I’ve been singing the praises of “Resident Alien” and its “Dark Horse Presents” debut for a while now, but after a bit of a wait the first actual issues worth of content is coming out on stands next week.
Time for me to put my money where my mouth is in a spoiler-free look at the (not entirely a debut) debut issue of the series.
Written by Peter Hogan
Illustrated by Steve Parkhouse
A stranded alien seeks refuge in the small town of Patience, USA, where he hides undercover as a semiretired doctor, masking his appearance using his unique mental abilities. Now known as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle, 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 also finds himself smack dab in the middle of a murder mystery! He’d rather be fishing. Acclaimed creators Peter Hogan (2000 AD, Tom Strong) and Steve Parkhouse (The Milkman Murders, Doctor Who) deliver a truly unique sci-fi adventure tale!
All in all, “Resident Alien” is pretty brilliant in its ostensible simplicity. It’s a book that plays off of two common tropes: 1) an alien hiding in a town full of people who don’t know he’s an alien and 2) there’s been some kind of off-panel/camera accident with an important person, so an unlikely candidate in the related profession is called in to replace him. It’s a mix of the ultimate fish out of water story with a premise that hundreds of sitcoms, dramas and other forms of media, and yet at no point does it feel hackneyed or trite. While we’ve only been given three brief episodes (or one regular sized one, if you bought #0), the book plays its cards with a straight face and that remained an endearing quality of it.
However, up until now we’d only been given the book in small doses. The story behind “Resident Alien” has almost infinite possibilities of where it could conceivably go, but we’ve never been given a chance to really dig into it (again, assuming you read it serialized in “Dark Horse Presents”). Once it gets out into the real world and becomes its own entity, that’s where the trouble can start.
As “Resident Alien” #1 begins, we’re thrust into the middle of a story already in progress. However, unlike with some stories that begin at the end and work their way backwards, this isn’t a storytelling technique; truthfully, #1 should be labeled #2, and the previous issues-worth collection of stories in #0 should have just had a #1 on the cover. It’s a bit of a short-sighted maneuver to assume that most fans would definitely check out the #0 issue, and given how generally open and inviting the story and world is, you’d imagine that more of a concentrated effort would’ve been put in to make “Resident Alien” #1 a comic that doesn’t start with a caption that reads “Nope, our story doesn’t begin here.” (For example, my LCBS is sold out of #0, which speaks to word of mouth of the series and its positive buzz but also leaves incoming readers who aren’t going to another store in the dark.)
That being said, as we move forward in the story the issue is good. Continuing where the “DHP” sections left off, we’re shown that the big final twist of the previous story was actually just a misdirect, and a great one at that. Initial fears that “Resident Alien” would fall into stereotypical tropes are assuaged and the book makes a conscious effort to establish the rules of how the world interacts with our main character.
Steve Parkhouse’s art works magic throughout the book as well. An obvious industry vet, his work gives every character very emotive sequences through which to connect with the reader, and his eye for settings and background detail give the book its own little Twin Peaks-ian vibe. “Harry,” the eponymous resident alien, manages to blend into the crowds of the book so well that you can at times swear his telepathic abilities work on the reader, because as clearly different as he is his actions throughout the book resonate so clearly as human that at times its easy to forget.Continued below
The only downside of the issue really is its pace. While the story’s rural town interactions worked very well in short bursts, a full issues worth of talking heads with little development doesn’t work as well. Truth be told, there are only a few pages in the entire issue that clearly push the plot forward, and while it isn’t entirely needed more development of “Harry” would’ve been nice beyond a mildly cliche star-gazing sequence. If this is your first encounter with “Resident Alien”, it’s not the best showing of the comic’s obvious capabilities.
Yet, as someone who was emphatic about the “real” first issue, it was nice to have some time with the characters. While some of it felt like a retread to story beats from the previous entries into the series, the characters are coming into their own and becoming more vivid. Hogan’s more than proven himself in the past with his work in “2000 AD” and America’s Best comics, so while I don’t feel I can as emphatically shove this issue in people’s directions as I did the #0 entry into the series, I’m still quite confident that this book will develop into something quite strong.
As a debut issue, or someones first encounter with the characters, it leaves much to be desired. The #0 issue is, for all intents and purposes, the #1 issue, and this issue does a poor job of re-introducing the characters and concepts to a brand new audience who may hop in with the #1 on the cover (despite the note in the beginning noting to find the #0 issue). However, as a second issue in a series, it’s a solid continuation of the story. It’s a bit of a slow start, but the scifi murder mystery concept of the series alone is worth coming back to next month.
Final Verdict: 7.0 – Buy