Saucer Country Strong

In order for the above wordplay to work, please pretend that you are Tarzan or Hulk, making a plain statement about your thoughts on Saucer Country #1, released by Vertigo this week. Created by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly, the series lis set to tell the story of Arcadia Alvarado, a hispanic woman who is in the running to become the next President of the United States. Only, just a few days ago, something strange happened to her and her ex-husband..

Near the start of the issue somebody tells Arcadia that the American public are only willing to accept a divorced, hispanic, female President in one scenario: that it’s her. And throughout this issue, Cornell sets out to make his case for why the publci respond so strongly to her. Instead of plaguing her with obvious dark thoughts, rage issues and drug abuse, she’s instead seen to be a clear-headed, eloquent, charismatic speaker; and each page drives her more and more into the spotlight. She immediately grabs focus for the reader, and her personality comes across smartly and neatly. We could’ve had a “strong female character” who seems outrageously qualified and suitable for this role, but instead Cornell pulls back and plays things more simply. She’s an engaging presence on the page, but we’re seeing some subtle hints as to how she might start to crack under the pressure of politics.

And also alien probing. It’s made clear straight away that the sci-fi elements of the story will be a hovering threat over the cast, not immediately present but pulling all the strings behind the scenes. The aliens are classic green, shadowy, bulbous creatures, conducting experiments (if indeed, they exist outside of Alvarado’s head) without letting anybody know their purpose or method. While they appear once or twice over the course of the issue, they are not the current focus of the storyline. Instead, we get to see glimpses of the political landscape and the people who’ll presumably be making up the supporting cast. The aliens are around, but they liekly won’t make their presence known for a long while still.

Which is interesting. It makes the supporting cast interesting. Already rather well-drawn, the five or six supporting characters all seem to have a backstory set up already, and clear motivations for where they want to go. It most clearly brings to mind Brian K. Vaughan’s Vertigo titles Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, where each character has a purpose which evolves and is defined from the start, so you can see them develop but also understand how their upbringing has brought them to their current emotional state. Saucer Country has perhaps some of the most solid characterisation of any comic this year, and the characters seem diverse and interesting. Also, we don’t know if any of them might secretly be aliens or something, and that adds a neat layer of conspiracy over proceedings. The script hasn’t yet started to lay down paranoia or conspiracy into the narrative, but it seems highly likely that future issues are going to have fun with the idea.

Ryan Kelly deserves a huge amount of credit for his work with the characters. His design for Arcadia leaves her looking composed and professional, but with a careful wildness in the eyes when needed. Likewise, ex-husband Michael seems rugged and handsome, but haunted by something. The personalities shine through in each page, with the many conversation scenes benefitting greatly from Kelly’s deft use of expression and perspective. He handles the shifts in genre brilliantly, providing a weird and creepy tone for the opening sequence (helped by colourist Giulia Brusco) but quickly establishing order even within the same location two pages later. Cornell has compared this to being a cross between the X-Files and The West Wing, but it seems to have just as much in common with something like Alias. The dual life and moods of Arcadia provide an interesting counterbalance to the rollercoaster of politics, and seeing her attempt to balance her rational nature with the bizarre things that she’s starting to remember abut her recent past is going to be massively entertaining.

Saucer Country is a strong, assured first issue. Superb character design and development combine with a teasing, curious narrative to provide what looks to be Vertigo’s next big hit.


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