The world has not quite been the same since The X-Files ended. That show redefined the idea of a procedural mystery show for a generation and its influence has seen countless shows that want to be just like it crop up in the vacuum it left when it ended. Some of them have worked, some of them haven’t. Now, Justin Jordan and Ariela Kristantina are entering the fray with their own spin on the idea of following two agents in black as they hunt to keep the secrets that conspiracy theories are made of just that: a secret.
Written by Justin Jordan
Illustrated by Ariela Kristantina
WHY WE LOVE IT: You know all those conspiracy theories you hear about? Like how the Jonestown Massacre was a failed MKULTRA experiment by the government, or how Lee Harvey Oswald was trained and brainwashed to be an assassin? Well, what if some of those were true? DEEP STATE is a dream (nightmare?) come true for conspiracy theory nuts like us here at BOOM!
WHY YOU’LL LOVE IT: With LUTHER STRODE, DEAD BODY ROAD, and SPREAD, Justin Jordan has become one of the eminent voices in hard-hitting, intelligent, original comics, and Ariela Kristantina (DEATH OF WOLVERINE) brings her unique, idiosyncratic style that has made her a breakout talent. If you’re even remotely interested in conspiracy theory stories from comics like Detective Comics and X-Files to films like ENEMY OF THE STATE and THREE DAYS OF THE CONDOR, you’ll be gripped by DEEP STATE!
WHAT IT’S ABOUT: John Harrow doesn’t exist, and his job is to make sure that other things don’t exist, too. At any given time, the government is running dozens of black book operations, experiments that aren’t on any official record and are never acknowledged to exist. Some of these are innocuous. Some of them are monstrous beyond reason. And most of the time, they go as expected and the public is never the wiser. Most of the time. John Harrow’s job is to handle them when things go wrong, and do anything to make sure the government’s secrets stay just that—secret.
Justin Jordan, as a writer, is a mighty interesting guy. His creator owned work has seemed to stem from a place where it can be easily summed up with a comparisson to other works (Spread is “Lone Wolf & Cub” meets The Thing; “Luther Strode” is what would happen is “Kick-Ass” were good; “Dead Body Road” is every 70s revenge thriller rolled into one comic), but when you really dig into them you’ll find that they have a lot of depth and originality beyond that. Part of that comes down to his ability to write complex and interesting characters that bring a life to his work, but he also works with artists that bring styles to the stories that bring new and interesting perspectives to the genres or works that they are paying homage to. This is similarly the case with “Deep State” #1 as, at first glance, it could be very easy to write it off as simply another X-Files wannabe, but thanks to deft character writing from Jordan and amazing artwork that brings a deep, murky quality to the world from Ariela Kristantina, I think there is a lot more going on here than meets the eye.
No, hold on, that’s Transformers. Nevermind.
Just as with Steve Niles and Damien Worm’s work with “The October Faction”, it could have easily been pidgeonholed by its comparison to a previous work (in that case, “The Addams Family), but eschewed that notion by having much more to say in a more modern context, “Deep State” #1 seems to immediately subvert the idea that this is simply an X-Files rip-off by entrenching its ideas in the paranoia of the modern times. We live in a world of unfettered paranoia; of ever-watching CCTV cameras and satellites, of drone strikes, of the NSA detailing our every move, phone call and email. We live in a world where an unarmed black kid can be gunned down in the street by a cop and the cop gets protection. We live in a world where people attacking a woman expressing her opinion on video games can convince people they’re talking about ethics in journalism. We live in a world that, frankly, sucks for the most part. And Jordan and Kristantina enter “Deep State” by acknowlodging that fact and firmly setting their story in that paranoia and then saying “Yeah, but imagine how bad the shit you don’t know is.”Continued below
One of the aspects of “Deep State” that makes it stand out and feel unique, especially from other stories that might be like it, is Ariela Kristantina’s artwork. Kristantina is an artist who I am discovering here for the very first time and her opening pages blew me away. Detailing the re-entry of a lunar module into Earth’s atmosphere, Kristantina brings a rough, sketchy, almost murky quality to the art with rather rough and, well, sketchy lines offset by heavy inks and deep blacks on the page that bring highlights to the focus of each panel. This is helped a lot by the colours by Ben Wilsonham who actually uses a rather vibrant palette of colours that uses reds and blues to build a lot of contrast in each panel while using a strategically placed green to highlight a character of importance. The artwork is dark and rough, but there is a real measured calculation to it from Kristantina building incredibly detailed panels and intricate storytelling on each page from heavy, sketchy lines to Ben Wilsonham using a colour palette to pick out a lot of contrast in the artwork not just in terms of light and dark, but also in terms of using warm and cool colours to build a palette of contradictions. Simply put: Ariela Kristantina and Ben Wilsonham make for a incredible art team that play to each others strengths to immediately create a world with as much contrast as it has secrets.
Just as Kristantina and Wilsonham play to each others strengths well, Justin Jordan’s writing plays well to the strength of the art as a whole. First issues, much like pilot episodes in TV, always seem to have the burden of having to info dump on the audience a lot in order to bring them into the world of the story. “Deep State”, unfortunately, suffers from that a little as much of the issue is taken up by an extended exposition scene, but is saved by Jordan writing to the strength of Kristantina as the scene is saved by how interesting it is visually. It also helps that Jordan, in one issue, has made “Deep State”‘s two main characters immediately charming, identifiable and, dare I say it, loveable. The banter between the two is great, especially once the book moves into full X-Files mode and has them investigating the crash from the opening pages. A scene that immediately endeared to the character I will have to describe as the book’s Mulder stand in even though that really do him justice has him bonding in a world weary sort of way with the local sheriff. It’s a scene that brings a lot of humanity to a book that could very easily get dredged down in all the conspiracy theory stuff and is emblematic of Jordan’s ability to create characters that are the real heart of the story.
All in all, I would have to say I was surprised by how much I enjoyed “Deep State” #1. Even as a fan of Justin Jordan’s, I wasn’t sure what to think going in, but I was subsequently blown away by the artwork from both Ariela Kristantina and Ben Wilsonham and then immediately charmed by Jordan’s writing once more. If there is a writer in comics more versatile than Justin Jordan, I would like to meet them. This is a book for anyone who is or was a fan of The X-Files and wants to see what that show would be like if set against the paranoia and murkiness of the modern day, but also wants it to keep the charm and banter that made that show so enjoyable to watch. Between that and the utterly gorgeous artwork, I would say “Deep State” is another surprise hit from BOOM! Studios, a publisher doing a lot lately to stand out in the crowd by bring enjoyable and original creator owned content to the table. This is one not to miss.
Final Verdict: 7.8 – A solid, enjoyable book that has the potential to go very, very far.