Mayday is a difficult graphic novel to review – I didn’t love it but I didn’t hate it. Yet I didn’t feel ‘meh’ about it either. The art and story are solid and I enjoyed seeing the 1970s milieu. Perhaps the best way to describe the issue I had with Mayday is that it was ambivalent in too many places. Our anti-hero is neither likable nor not-likable, the panels and art are creative and yet too obvious in several places, and even the cover (a burning communist hammer/sickle) and title are hard to discern and/or decipher.
Story: A soviet official has defected with a list of spies in several sensitive US areas. He is escorted to a safe house in Palm Springs. But two deep undercover agents – each diametrically different – have been tasked with removing the official permanently and taking back the film exposing the spies. Felix used to fly MIG jets but one day killed a fellow officer. Rose is a honey trap. As they travel across California, attempting to get to San Francisco, they are chased by the FBI. But Felix won’t be caught easily – even when the vulnerable Rose makes bad decisions.
The story is fully fleshed out and each of the characters has a distinct back story. Felix is, of course, fascinating in his ability to survive each new situation thrown at him. We should be rooting for him as he goes on his killing spree – and I’m not quite sure the author did enough to makes us really want him to get away. Rose, on the other hand, is just as interesting in her very different way that creates friction but also emotion between the two. Felix is determined to save her even knowing that the mission pretty much means their death, even by their own country. Even when Rose isn’t able to save herself.
Where the story falls flat for me is the chase by the FBI. De Campi did almost too good a job of portraying the swaggering Americans as they likely would be viewed by non-Americans – brash, bold, and honestly kind of stupid in their unshakable self belief. Jack Hudson is a man of reason but we needed more to like him other than that he’s not as stupid or over-the-top as his superiors. The story really sagged in the scenes that featured him or the FBI.
I imagine I will have to read this several times to understand why it was named “Mayday” (sounds like an air crash, not a cold war spy thriller). Similarly, it took me several days to realize the cover was a stylized communist flag – I thought it was a plane that was blown up and falling to the ground (because of the Mayday title).
The drug induced psychedelic scenes painted like day glow Jefferson Airplane or Grateful Dead concert posters were cliche and too easy – a disappointment even though the translation was done well. And I’m still not sure if I should be happy or sad at how the book ended – and who died and who didn’t. There were several pages of just clutter, sensationalism (a full page frontal nude woman running into a gas station bathroom because “her eyeballs were floating”), or just boring (the FBI offices). But the author and artists know how to tell a story and I enjoyed the twists and turns of this hyper violent “French Connection” style thriller. Reviewed from an advance reader copy provided by the publisher.