Crank the volume to 11! Alex de Campi fronts a new super-group of comics talent, in this immersive, balls-to-the-walls rock opera of a spy thriller.
It’s important to note when reviewing Alex de Campi’s new series Mayday that one did not simply live through the ‘70s, one experienced the ‘70s. I was but a wee lad during the decade in question but I still remember plaid polyester, bell bottoms, the clouds of pot smoke every time the babysitter was over, and my old man’s killer vinyl collection.
De Campi’s latest venture into spy fiction attempts to recreate that singular ‘70s vibe by dropping the reader into a simmering stew of period pop culture references and political paranoia and then turning up the heat to a vigorous roiling boil. Aided and abetted by her artistic collaborators Tony Parker (That Damned Band) and the colourist Blond, de Campi creates a fully immersive reading experience that leaps off the 2D comics page.
The plot follows two Soviet spies tasked with retrieving a high-ranking defector and his list of assets in California during the height of the Cold War in 1971. Felix and Rose are young, vivacious, and desperate to see America, though and their mission gets sidelined by an ill-considered jaunt into the desert with a crew of dirty hippies and a bottle of vodka laced with LSD and sodium pentothal.
In pursuit: one of the slimiest G-men to ever graduate from Quantico and a pair of CIA handlers, who suddenly find themselves trying to contain a botched intelligence operation with the potential to heat up the Cold War very, very quickly. And the shit hasn’t even really hit the fan yet.
Mayday is merely the opening salvo in a planned cycle of stories about the Cold War during the 1970s and it’s already apparent that much of the groundwork laid down in this first issue won’t come to fruition until much later in the series. That being said, de Campi’s work has always boasted a somewhat aggressive pace and a masterful ability to weave together seemingly disparate plot threads into wonderfully dynamic tapestries.
In this first issue, she relies on her artistic collaborators to help her set the tone of the series. Parker and Blond are a match made in heaven. Elegant, expressive rendering and bold colour choices combine for a lurid, often psychedelic visual trip that captures the simmering intensity of de Campi’s script.
The ‘70s weren’t just about flower power and free love. The Cold War was still chugging along towards the ‘80s with the inevitability of an avalanche and there was a certain tension burbling beneath the carefree behaviour most popular depictions of the era favour.
De Campi and her team manage to capture that unique heat burbling beneath the frosty veneer of the Cold War. There’s a sense of desperation underlying the characters’ actions in the book, in most cases, a need to preserve the status quo. Whether it’s a mission to avoid open war between the Soviet Union and the United States or a desire to keep the good times rolling, nobody seems to want to rock the boat too much. And yet, beneath the surface, an innate understanding that change must come.
Scattered throughout the story, de Campi provides readers with the titles of various recordings from the period, yet another way she immerses the reader in her setting. You can check out her Spotify list and listen to the tracks as you read the comic, something I heartily recommend, in order to benefit from the full reading experience. There’s nothing like a good soundtrack to set the mood.
Mayday looks to be another major work from de Campi, who isn’t exactly without an already stunning catalogue of titles. Well-crafted and immersive, this series looks like it will prove to be one long, strange trip indeed.
Alex de Campi (A), Tony Parker (A), Blond (C) • Image Comics, $3.99