The first issue of “They’re Not Like Us” came out around Christmas, which is probably why this eagle-eyed comic reviewer failed to realize it existed. That’s okay, though – as fans of “Nowhere Men” might have guessed, this series is slow-burn, with these first two issues flowing together so well that it’s difficult to mentally separate them. In any case, it hasn’t taken much time for “They’re Not Like Us” to establish a beautiful, anarchic world.
Written by Eric Stephenson
Illustrated by Simon Gane
It serves you right to suffer.
That solicit isn’t so helpful, so I’ll fill you in quickly. After a suicide attempt, a young woman who’s always heard voices in her head is kidnapped and taken to a mansion full of young people, all of whom claim to be telepaths. Apparently she’s one of their kind; but the more she learns about them, the stranger and more violent they seem. This issue has the young woman – they call her Syd – learning a little more about the reasons behind their violence, as diverse as these may be.
In case the quote from Johnny Rotten on the back didn’t clue you in, this issue has a decidedly punk rock flavour. Of course, there were clues in the previous issue, a room full of stolen vinyl being prime among them. But here, the frenetic, retributive character of the group’s actions is made explicit. These are people who have not been treated well by society; and while their reasons for taking vigilante action against members of the public are many, they do seem unified in their desire to keep doing exactly what they’re doing.
Eric Stephenson, quite reasonably, writes Syd as skeptical of the whole enterprise; like us, she’s being given a lot of information in a short amount of time. But she takes on some agency by the end of the issue, snatching a moment of introspection and giving the reader a chance to mull over things too. For someone whose life came very close to ending, she now has a dramatic choice to make, and the one she makes feels exactly right after the overwhelming events of the issue.
All the while, Simon Gane’s art is dreamy. I know this is a really specific association to make, but it reminds me of illustrations from elementary school French textbooks, which I remember as ink-and-wash, and classy to a fault. I guess that’s a roundabout way of saying there’s a European flavour going on, somewhere between the high number of panels per page and all the attention paid to architectural detail. The decor in particular seems to have had a lot of thought put into it; the wainscoting, the crown mouldings, the elaborate headboards. There’s a lot to come back to and admire; a lot of physical beauty acting as backdrop to the grim plot points.
Similarly, the clothing catches the eye at every turn. The first issue made it clear that these telepaths are snappy dressers – it’s their way of hiding in plain sight – but Gane never lets us forget just how fashionable they are. Every page is a piece of sartorial porn: crisp shirts, belted dresses, a perfectly knotted scarf. You can really see the weight and drape and quality of the materials – or, in the case of a guy with a backpack full of spray paint, the lack thereof. I wouldn’t call this focus on the clothing distracting, but it’s oddly hypnotizing. At least, it is if you’re a fan of beautifully-fitted clothing; but then, everybody oughta be.
Syd goes out of her way to mention the arrogance of her new acquaintances, and it’s a quality that makes itself felt throughout the issue. In particular, Maisie – she can see the future – comes off so smug that you almost hate her. The key word, of course, is “almost”. Everybody’s wearing that same hint of a smirk; everybody’s so gosh-darned good-looking and well-dressed that it seems criminal. But Gane toes the line, lending each character enough ambiguity, enough mystery behind their chic exterior, to keep the reader guessing.
You guys are probably all sick of listening to me rave about Jordie Bellaire, but the tough thing about perfection is that it feels new at every turn. There’s a vintage flavour to the tones Bellaire employs here – somewhere in the realm of a faded-out Hardy Boys paperback. The last few pages really shine due to the quality of the light that Bellaire evokes; some rose tones punctuate a nighttime scene, breaking up the blues and adding an extra touch of mystery.Continued below
The nihilistic mood of “They’re Not Like Us” is what keeps it from being an unqualified “Buy”, the kind of comic you could recommend to anyone and everyone. But then, that feeling is also what makes it memorable; a raw blister of a comic that nags at you all day. While it’s dark indeed – and has got some niche references for high fidelity nerds to enjoy – the sense of nihilism is intriguing rather than estranging. Like Syd, it’s hard not to find yourself entranced by this charismatic band of outsiders.
Final Verdict: 9.0 – Eye candy with a sour tang. Addictive.`