apt. “Mechanism” #1 tells the story of humanity’s last hope, a prototype mech deployed into the field to combat an alien invasion that has all but destroyed Earth who slowly begins to learn about what it means to be human. Or, in the case of this issue, maybe not so much. But more on that later.
What it means to be human is a theme explored in literature since the dawn of literature, pretty much, and it’s always a thread that’s fascinated me. Sure, there’s no right and wrong answers, but it’s a narrative theming device that allows for a lot of exploration and introspection of the characters and, in some cases, the writer. That’s pretty heavy material, but from the saviour-like image on the cover and the solicit text, it’s kind of what I was preparing for when diving into the first issue. It’s not quite what I got and I feel like that’s a result of the perceived scope of the story being much larger than it is. This first issue of “Mechanism” has a very limited cast restricted to one or two locations and only manages to kick off the plot by the end of the issue. It’s a lot of set-up to be told that you need to wait until next month for any kind of pay off.
Ienco focuses the story on two groups of people coming together. The first is a man and his dog, scavenging the ruins of the outskirts of Philadelphia for food, and the second is a police patrol. This is an interesting juxtaposition because it allows Ienco to explore the state of the world from two perspectives. The man and his dog are tense and paranoid throughout the issue because they are exposed to a sneak attack from the Geckos, the aliens, while the police are protected in their flying vehicle and that allows for the exchange between the two cops to show different viewpoints of the world. One is hardened by his time on the front lines and one has coasted into her position through connections and privilege. Ienco’s exploration of these characters is interesting, but it does mean that the issue is largely two groups of people sitting in a vehicle talking to another person. It’s not exactly the most exciting set up for a first issue.
This probably isn’t helped by the layout of the comic. Ienco’s art style is fascinating and is reminiscent to me of that brief time in the 90s when comics would use computer-made 3D models instead of hand-drawn artwork. This isn’t the case here, but Ienco’s rendering in the colours has a depth to it that is vaguely reminiscent of this phenomenon. It honestly felt like some panels where screenshots from a Telltale game. Ienco has meticulously rendered the destruction of the world, keeping the environments shaded dark and covered in rain. While this could have ran the risk of becoming monotonously grey, Ienco keeps a splash of purple or green or some contrasting vibrancy to the page to make it stand out. However, while the artwork of the panels themselves is well put together and rendered gorgeously, the layout of the pages themselves is incredibly static.Continued below
Every page of this comic is composed as four horizontal, widescreen panels arranged on top of one another. Save for a single double-page splash, there is no variation on this structure. On the one hand, it feels structured and measured while on the other hand it feels plodding and monotonous. There is no experimentation in how the page is presented. The layout does not adapt to the story and instead the story and it’s reveals are built around this structure and in the case of the comic’s climax, it robs it of all its weight. The death of one of the characters is entirely without weight because it is presented in the exact same layout as every other panel in the comic. It’s frustrating because it honestly drains the comic of a lot of engagement because there is simply no structure to the pacing. Everything runs at the same speed and that speed is a slow as possible.
And speaking of as slow as possible, the premise of this entire comic is kickstarted with a whimper. While the entire comic is about the prototype mech and it is in the background of nearly every other panel, it is a complete non-entity in the story. The story explains that the mech is purely in observation mode and a character almost directly addresses the reader when they call that somewhat disappointing, but addressing it in the story doesn’t counter-act the feeling. It’s hard to really delve into a story when you’re waiting for the character in the background, who you’re continually told is the most important character in the story, to actually do something. This might be drifting into spoiler territory, but the entire climax of the first issues seems built towards the moment when the mech finally activates… only for it to cut to be a ‘To Be Continued’. It’s frustrating, to say the least.
Overall, “Mechanism” #1 isn’t a bad comic, but it does feel like a comic that has failed to capitalise on its own premise. Having a robot character become the saviour of humanity and learn what it means to be human is a fantastic high concept for a comic, but this series feels hamstrung by the very nature of not even having that character talk in the first issue. It’s not that the other characters are impossible to relate to or like, but going into the story knowing they’re the secondary cast means it’s hard to get attached to them. This all isn’t helped by the incredibly static pacing of the comic which makes even the most action-packed aspects of the story’s climax feel slow and plodding. It’s frustrating because there could have been a great comic in here and hopefully there will be after a few issues, but this first issue simply doesn’t get there.
Final Verdict: 4.5 – Maybe keep an eye on this after a couple issues come out, but I wouldn’t recommend rushing out to get this issue.