Writer: Eric Stephenson
Art: Simon Gane
Colors: Jordie Bellaire
Publisher: Image Comics
Mark Stack: Man, I should not have read the solicits for this book because I feel let down. And I feel even worse because what let me down was actually a fairly good, if unexciting book. Let’s take a look at that solicit:
“Generation after generation, it’s the same old S.O.S.:
There’s no hope for the future, because young people think only of themselves.
They have no respect for authority. They think they know everything. They are arrogant. They are reckless. They want to tear the world apart.
In a time full of possibilities, yet rife with disappointment, the youth are changing.
They look the same, but they act different, think different, and have abilities we can only dream of.
They’re not like us.”
I don’t know who to blame here but I was expecting something really political that would dig into social issues of class, age, and privilege. That’s not really what we got here. Instead, we’re treated to the story of a young woman with special gifts that is inducted into a group of similarly powered people with a mysterious agenda and a general amorality. So what keeps this from being a stray X-Men pitch that made it over to Image?
There’s that amorality that I mentioned and it plays a big part into why I didn’t like this book so much. The characters we’re introduced to, with the exception of protagonist Syd, don’t appear to have any interest in anything and that makes them kind of boring. The Voice, the leader of the group, is all style with no substance beneath him even though he takes up as much page space as Syd. And Syd is equally vacuous aside from her lightly touched upon grappling for sanity. She spends most of the issue being dragged around like a prop rather than as a character with her own sense of agency and that makes her hard to latch on to. So far, I have been given no one to root for in this book and I find that troubling. The lack of a personal touch wouldn’t be missed so much if there were some big ideas to take their place but so far all I’m getting is an elitist group with no mind for change which was not the premise I was sold on. Now, the last panel of the issue does set up a conflict that, depending on which way it goes, could lead to something interesting but that remains to be seen. I’ll be in for issue two but it’ll have to make some forward progress that I felt this issue lacked.
Katy Rex: I was really hopeful, and I honestly think I’m a little more optimistic than Jamil, about the social issues that can be potentially dealt with… But they’re either living in a parallel universe or they’re missing some fairly big opportunities, because when the Voice was explaining the rules of flying under the radar, he mentioned hair color, piercings, tattoos, and nice clothing, but he completely ignored race. They have a multiracial cast, which is nice, and different levels of normative ability beyond their “powers”– for instance, Gruff doesn’t speak. Also, the names… I could do without the names. Syd gets a name that sounds like a traditional first name but then we have Runt and Blurgirl, I feel like that was a poor choice.
Jamil Scalese: Mark, I could just copy and paste your opener and I’d save everyone some time, but hey I like reading my own words so let’s get redundant.
When we were picking a book for this week’s Slugfest I read the solicit for They’re Not Like Us and absolutely thought the tone of the series would be far more social. I expected it to be a perfect platter of topics for the array of great thinkers at Comics Bulletin. I was looking forward to something that would stir up the debate on class warfare or agism or how every generation since the beginning of time has looked back in reverence and forward with pessimism. The way this comic started out… Man. That hit me right in the feel-box. I thought we were diving into something great.
Instead we got the vapid X-Men led by a dickhead Xavier. I despised how the characters were introduced, flatly and without any mystique. I expected there to be some type of twist in that regard, like in Stuart Moore and Gus Storm’s EGOs #1 where the entire team is revealed to be… Well, read it and you’ll see. I’m kind of surprised at how empty this felt. We just get told they all have powers but we don’t really see much in that regard. Is Syd getting set up for a legendary prank?
Rex: Also, can we talk about the powers they have? Like, I’ve just been re-watching Buffy and I’m still laughing until forever about how Ms. Calendar self-identifies as a “technopagan.” Loog’s technopath ability seems like some equally ludicrous thing, like what 1997 Hollywood thought hacking was. We haven’t seen him actively use his powers, just report on their success, so maybe it’s not as ridiculous as it sounds.
Scalese: No doubt. The old adage “Show, don’t tell” applies to comics in funky ways but jeez, don’t just throw a captain up that says “This dude controls emotions”.
Mark, you say you’re in line for the next issue but I had to check a few times that this one wasn’t issue two. That’s how it read to me, the digression after a fast-paced or jam-packed number one. There are a billion ways to start a story, there’s not a formula, but this lacked a lot of what a great premiere needs.
Stack: Ironically enough for a book I was dreading being like X-Men, it could have stood to be more like X-Men. More specifically Grant Morrison’s New X-Men where he explicitly dealt with a lot of the themes we appear to have been hoping for. I was expecting a bunch of Quentin Quires and I got some ill-defined characters instead. But that dissonance between expectation and reality is what I think will bring me back for more. I have to know what it’s really about.
And, like Jamil said, that opening was brutal and made me think this was going to be a more interesting book than it ended up being. Although, I personally don’t care for the trope of “magical powers mistaken for mental illness” because I feel it is often handled poorly. It’s done well here as telepathy lines up with schizophrenia pretty well.
Rex: Maybe it’s that I have a 13 year old brother, but for the first 70% or so of the opening, I was just bored by the melodrama. I’m about out of patience with the “my parents don’t understand me” variety of teen angst– I mean, I genuinely believe that is often the case, that it’s impossible for many parents to relate to many teens and vice versa, and I believe that adjusting to that kind of separation can be difficult for teens as they come into their own, but it’s been a trope in way too many stories and I’m just not into reading about it again.
I will say that I really like the art. It’s expressive, with kind of an indie feel, not too far in any particular house style. As always, I’m on board for Jordie Bellaire’s colors, and the palate here feels very fitting, particularly inside the house; it manages to look like a background, not too busy or detracting, but it conveys a certain level of fancy, too. Plus I’m in love with the lettering, particularly the serifs in the inner monologue. The colors and the inks are my favorite part. I just wish the dialogue was up to that same level.
Stack: Katy’s right, there is a bit of a “been there, done that” feel to the opening but it’s breezed through quickly and ends in a way that I honestly didn’t expect so it ultimately won me over. As far as melodrama goes, I could have done with more of it. This is a big idea where the central conceit is a giant metaphor for one generation supplanting the other. I want to feel that rage from both sides but, after that opening, I didn’t feel much at all save for disappointment with the emotion being so subdued. This is a young woman that just attempted suicide and has finally found a place she might belong and I felt neither the grief nor the elation, respectively, that one could be expected to experience in that situation. There’s something that feels very clinical about the approach to the writing of the book that loses a lot of the human element along the way.
Scalese: I think Eric Stephenson is excited to assemble this world and in doing so forgot to build the characters first. It’s there for a few fleeting moments with Syd, and The Voice is charismatic but a bit grating. Also the lack of a mission statement hurt the overall pitch. So they have abilities, and they hide away in a nice estate, wear sexy clothes and act uppity. I mean I so tally want to join the crew but I don’t want to read about them.
The art worked when the story worked but when it slowed down I didn’t love it. There’s a bit of Shalvey in Gane’s pencils and for the most part it establishes it’;s own look while not getting too liberal with the style. I agree with Katy that the colors really stand out, but we all knew that about Bellaire, right?
The wonder thing about ongoings is that they can rectify themselves very quickly. Issue two could be a lot better by changing perspectives or diving deep into one particular aspect or theme. For now however I think it’s safe to say that not all of us like They’re Not Like Us.