Oculus


By Luke Melia, Vincent Smith, David Anderson & various (Tabella Publishing)
ISBN: 978-1-50276-589-5                  eBook ASIN: B00IC4EQJ2

As I’m sure you know by now, I’m a huge advocate of comics creators with the drive and dedication to take control of their own destinies. Late last year I reviewed a superbly written graphic horror tale called The White Room of the Asylum by Luke Melia and a coterie of artists which utterly amazed and impressed me.

Now with a chameleonic, Iain Banks-like shift of genres the indie artistic entrepreneurs are back – specifically writer/letterer Melia, illustrator Vinny Smith and colour-artist David Anderson – with a distinctly disturbing sci fi cop drama that is every bit as gripping and smart…

By 2027 the world has been completely altered by a social media innovation of astounding power and devastating simplicity.

Oculus sells an implanted chip which allows users to record and/or share in real-time whatever they’re seeing and hearing. The service connects with any or all other possessors of the implant and the company claims that to comprise most of the planet.

Live streaming intimate moments of an individual’s everyday life can be with one person, a selection of friends and acquaintances or the entire world. The facility has completely changed every aspect of society.

It has especially transformed the law and policing. It’s really hard to claim innocence if the victim has shared you committing the crime with thousands of viewers and the Oculus mainframe has a record of you doing it…

Police forces are more tech resource teams, video researchers and IT bods than boots-on- the-ground coppers – except for the bellicose, tooled-up, OTT tactical teams designated SABU (Special Armed response and Bomb disposal Unit) – so feckless young graduate Shane Edwards’ first day in the Major Crimes Department of the New Oxford Constabulary is something of a letdown.

He’s already having a tragic life. Despite his being the son of the Mayor – who had to very blatantly pull strings to get him into the police – his best friend (he so wants her to be more) and Oculus intimate Emma Hudson is going through hell because her sister is going to jail.

It’s not official yet but Lauren was observed killing her cheating boyfriend in full view of an enrapt and aghast global audience…

After meeting department boss Alan Campbell and the shockingly small team of detectives, Shane is swiftly dubbed ‘Another Girl in the Office’ by astonishingly abrasive colleague Jane. Dogsbody Chris seems okay but the new kid doesn’t even meet old lag Jeff who is supposed to be his mentor and partner…

That introduction only comes in the middle of the night when the grizzled and rather unconventional old plod turns up on the doorstep to drag him to a crime scene emergency. He won’t even let Shane change out of his pyjamas and slippers…

Incident reporting has also been revolutionised by Oculus. Why wait for a scream or a phone call when most crimes are seen by somebody somewhere as they happen; be they perp, witness, victim or even police officer…?

This particular “Shout” is for a grotesquely bloody murder picked up all over the Oculus network, but by the time they arrive on scene, the story is already staring to unravel.

For starters, the girl seen being repeatedly stabbed, screaming her lungs out and expiring is Isobel Bendis, who slashed her wrists and died weeks earlier – and Jane should know: she was the officiating officer and attended the funeral a fortnight previously…

Ascertaining that the broadcast was faked, Jeff employs a particularly cool piece of kit called a Repeat Torch which illuminates the outlines of living bodies on solid objects such as walls… just like electromagnetic Luminol…

The hazy blue rays show two living persons – presumably the grisly, prankish fraudsters – manufacturing the body dump. Following the ghostly trail leads Shane and Jeff through the sewers and into the underground transit system, where the gobsmacked coppers realise at last that they been played from start to finish by some very clever individuals…

The startling events of Oculus are rendered in full colour and cunningly augmented with a wealth of satirical ads for such items as the voyeuristic ‘Extreme Jobs’ site, ‘Wild-Sight’, ‘The Oculus Cloud’, ‘Life in Third Person’ and decision-making app ‘Indie-Sysiv’ – all concocted by Luke & Vivienne Melia, Vinny Smith, David Anderson, Michael Kennedy, Christian David Navarro, Jenna Kyle, James Smith, Bobby Peñafiel and Roel S. Palmaira.

Key background information is provided by a series of faux magazine interviews with the social revolution’s inventor Alan Jensen (designed and illustrated by Ephraim Zev Zimmerman) and following the first of these – ‘The Origins of Oculus’ – the saga resumes with the entire Major Crimes unit – all five of them – reviewing events.

Cliff has established that the “murder” broadcast was recorded, not live, and sent from the username “Dolos”, tagged with a large variety of terms such as “Free”, “Sex”, “Star Trek” and “Anime” all cunningly designed to catch the eye of the widest possible audience…

Unfortunately due to budget constraints Campbell can’t sanction a costly activity report from the Oculus Corporation for what looks like a nasty student prank. Still smarting from looking like a fool and being seen trudging through sewers in pyjamas and tiger slippers, Shane vigorously disagrees. He argues that whoever did this is organised, meticulous, capable of fooling everybody who saw into believing it was real… and live. Dolos also had no problems digging up and stealing a corpse to carry it off…

Campbell relents and agrees to let Shane and Jeff continue to work on it as long as costs stay down: after all, these days there simply isn’t that much work for detectives to do…

Jeff has been in the force for a very long time and knows lots of strange people. Thinking one of them might have a handle on the matter, he drags his excitable understudy to a basement flat to meet inventor and hacker Bentley, a most peculiar individual clearly long off his meds and living in a wonderland of paranoia and bizarre hand-made devices…

‘0.4% Chance It Could Destroy The World’ sees the first lead found as the batty boffin suggests back-street Oculus implants and breaks into the high security Oculus Corporation database records.

Armed with Dolos’s account inception date and the enigma’s Friends List, the dynamic duo hit the quiet streets of New Oxford where Jeff suggests trying a far more traditional method of finding things out…

Fat Maisey is a low-level street rat and if anyone knows about illegal Oculus implants he will. Sadly the chase after the little weasel only leads our heroes into an armed ambush and ultra-violent counter-operation involving the gun-toting gung-ho grunts of SABU…

Barely escaping with their lives Shane and Jeff head back to the station whilst elsewhere two conspirators bicker and agree to speed up the pace of their plan…

Still felling out of his depth, Shane talks things over with “just friends” Emma before going out on a date with old college acquaintance Anna Rice. They end up in bed but since Anna’s idea of having a great time is being seen getting off by hundreds of strangers, close friends and especially herself, Shane’s night does not have a happy ending…

Following another Jensen interview (‘The Origins of PADs and Broadcasting’) the next chapter ‘How Could I Ever Truly Respect Her?’ opens with the boy wonder getting some well deserved ragging from his mentor.

Even Shane’s mum tuned in to the open broadcast and he is – for the third day running – the laughing stock of the New Oxford Constabulary. At least Jeff is amused enough to share some of his own tragic personal history, but inexplicably Emma seems furious with the bewildered newbie…

Events suddenly overtake the mental self-flagellation when Campbell calls them all in to a meeting which also includes members of Operations and Counter-terrorism divisions. All assembled are advised to tune in to a certain Oculus Drive path where Dolos is again broadcasting.

Definitely live this time, the mystery prankster is loading a gun in a public toilet somewhere in New Oxford…

As the frantic law officials follow the progress of the gloved perpetrator through his – or her – own eyes, Shane recognises The Francis Castle Shopping Centre. Dolos, now sitting at the central fountain pretending to read a newspaper, adds more Tag-terms to the live feed: words like “Francis Castle”, “massacre” and “hundreds dead”…

The bigwigs freak out and SABU are dispatched, but Shane uses his own Oculus system to link with a stranger shopping at the mall. Convincing Gabrielle to walk over to the fountain, the police use her eyes but see that no one is there, even though Dolos’s open channel shows the chilling conundrum staring right back at the baffled teenager over his paper…

When the enigma’s eyes show him unwrapping a bomb and scrawling the word “Kaboom” on a wall, full-panic mode kicks in and masked-and-armoured SABU officers storm the centre, frantically evacuating the citizens and using the Dolos view to trail him to the bomb.

Once again there is nothing there, and the baffled cops are just turning to go when a colossal detonation rocks the building…

After Jensen’s ‘How Oculus Changed the Entertainment Industry’ a telling flashback of Shane and Emma at college leads to gloom and despondency in the present as the NOC reel in the aftermath of a disaster that has left 35 dead and hundreds injured.

Brain-fried from constantly reviewing the impossibly divergent Oculus recordings, Jeff and Shane go book-shopping to clear out the nonsensical but inescapable theory of an invisible maniac being behind all their woes…

The second-hand tome is for Jeff’s friend Bryce: a very smart lady who owned a research company which dabbled in camouflage and stealth technologies – although her real area of expertise was human cloning. ‘Oh, And By The Way, There Are Six Of Them’ sees Shane astonished to meet a sextet of his partner’s pal as they pursue the assorted blind alleys regarding becoming unseen…

However, as they all congregate to review the combined synched footage of numerous victims, one of Bryce does identify an anomaly who might just be an accomplice of Dolos…

As Shane tries to re-establish a personal life free of shame and snickering rozzers, the wheels of modern police procedure roll on and soon the mystery man in the recordings is identified and arrested… but only after a little illicit assistance from Bentley…

The next Jensen feature deals with ‘Education and the Workplace’ after which Jeff and Shane conduct their first interview with terrified Rhys Ennis who, after literally spilling his guts, does so metaphorically and explains how the anonymous Dolos hired him…

The kid is clearly just a pawn and the NOC eventually let him go. It’s only later as Jeff tells his protégé about Bryce that Shane realises in a burst of exasperated inspiration the simple trick the terrorists devised to cheat a system the entire world believes cannot be fooled…

As the police swing into action Shane heads home for much needed sleep, but is soon awakened by a live cast from Emma. From under her bed she – and Shane – can see a man with a gun stalking murderously through her house…

Jeff arrives ahead of his partner and chases the assailant off and by the time Shane arrives there’s nothing to do but comfort the distraught Emma. His mentor however has cornered the intruder and with Shane scrupulously tuned in goes down in a hail of bullets in ‘You Can’t Unsee Shit Like That, No Pun Intended’

Bracketed by Jensen interviews ‘Oculus Health Implications & the Law’ and ‘The Future of Oculus’, the incredible truth behind a devilish and misconceived scheme finally comes out in ‘So What Went Wrong?’

However even as Jeff’s colleagues arrest Dolos and sweat the incomprehensible truth out of the last person Shane ever expected to see, events conspire to prove that nothing is as it seems and nobody can really be trusted…

Originally released as an eBook in February 2014, this full-colour printed trade-paperback edition is now available (complete with cover gallery by Anderson) delivering a superbly imaginative, compelling and suspenseful future crime yarn no lover of whodunits will want to miss.
© 2014 Luke Melia, Vinnie Smith and David Anderson. All rights reserved.