Vertigo's second issue of their new wave (affectionately referred to as "the New Four" in some circles) is Saucer Country, a paranoia-hurling political intrigue series starring a Hispanic governor who, as of issue #1, has elected to run as a candidate in the American Presidential elections. Written by decidedly English Paul Cornell and drawn by the thoroughly American Ryan Kelly, the series has a little twist on the West Wing formula which it clearly draws influence from: there's possibly an alien invasion going on, and only our heroine knows about it.
The series races quickly, drawing in several supporting cast members without giving them much time to breathe — but several panels to deliver breathless, cannily American dialogues about the electorate and the nature of immigration policy — and then summarily dismissing them until they'll be needed further down the line. The characters are all rather strongly put together, creating an immediately authentic feel for the political discussions which pop every few pages. Whilst this is a political series, though, Cornell is careful never to overdo the big words and confusing debates, which leaves the issue accessible, open and available to develop as it continues. There's a definite feeling that this book will merit re-readings, much in the style of something like Y: The Last Man did, as more issues are released and we start to see more of the overall narrative that Cornell has planned.
For the time being, the plot is slipped into place nicely, allowing the majority of the issue to focus on developing the characters. Divorced Governor and now Presidential candidate Arcadia Alvarado immediately takes the spotlight away from anyone else, and defines the tone of the issue. Her slowly-dawning realization that something bad has recently happened to her — something she can't remember — underpins her actions and personality as the first issue progresses, and creates a small sense of tension. That does bring us to a little bit of criticism – issue #1 doesn't really hammer away at the paranoia and tension like you'd expect, and things are a little too easy for the time being. For a book which has sci-fi overtones, the unseen threat doesn't feel too threatening quite yet, while Arcadia's ability to improvise means that her political career is sailing rather smoothly thus far. Her supporting cast don't seem damaged (with one exception! I'm getting to it, I'm getting to it!) and everything looks flawless. Which, that could well be the idea, leading us to a grandstanding fall from grace for everybody involved. At the moment, the threat isn't tangible.
Ryan Kelly's artwork helps convey what dread Cornell does see fit to put into the issue, showcasing an uncanny ability to switch styles in an instant. Or, given that comic book pages take a long time to draw, an uncanny ability to switch styles over a selected period of time which appears to be an instant upon the reader actually reading the comic. The opening sequence is close and tense, with a panel arrangement and colouring which gives the feel of a B-movie thriller. When the aliens do start to show up, in whatever way they do, Kelly has them break through the structured panels and break the walls between the scenes — it the little touches like this which gives the book an uneasy sense of curiosity, and shows that weirdess will probably be just around the corner. Kelly's use of expression is spot-on throughout, which aids Cornell's deft characterisations to no end. The characters look distinct, look interesting, and therefore seem all the more entertaining when they speak. There's an immediate feeling of synergy between the creative team. Synergy!!
The most interesting plot strand at the moment appears to be the ex-husband of the President. Looking not unlike Rob Lowe, there seems to be a deep past riddled within this character, and even though he only has a few pages to get his character across, there already seems to be a fair bit of charisma around his misery. There are lots of open plot threads like this which Cornell merrily dangles in front of reader throughout the first issue of the series, and hooks the reader in for the long haul.
Saucer Country #1 is a strong first issue, filled with clever character work and an entertaining central narrative, filled with little quirks and twists. It's strongly recommended for anybody who has an interest in political thrillers, sci-fi stories, conspiracy tales or, y'know… comics.
Steve Morris is the head and indeed only writer for Comics Vanguard, the internet's 139th most-favourite comic-book website. You can find him on Twitter at @stevewmorris, which is mostly nonsensical gibberish you may enjoy or despise. His favorite Marvel character is Darkstar, while his favorite DC character is, also, Darkstar. Never forget! He writes The Book of Monsters, a webcomic which updates every Sunday with a new story, monster, and artist. Join in!