Issue one opens on the floor of Element, a financial institution situated in London. Wearing a white, button-down shirt and a black tie, Paulie appears to fit in with the rest of his colleagues; however, as the reader’s perspective draws closer to the analyst, something is not right. A series of numbers are being broadcast on a radio on Paulie’s desk. He seems to be in a trance and unaware of his surroundings. He pulls a handgun from his desk drawer and proceeds to kill everyone in the office, including an undercover spook who is investigating the institution for fraudulent activity. British SIS agent Charlie Stratford takes the case with the assistance of GCHQ Sasha, a code breaker who identifies the odd broadcasts as a Cold War-era cryptic code called The Numbers Station, created by the Russians.
The first issue of the new series is critical, because it has to not only establish the foundation of the story, but to deliver a hook that will capture the reader’s attention and interest that will lead purchases for the subsequent issues. McPherson’s story drops the reader into the moments leading up to a mass shooting incident. The cryptic broadcast is a unique hook that the writer successfully explores and builds out through the rest of the issue. In the closing pages, he leaves the reader in a cliffhanger as the secret agent Stratford sits down to an impromptu conversation with a “doctor.”
Artist Perugini and colorist Bennion are a superb team. Perugini proves he is comfortable with both the establishing shots and the interior scene panels, focusing on the crucial elements of the story. His cover art captures the spy element very well, particularly how the pattern of numbers dominates. Bennion’s color palette evokes a sense of detachment through the muted browns and blues that are used throughout the issue. The use of these colors are an excellent contrast to the dark, rich blues and reds. For example, for the mass shooting scene, Bennion’s technique of fading in the red from a blush of pink on Paulie’s shirt is subtle and well executed. In addition to writing Transmissions, McPherson is also the letterer. According to the TPub website on this series, each speech balloon was hand drawn, and the extra effort delivers. The text flows well and at no time is there any confusion as to who is speaking. And most importantly, the dialogue and narrative boxes are easy to read.
As a person who is passionate about history, Transmissions shows why #StoriesMatter, because of the inclusion of number stations - or, more precisely, shortwave radio stations - used for broadcasting numerical codes to spies undercover in other countries. First used during World War I, it may come as a surprise that number stations are still broadcasting today. As portrayed in the story, a series of numbers is broadcast once and conveys a secret message to the receiver. Typically, the numbers are only broadcast once, so it is very difficult to break the code. In Transmissions, the “doctor” represents (initially) the espionage angle - an undercover spy; however, this story deviates by incorporating a hypnotic element. For example, Paulie (the shooter) appears to have been hypnotized by the numbers broadcasted. Was he programmed years before and part of a sleeper cell? Transmissions’ narrative is hinting at playing with the espionage genre, so it will be interesting to follow this story through its subsequent three issues.
In addition, the espionage genre often flourishes during times of political uncertainty and societal insecurity and unrest. How does Transmissions fit within that larger dialogue? Revisiting this title once it is finished will be worthwhile to evaluate what the story represents and what insights it has to share regarding this moment in history.
Transmissions joins the collection of genre films, television, video games, and comics featuring espionage and spy storylines. The TPub website states, “If you are a fan of espionage or spy stories like Velvet, Injection, Queen and Country, or any spy fiction in general, we think you’ll find a lot to like here.” Also, the mention of James Bond in the first issue will likely attract fans of this long-running and endearing IPs.
Creative Team: Jed McPherson (writer/letterer); Marco Perugini (illustrator); Shannon Bennion (colourist); and Neil Gibson (editor/producer).
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