By Cameron Hatheway
It can sometimes feel like the alien invasion story has been done a million times. Not just in comics, but in all mediums. It's very difficult to one-up the classics like H.G. Wells' The War of the Worlds or John W. Campbell's Who Goes There? (later adapted into both The Thing from Another World and The Thing). And yet we still love a good Man vs. Alien story, and pay good money for the experience. Is Mars Attacks! on the same level of the two I just mentioned? Heavens no, but it's still really entertaining in its own right.
Jeff Parker must have kept this in mind when writing Meteor Men from Oni Press. While it is an alien invasion story, it doesn't come across as trying to change the rules of the genre. It's its own beast, supplying a healthy dose of science-fiction and fear of the unknown. The protagonist has already dealt with a traumatic event in his life, and now is forced to deal with another on an international—nay, cosmic—scale.
It all starts with a meteor shower, and ends with an ominous message. Alden is an introverted teenager who recently lost both his parents to a drunk driver, and lives on the old family farm under the supervision of his uncle Phil, a linguistics professor at the local college. Alden has no problem allowing the locals to come out to his plot of land to watch the Perseid meteor shower, until the spectacle literally hits close to home. A chunk of meteorite about as big as a medicine ball crashes in a creek on Alden's property, causing him and the spectators to put out the fires before the forest burns down. As it turns out, meteorites have been landing elsewhere across the world, leaving scientists baffled at the event. What's even more baffling is the following day the meteorite that landed in the creek split into two, revealing a hollow, smooth center like some sort of geode. Was it a ball of gas inside that cracked the meteorite, or something else?
That's when Alden becomes nervous about the situation. Days later, he's seeing visions and hearing things out in the woods, and when he goes exploring comes face to face with a tall, black and white alien who only communicates through mental projections. If this alien came from the meteorite, how many of the other meteorites that crashed landed contain the same passengers? Do these meteor men come in peace, or come to enslave the human race?
Since the story takes place in present day, it's entirely believable that everyone has a conspiracy theory about the meteorites. Social media and the news networks explode with unconfirmed accounts of strange things happening around the crash sites, and the governments aren't letting the public in on their findings either. When the same blurry pictures of the black and white alien is captured from several different people around the globe, a slight panic begins to crawl up the reader's spine. That one eerie scene from the movie Signs with the amateur footage from the Brazilian birthday party comes to mind, giving a good scare with the idea that not everything is right in the world.
The illustrations in the graphic novel are superb thanks to the dynamic duo of Sandy Jarrell (Batman '66) penciling & inking and Kevin Volo on colors. Starry nights filled with meteorites streaking by make for beautiful scenes, and in contrast the alien beings are odd and unsettling. Jarrell excels with any scenes taking place at night or in the woods, while keeping situations consisting of dialogue still feeling animated and lively. While the reader is primarily taken on a mystery throughout, it certainly doesn't lack action. The ending is an explosive rollercoaster ride, showing both sides' truest intentions, with Alden in the middle needing to make a choice most difficult.
My only gripe with this graphic novel is a minor one; Alden seems to go to bed at the most inappropriate of times. The scene could be a tense and dramatic one, with the reader on the edge of their seats, and Alden deems it not important enough and simply lumbers off to bed to fall fast asleep. Does he care what happens to his friends and family next? No, for like Alfred E. Newman; what, he worry? I also wasn't sure about the ending, for it does leave on a slightly ambiguous note that almost warrants a "to be continued" caption.
Overall, Meteor Men is a phenomenal read that supplies an entertaining alien invasion story to a genre that's relatively hit-or-miss. I could definitely see this story adapted to television or film, and becoming a cult hit. Alien invasion stories don't always have to feel like humanity versus sinister invaders while Earth hangs in the balance; it can take a less cliché route and still leave you in suspense. That's what Meteor Men accomplishes in a very satisfying way.