Cover Art for 'Mechanism' #1 (Used with Permission from Top Cow Productions)

Full Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of the first issue of Mechanism for review.

Raffaele Ienco has been on a bit of a roll lately. Last year, he teamed up with Top Cow’s Matt Hawkins to produce the outstanding dystopian comic book series Symmetry. This year, his hot streak continues with the deliciously creepy and brilliantly illustrated debut issue of Mechanism. Ienco handles everything in this book — the writing, lettering and artwork are all on his shoulders — and the results are nothing short of spectacular.

Mechanism revolves around an advanced artificial intelligence created for the sole purpose of fending off an alien invasion. With the “Geckos” multiplying rapidly, this new AI is rushed into service before being properly tested. After being given a new artificial body, it’s assigned to a pair of officers patrolling the wastes of a Philadelphia decimated by the invasion.

In this first issue, the new AI is stuck in observation mode, unable to assist its new partners should they encounter any hostiles while on duty. It’s sole task at the moment is to take stock of the situation and learn as much as it can about both humanity and the Geckos. Once it’s satisfied with its grasp of the world around it, it will presumably decide on a course of action.

Here’s the rub; this new intelligence is supposed to be humanity’s savior, but there’s a haunting uncertainty regarding its true nature. At the moment, it appears to be a blank slate, but its creator suggests that that’s not the case. Its unceremonious introduction to the world notwithstanding, Ienco hints at a history behind this AI — a seemingly unnerving one, at that — that ought to give readers pause. But in the absence of any explicit explanation regarding that history, the audience doesn’t have much to go on except for a few ambiguous, spoken-out-loud thoughts from the aforementioned scientist responsible for the AI’s creation.

And that, ladies and gents, is how you build tension. What’s this AI going to do? What conclusions will it draw about humanity? What was it on the path to becoming before being gifted its corporeal form and sent out into the world? Ienco drops a few clues here and there, but they don’t add up to much. The AI’s creepy silence and ominous inactivity, coupled with the book’s deeply disturbing cliffhanger, are unsettling to say the least, but they don’t necessarily point to a devastating outcome. Simply put, this thing could be humanity’s salvation, or it could be the second coming of Skynet. Or it could be both. Or maybe it’s neither. Ienco (smartly) doesn’t telegraph anything, so there’s no way of knowing what’s down the pike.

The artwork in Mechanism is just as beautiful as I had been expecting it to be. Ienco blends brilliant colors and hyper-realistic illustrations with a dark, foreboding atmosphere to create a vivid yet dreary world that’s frightfully intimidating but oddly attractive. The cyberpunk aesthetics help bring humanity’s isolation into focus while simultaneously highlighting the small glimmer of hope found in the advanced technologies upon which society has come to rely. In many ways, Mechanism looks and feels a lot like a post-apocalyptic Blade Runner. If that appeals to you, you’ll undoubtedly appreciate Ienco’s artistic vision for this series.

There aren’t too many things I didn’t like about this first issue, though I should point out that, aside from the AI itself, the characters are a little on the bland side. But that’s really not a big deal. This story isn’t about them anyway, so it matters little that they’re mostly forgettable.

All in all, Mechanism #1 is as good of an introduction to the series as anyone could have hoped for. Ienco proves himself capable of handling all the responsibilities associated with constructing a new and interesting world from scratch, and I’m very much looking forward to finding out what comes next. I enthusiastically recommend this debut issue to any and all comic book fans with a penchant for science fiction. I think you’ll find it’s well worth your time and money.