Tony and Brendan have very different tastes in comics. Tony loves his capes, super powers, and sci-fi. Brendan tends to stick to horror, noir, and weird indies. Occasionally, their paths cross, but like most readers, they tend to stay in their own lanes.
New To You Comics is here to break up the pattern a little. Tony will throw some comics out of his favorite genres at Brendan, and Brendan will hit Tony with some of his. Most NTYC titles are brand new to at least one of them. Most of the time they can find some common ground, but even when they don’t, it’s fun to watch them go at it. Brendan fights dirty. Tony kicks like a mule.
This week, they’ll be looking at Resident Alien Vol. 1- Welcome To Earth, by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse. Here’s what Dark Horse tells us about the book:
A stranded alien seeks refuge in the small town of Patience, USA, where he hides undercover as a retired doctor. All the alien wants is to be left alone until he’s rescued. However, when the town’s real doctor dies, “Dr. Harry” is pulled into medical service—and finds himself smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery!
Brendan Allen: In last week’s column, we talked about shifting gears a little, and exploring some titles that weren’t so familiar to either of us, and also some titles that have a few more warts.
This one falls into the former category. I read and reviewed Resident Alien: An Alien In New York a while back, which is a fantastic stand-alone story, but I thought it might be fun to go back to the original volume of Resident Alien and see just how Dr. Harry Vanderspiegle found himself on this rock.
Tony Thornley: I’ve seen a few episodes of the TV show’s first season. So I was familiar with the set-up but haven’t read the book at all. This was a very interesting case of spotting the differences.
Brendan: You know I’m not such a huge fan of straight sci-fi, but I don’t mind so much when it bleeds into other genres that I’m more familiar with. Resident Alien mashes the alien sci-fi up with detective noir, and does it in ways that elevate both genres. I think I called it X-Files, by way of Murder, She Wrote in one review.
It all sounds like it could be a setup for a goofy comedy, but it’s actually a reasonably realistic dramatic take on the situation. If aliens did, in fact, find themselves on Earth, they’d be intelligent enough to have planned and executed the trip. They’d be hiding out somewhere, and short of existing in subterranean caves or something, they’d have to find ways of assimilating.
Tony: And that’s the difference between the series and the show. They take the exact same set-up and turn it into a slapstick comedy on top of the sci-fi murder noir. I think they both work equally well, but they’re so different outside of the setup.
Brendan: Peter Hogan thought this through, and developed a character that resigns himself to a life of solitude in the mountains, only dealing with human society when absolutely necessary. That necessity arises when his alter ego is called upon to investigate a string of murders in town, and he realizes this particular town isn’t actually a bad place to hide in plain sight.
Tony: I dig it. It’s the perfect set-up for a murder mystery protagonist. There are probably a few different mystery novel series that take that idea wholecloth and run with it. Adding the alien element to it makes it feel wholly fresh and original.
Brendan: I also really like that this first book opens up where it does, and only treats Harry’s arrival as a passing mention, in flashback. The fact that he’s an alien plays into the story, but is only one facet of his awkward, insecure character. It doesn’t take very long to look past the purple skin and Spock ears and get invested in the mystery.
Tony: Yeah, he’s a fascinating protagonist, and I really like his journey through the collection from hermit to gradually integrating himself into the town. Keeping him an alien all the time, rather than the show’s Alan Tudyk disguise works better here, because we can’t see him in motion. I think if they put him in a human suit in the comic, he would have just blended in. Here, we see a much more contemplative version of the character.
Brendan: A lot of that has to do with Steve Parkhouse’s art, which has an interestingly mundane feel. It’s a brilliant fit for this story, and sells the ‘normality’ of the situation. It leans into both the sci-fi and crime genres, and makes even the strangest parts of the story seem perfectly run-of-the-mill.
It’s actually shocking when the curtain gets pulled back and someone recognizes Harry for what he is. You’re so lulled into the premise, it catches you off guard.
Tony: Yeah, definitely. Parkhouse does a fantastic job at pacing the story too. It reminds the reader how slow paced small-town life is, but also that murder investigations aren’t thrill rides either.
Brendan: And I did mention Murder, She Wrote for a reason. There’s a very similar sort of pacing to the story. Hogan took his time and let the thing breathe. I think people get the idea from the newer police procedurals on TV that investigations move at the pace of CSI: Vegas. Fingerprints? Plug them into CODIS. Results in 30 seconds. Also, every crime scene has DNA.
Tony: Yeah, it feels like a cozy bookstore mystery, not a scifi epic. That works to the advantage of this volume. It kind of eases us as readers in.
Brendan: Having read a few of the arcs that come later, this is something the series continues to excel at. Each volume is a story in itself, and each gives enough backstory to bring in new readers, but doesn’t beat it to death to alienate the long time fans.
Tony: Yeah, I liked that. I’m glad I’ve only watched a few episodes of the show. It helped me get into this story without drawing too many comparisons. The plot of the TV pilot and this volume are pretty similar but generally speaking, this is completely different. I liked that.
Brendan: You said something about that earlier, and I agree that there are definitely things that work better on the page than on the screen, and vice versa. We hit on that with Umbrella Academy as well. I’ve seen just a couple episodes of the show, and I agree. They’re different takes on the same story, but the show has a completely different take. They both work really well.
All right, so what’s the final verdict? Where’d you land on the book?
Tony: I enjoyed it. It was… cozy in a way that worked really well for the collection. I know it’s a weird way to describe a sci-fi mystery book, but it’s comfortable and familiar. I have no doubt the weirdness ramps up over the next few volumes, but this is a great way to get the series started.
Brendan: Fair. What’s up for next week?
Tony: I think we’re going to look at something considered a classic but I’ve never read- 1999’s The Flash & Green Lantern: The Brave & the Bold by Mark Waid, Tom Peyer, and Barry Kitson. Let’s see if it holds up.