Semiautomagic TPB Review

Written by: Alex de Campi

Art by: Jerry Ordway

Publisher: Dark Horse Comics

Every so often I come across a comic that really comes out of left field and surprises me, that jumps right off the page, slaps me thrice and dares me to call it anything but sensational. Autumn Leaves was one of these, Negative Space another, and now Semiautomagic joins their ranks. The only thing I knew of this series before reading was that Alex de Campi was involved, probably best known for Archie vs. Predator, so I was expecting a romp filled with jokes and sexual tyrannosaurs. What I got was an amazing story based on eldritch horror and pulp action adventures, an amazing combination that brings a fresh take to two cult-classic genres.

This TPB collects the first two stories of the series that are serialised in Dark Horse Presents. The first part is very much the stronger of the two as it builds the world and setting the most while two is mainly there to show the fallout of part one and to showcase the repercussions using magic can have in this series, which it does a pretty good job of. As part 2 concerns itself so heavily with the actions of part 1 I won’t really be covering it in too much detail but you can healthily assume that everything good and bad I say about the first half can be applied to the second.

The story follows Alice Creed, a part time college lecturer, part time monster hunter (full time badass) as she goes on Indiana Jones-esque adventures, trying to thwart supernatural baddies. I could accurately describe this as ‘Indiana Jones meets Locke and Key‘ in tone and setting, there’s even a scene where Creed survives a nuclear explosion in a Boom Town (in a much more believable fashion than in The Crystal Skull. Alice is on the hunt for an entity that intends to parasitically feed off the life-force of gamers through a pirated video game, a hunt which brings her to South America.

Characterisation tends to take a back-seat throughout all of this but this only appears to be done to make more room for world-building and stupid/awesome action sequences (Alice fighting a possessed plane is by far one of the highlights of this book). The background of the world and characters is given to us in that perfect there’s-stuff-going-on-here-outside-the-story-maybe-we’ll-tell-you-about-it-maybe-we-won’t fashion. For example, how did Alice get into this business? she got into it when two of her friends died in a spooky house… THAT’S ALL WE KNOW! I love that! There’s also hinted to be a much larger organisation that does jobs similar to Alice but she’s the only one that is allowed to kill monsters? I think…
I love this level of restraint in showing off the setting in stories, there’s nothing that screams ‘SOMEONE WROTE THIS’ more than an exposition dump. In Semiautomagic (I’ll never get tired of that title), by giving the reader the bare minimum information only when it’s natural for the smallest amount to come up allows our minds to instantly fill the holes left with a dozen possibilities, and makes the progression feel more natural. Besides, it’s Eldritch horror, we should never have all the answers.

It’s not all atomic bombs and killer planes though, the story does take us to some creepy, genuinely off-putting places such as possessed mannequins found in the bombing test site (although I used to be strongly afraid of mannequins as a young boy), the slow build up to that reveal is so good and spine-chilling it deserves an award.

That entire section in the test site is just phenomenal when you get down to it and is a perfect microcosm of what makes this series special. Here it shows itself to be a series that once you think you’ve got the handle of, it changes the game. Who would have thought ‘Girls are gamers too’ could legitimately be a shocking twist?

James Ordway does a fantastic job with the art, blending a classic pulp-style, which I find reminiscent of Sean Philip’s work with Fatale, but with a more modern twist that nails the tone of the tale perfectly. Ordway’s creative juices really seem to start flowing when things get really Lovecraftian with the appearance of monsters the size of continents that take forms that remind me of pagan demons. We see some really mind warping imagery of what is going on with Alice, stuff that puts me in mind of those old horror comics that were made before the Comics Code Authority became a thing.

The one minor problem I might have with the series is that I can see it falling into the trap of ‘well everything has to be mystical in some way right?’ Creed’s shotgun is described as being ‘forged from the melted down rifles that killed Kennedy,’ aside from that being a subtle nod to the multiple shooter conspiracy surrounding the Kennedy assassination what is the point of that? Does that make the gun better somehow? Why can’t it just be a shotgun? I’m completely grasping at straws here though, everything else is pretty much perfect.

If you read Stange Nation  and were left wanting more or if you want to see breath-taking action married with heart-stopping horror and suspense, Semiautomagic is for you. De Campi’s writing is perfectly blended with Ordway’s art and sense of flair when it comes to creating this pulp adventure marvel, grab it while you can.