|Review by Clay N Ferno|
Eric Stephenson (publisher of Image Comics, Nowhere Men) along with Simon Gane (Godzilla, The Vinyl Underground) and popular colorist Jordie Bellaire released a very punk rock comic on Christmas Eve last year.
Great time of year for gift-giving, maybe not so much for launching a new number one. Regardless of the timing, the first volume of They’re Not Like Us introduces us to a band of telekinetic teenagers led by the mysterious mod pretty boy The Voice.
Perhaps drawing inspiration from other Image titles like Phonogram, Chew and Morning Glories as well as the Valiant series Harbinger and IDW’s Locke and Key, these uniquely powered and outsider youngsters are forced to give up their previous lives to get on with a clean slate.
Image Comics is creeping on the Big Two for market-share and that’s largely due to the biggest names in creators bringing books to the creator-owned imprint.
At the top of the pyramid of the unique comics publisher is Eric Stephenson. It caught my eye to see what he is capable of as a comic writer, and I was not disappointed.
Peppered with Manic Street Preachers and Morrissey song titles, musical references for post-punk bands, jazz musicians and a poster for the telekinetic 1978 box office bomb The Medusa Touch, They’re Not Like Us wears its heart out on its sleeve. An allusion to how closely this ‘team’ resembles teen heroes like The X-Men is quite deliberate as well, with all the mind invasion and somewhat similar skill sets of the boys and girls herein.
Top it off with a professor — The Voice — who is the only one that can make sense of the abilities exhibited by these gifted youngsters, this story is still clever enough to take its own side roads and motivations to pull you in and make you care about our main character – Syd.
Syd is saved by The Voice as she is about to commit the most selfish act, by throwing herself off of the hospital where she is being treated. Well, The Voice doesn’t stop her from falling, but he steals her away from recovering at the hospital and brings her to his overgrown gated San Francisco home.
While recuperating from her injuries, Syd meets her new roommates that include a speedster, a pyrokinetic, an illusionist, a prophet and more.
Everyone must use code names in the house, and protect the life they left behind.
The dapper Voice flips the reader and Syd’s expectations by revealing that what they are doing here isn’t exactly saving the world — it may reveal itself to being selfish and criminal. And the kids aren’t free to leave. Because of the nature of everyone’s unique gifts, The Voice fears exposure most of all.
The tone of the book isn’t outwardly a superhero story, though the backbone is there. Much like the kids of Phonogram pulling shapes on the dance floor with magic as a part of the world, this collection of misunderstood kids just deals with their powers and acquiesce to The Voice without much resistance.
Simon Gane on art with Joadie on colors gives the story a more illustrative look, a European style that allows the reader to also forget that they are reading new take on the typical mutant teenager book. The illustrations are greatly detailed at points — the hospital and fight scenes remind me of Geof Darrow’s Hard Boiled — and also service the story in a way that a typical super hero artist might miss the mark on. What I enjoyed were the naturalistic costumes, hairstyles and acting if I were to put a point on it. Now I need to read Simon on Godzilla!
I was confused in the story just one time — it was fixed by once again reviewing the sex scene in question — when one of the character Moon was using her powers. It made such perfect sense in retrospect, I don’t know how I stumbled on those pages! It was purely user error on my part but see if you get tripped up too.
Our Moira McTaggert or Jean Grey stand in for this story is Maise, who serves as a balancing force between The Voice and the rebellious Syd. Syd desires to leave the place, and her rich parents are on the lookout for her missing self from the hospital (though they show up to visit her way late in the game!). The Voice’s all powerful telekinetic powers lock the kids in and play with their emotions by subtly preying on their fears.
I started this review stating that this is a punk rock comic, and it is. I don’t mean the references to Sid Vicious and Johnny Rotten (who’s Album by Public Image Ltd spins on one page), I mean something different and entirely more important than the music.
Punk is a headspace where people can feel like they belong when they don’t fit in anywhere else. The long title of the volume is “They’re Not Like Us” – a feeling one has in the community that is based on unity from inside of many hearts speaking against normal expectations.
People may look differently than you do, dress with spikes or with button down shirts, but if you bond over what it means to be truly ‘punk’ you quickly ignore the trappings of the costume.
Many of us surrounded by punks instinctively feel out of place at a black tie affair but can immediately bond with the guy working the bar with a Bad Religion tattoo poking just slightly out of his collar. We might point around the room and give a nod as if to say, “They’re Not Like Us”.
Stephenson doesn’t at all make you feel uneasy but lets you see the world as Syd sees it. Her troubles and heartache make a hero out of her in this first volume. The sixth and final issue ends on a cliffhanger, as all good trades do.
If you feel a little different sometimes — and still don’t feel like fitting in — give They’re Not Like Us a try at the first volume introductory Image Comics price.