December 12, 2013 Sections
Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION
Some comic books are funny, like Scrooge McDuck is to a nine-year-old. Some comic books are thrilling, like a classic Batman or Spider-Man edition. Some comic books are extremely valuable, like Action Comics #1, the June, 1938 publication that introduced Superman to the masses.
And some comic books, it turns out, are deadly.
That's the terrifying notion that drives Utopia, a thriller imported from Britain that premières Thursday, April 25 at 9 p.m. on Space. The adrenaline-pumping six-part drama focuses on a small group of graphic-novel enthusiasts who come into possession of an unpublished comic-book manuscript called The Utopia Experiments; in very short order, they find themselves running for their lives after members of a shadowy organization known only as The Network demonstrate that they'll do anything and kill anyone in order to regain possession of the book.
As speculative-fiction dramas go, Utopia is an immediate attention-grabber. The series première opens with two rather nasty men paying a visit to a comic-book store right at closing time. They lock the doors from the inside, and then proceed to dispatch the shop's two bewildered customers in an abrupt and rather inventive manner.
They show the lone clerk a slip of paper with the words "Utopia Manuscript" on it, then ask a cryptic question: "Where is Jessica Hyde?" When he cannot -- or will not -- provide an answer, he meets the same fate as his recently departed bookshelf browsers.
The stage is set. There's gleefully vicious evil afoot.
At around the same time, four strangers -- including Ian (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), Becky (Alexandra Roach) and Wilson (Adeel Akhtar) -- are communicating in an online forum dedicated to the aforementioned graphic novel, The Utopia Experiments. Their discussion goes deeper than the text and artwork in the book; there's a shared belief that what's contained in the text has far-reaching ramifications for humanity.
Wilson insists that they should meet in person; the others are reluctant, but eventually agree.
A fifth member of the online chat offers a few rude comments; when the camera pans from his keyboard to his face, it's reveal that forum member Grant (Oliver Woolford) is an 11-year-old with a rather advanced and abusive vocabulary.
While the trio has an awkward meeting at a local pub, an absent fourth member is being assaulted and questioned by the same two Network henchmen who wrought havoc at the comic-book store. And unbeknownst to the thugs and the victim, young Grant, interrupted during a break-in search for the manuscript, has hidden himself away in the apartment and witnesses the attack.
It's all a bit confusing, but in the best spooky conspiracy-thriller sort of way. There's a secondary storyline involving a civil servant whose extramarital indiscretions are used as blackmail fodder to force him to do The Network's nefarious bidding at a political level, and it looks like a subplot that could produce some dark fun as the narrative unfolds.
But the focus in the opener is on the forum, the thugs and the manuscript, and Utopia is instantly addictive and, occasionally, blunt-force direct in its depiction of just how high the stakes are for all involved. The good guys, such as they are, are in way over their heads, and the bad guys are very, very bad, indeed.
And all over a comic book, too. It's enough to make you think there's something more sinister than a teenage love triangle to that whole Archie/Betty/Veronica thing.
email@example.com Twitter: @BradOswald
Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 25, 2013 c6
Updated on Thursday, April 25, 2013 at 9:52 AM CDT:
adds fact box