Eric Stephenson is an enviable position. He gets to see all the Image Comics titles coming in, in various forms as he publishes them, sees their construction, talks with the creators bout what works and what ticks and advises them as best he can, though the creators get the final decision.
And then he takes all he has learnt and writes a comic, also published by Image. Nowhere Men, currently on hiatus, took aspects of The Manattan Projects, The Nightly News, Saga, Skullkickers and Phonogram.
Well, in They're Not Like Us, he has done it again. Reading it, I get flashes of The Wicked + The Divine, MPH, Mind The Gap and Morning Glories, all while being Eric Stephenson's take on the X-Men, specifically the First Class film, via John Wyndham's The Chrysalids with just a touch of Misfits.
This is a good thing.
This is not a superhero comic, but a superfiction comic. Characters with an array of super powered abilities that seem very familiar, but who work together not as a school, or a team or a family a gang. Dedicated to survival and prospering, with no regard to the the rest of humanity. Not wanting to save them, but not wanting to conquer them. They are happy just being apart, with the "not equal" or "not like" sign of ≠ as a symbol for the series and the title They're Not Like Us. Their Professor X figure isn't Xavier or Magneto, isn't Malcom X or Martin Luther King, if anything he's closer to Fagin.
So they are a gang, quite happy to do what they want to succeed. Hurt, steal, kidnap, kill. They appreciate art, music, literature, and have built a haven dedicated to this, not the Westchester school of learning and danger rooms but one of almost hedonistic appreciation of the finer aspects of life.
They're Not Like Us also works as a designed object of art in itself, no ads, no introductions, the front cover is the first panel and contains all credits and legal indicia, before starting on the inside front page and running for twenty-two pages until the back inside cover, then signing off on the back cover with a purposeful quote and the logo again. Nothing else to distract, nothing to skip past, just a solid reading experience, with one art style from from to back, Simon Gane and Jordie Bellaire, a scratchy art style that capturing a world, our world, in details, with colour that hold space together without oppressing the lines. You may recognise Gane from Vinyl Underground if you were lucky, Godzilla if you were not, but he's always been successful in holding a world together in reality while still offering cartoonish notes, and he does that admirably here.
The first issue's title is a Manic Street Preacher song, From Despair To Where and the back page is quote from Richey Edwards, lead singer/songwriter of the band who disappeared almost twenty years ago, presumed to have committed suicide. The next issue will do the same, with Black Holes For The Young. Xavier-character The Voice looks like MSP lead singer James Dean Bradfield, back in the day. Another member of the house is called Wire, as in MSP guitarist Nicky Wire. Their lyrics of "culture, alienation, boredom and despair" are a perfect fit, but also a way to beat that."
Because music is important here as well, seen as an acquisition to be seriously enjoyed, and only in vinyl. And its an attitude that our deliberately unnamed "entry point" character embraces and agrees with – this is possibly the moment we realise that powers or not, this is where she belongs. As "Syd", she gets the music and its importance, and a name to match.
There's plenty more to discover that we only had a glimpse on, and while I may have preferred a little more discover and a little less hospital escape, it will have me returning for more in January.
You know what it says to me? Junk your X-Men, junk your Justice League, junk your event comics, junk everything that has become unnecessarily complex, less fun than it used to me and set on running a Red Queen's Race. You want your alienated superfolk that have purpose, have ideology, make sense, and don;t demand cosplay? All here, one comic, once a month for $2.99.
It's hard to argue with.
They're Not Like Us #1 is published today by Image Comics. Comics courtesy of Orbital Comics, London. Currently exhibiting the work of Sean Phillips.