Under the Radar Week: Jan’s Atomic Heart

Under the Radar Week: Jan’s Atomic Heart

Jun 22

In honor of all the great comics I’ve been reading lately, I’m launching a goddamned theme week here at Alert Nerd: Under the Radar Week. I’ll be writing about five comics that you might not be reading, and try to explain what I think is so goddamned great about them. Hopefully my compatriots will have some time to chime in as well.

Next week, I’m going to slip off the grid to infiltrate security at the Smithsonian and try to steal Mister Rogers’ sweater. DON’T TELL ANYBODY.

Geeks know the drill; there’s basically two versions of the future. There’s the shiny, bright, clean Star Trek version, and the bleak, desolate, apocalyptic Terminator/Mad Max version.

What’s interesting is the space in between, where tiny extrapolations of technology create fictional worlds that feel just real enough to seem possible…yet remain different and strange. Movies like Blade Runner and Minority Report occupy this space; so does Jan’s Atomic Heart, a new graphic novella by Simon Roy that shifts the landscape of the present in small, meaningful ways in service to a story that’s grounded in human emotions like paranoia, fear, and betrayal.


The set-up is almost like a classic Twilight Zone episode, or one of those bleak twisty shorts from 2000AD. Jan’s consciousness is placed into a loaner robotic body while his real body is healed (shades of The Surrogates). He starts to suspect that there’s something sinister about this body, and that he may be unwittingly drawn into a larger plot by terrorists. He confesses as much to his friend Anders, and that is as far as I want to go with the plot, not just because I’m a moron and I suck at remembering plot details, but because this is a journey you will want to take yourself. I love a good spoiler, but not when it spoils a truly great story; that’s what you’re getting here, so I refused to ruin it.

Writer/artist Simon Roy has a rough, squiggly style that perfectly suits the jittery story he’s telling. I love the way he conveys so much feeling through whatever posture Jan’s robotic form assumes; he has no face to express emotion but you know exactly what he’s thinking just from a glance at his worn metal body. It reminds me in some ways of Marvin the Paranoid Android.

Jan’s Atomic Heart is a tight, clever story told with evocative art. It captures a future world where many things are different and the impossible is real…but when it comes to our capability for destroying one other, nothing has changed at all.

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