The latest series from Vertigo sets Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly loose on a story that pairs presidential politics with alien abductions. Welcome to Saucer Country.
Saucer Country #1 primarily tells the story of Arcadia Alvarado, a divorced Hispanic woman who happens to be the governor of New Mexico in the midst of preparations for a presidential run. And as if she didn’t have enough on her plate, Alvarado has recently been abducted by aliens.
THE WEST WING MEETS X-FILES
The issue opens with Arcadia Alvarado awakening in a car in a darkened, lonely stretch of desert, with her bloodied, abusive ex-husband next to her and a recently arrived security detail clueless as to what has transpired. Not that Alvarado knows, either. The story alternates between her preparations for a presidential campaign announcement with a ruthless campaign manager and her struggle to recall just what happened that night, with only intimations of a disturbing violation as a hint. There’s also a funny aside involving a Harvard professor who may or may not be hallucinating that the couple from the Pioneer 10 plaque is talking to him. I always thought there was something weird about those two.
Even good first issues struggle with creating characters that feel immediately unique and alive. I can safely report that Paul Cornell is able to do just that in the first issue of Saucer Country. Arcadia Alvarado and her supporting cast are richly drawn and have a sense of reality rooted in a strong script. Cornell’s pen touches upon a wealth of subjects rich with potential for drama; immigration and ethnicity, behind-the-scenes political maneuvering, divorce, spousal abuse and feminism, the politics of academia – all of these topics are interesting in their own right and could be fodder for any single comic, but Cornell weds them to a cocktail of classic alien abduction tropes. The result is first issue rife with possibility that builds anticipation for what is to come on the back of a relatable, interesting main character.
My only caveat is that I wish the reader were given something more concrete to hang their hat on than the last page revelation delivered by Arcadia. I will be disappointed if the crux of the story leverages on whether Alvarado and her seeming fellow abductees are crazy, rather than something deeper and more interesting.
WORTH A SECOND LOOK
I will be honest; Ryan Kelly’s art did not immediately engage me. But that was because I was looking at it the wrong way. Kelly is not given a whole lot to do in terms of stretching the imagination this issue, as most of what happens is people talking to each other in present day New Mexico. As I read the issue in-between a glut of superhero comics, my eyes were drunk from four-color pyrotechnics. The strength of Kelly on Saucer Country is that his people look like real people. Alvarado looks like what one would expect from a modern political powerplayer; attractive, telegenic, strong – not like a cheesecake-y Emma Frost, in other words. With detailed backgrounds and realistic figures, Kelly provides the grounding necessary for the comic to succeed, making the disturbing elements creeping around the edges of the narrative that much more creepy. He evidences a good use of shadows and panel layout that will no doubt come across more strongly when the story really starts going off the rails.
WATCH THESE SKIES
This is a good first issue, as Cornell lays out a bevy of complex issues, combined with identifiable, interesting characters and a mysterious central conflict. The art serves the story, with shadowy illustrations of realistic individuals in a fully realized world. If four-color fisticuffs and tight spandex are what gets your motor running, this issue will not quicken your pulse. There is precious little action, as the struggles are of the internal and thoughtful variety. But if you have ever found yourself digging on an episode of The West Wing or The X-Files, you will find plenty to enjoy in Saucer Country. Saucer Country #1 earns four and a half out of five stars. Check it out.