There’s nothing like a bit of inspired lunacy to get a series started off right, and that’s exactly what you get in “Strange Nation” #1. This first chapter of a four-issue miniseries published by Action Lab Comics is all set to premiere at Emerald City Comic-Con, and comes highly recommended from us. Seriously: gorilla-headed politicians are just the beginning.
Written by Paul Allor
Illustrated by Juan Romera
Norma Park is a former investigative reporter – she lost her job when the truth (and it does involve gorilla-headed politicians) was too much for her newspaper to handle. Now she’s gone rogue, getting details on the same story by more drastic means, and enlisting the help of a very unusual sidekick.
The issue moves quickly, delivering the goods on Norma’s backstory before seamlessly moving on to her current adventure. As is fast becoming his trademark, Allor uses first person narration laid out in captions to give us an idea of Norma’s situation, and it’s a very efficient way to get the story moving. This is only a regular-length comic book, but it covers so much story – all without feeling rushed – that it feels like an entire arc. What’s more, the captions often disagree/conflict with what we’re seeing in a subtle, ironic way, lending affairs a touch of mystery and complexity and keeping the reader engaged.
And then there’s just the flat-out weirdness of the proceedings, which somehow never feels forced, or like Allor is out to impress us with how creative this world is. The determined, focalizing narrator certainly helps – she just wants the scoop, never mind how odd it gets – and then, there’s also something oddly compelling about the landscape she’s gradually uncovering. Having a taut mystery story center on a madcap, Weekly World News-type conspiracy is certainly not a new idea, but Allor never makes the mistake of winking at us. Details like the unexpected identity of Norma’s sidekick – and what his motivations are in joining her – are well-contextualized, given the facts of the story so far, and in a way that makes their weirdness feel like extra icing, rather than the purpose of the comic as a whole.
Juan Romera’s art is noirish but not too understated, rendering enough texture here and there to give objects weight but often favouring interesting compositions. Similarly, the characters aren’t incredibly realistic, but the expressions and poses are all natural and effective within the context of the overall style. Everything is concise: never too much detail, never too little. The whole time there’s only one moment that doesn’t come across as clearly as it should, and you’ll know it when you see it. Meanwhile, the colouring pushes the camp factor, breaking up a shadowy blue and green world with blasts of lime green. Overall, the noir/camp balance of Romera’s art mirrors Allor’s script perfectly, making for a coherent and smooth reading experience.
All told, this is an incredibly fun issue that’s also trim and well-structured – which is a rarity. And with a start this strong, the rest of the series is looking promising indeed. Be sure to check it out if you can!
Final Verdict: 8.8 – Buy