If you’re of a certain age, you’ll remember the movie-turned-TV show Alien Nation. Veiled beneath your bog-standard buddy cop yarn, the movie (and then show) explored a world wherein aliens had already come to Earth, but instead of trying to replace us with pod people or bursting out of/deeply probing our chest or anal cavities, respectively, these aliens just kind of ... well, got on with it, really. They learned English, got jobs, paid their bills and taxes, and integrated into society as best they could. It was essentially every Republican’s worst nightmare. When I first picked up the first trade for issues 1-6 of Dark Horse’s Resident Alien, a series which originally debuted in theDark Horse Presents title, I just expected the same kind of story. You could forgive me for doing so after seeing cover and solicit art for the book, which showed your classic grey-skinned, wide-eyed alien cold chillin’ in varying scenes of everyday Americana. But despite sharing similar DNA, Resident Alien is nothing like Alien Nation. In fact, it’s a whole different being.
It starts out familiarly enough, telling the story of an alien who crash-lands onto Earth. However, instead of revealing himself to the masses, this alien hides among us. Using his outer space mental mojo, he tricks every human into seeing him as Harry Vanderspeigle, a retired specialized doctor of Dutch descent whose name sounds like a funny word for genitalia.
Adopting a solitary and aloof demeanor, Dr. Vanderspaceman has settled with his secret into the idyllic environs of Patience, USA. Our story begins when his privacy is interrupted by Mike, Patience’s Chief of Police, who asks Harry for his medical expertise within the recent murder case of local sawbones, Doc Hodges. Agreeing reluctantly, Harry assists the police, but is later hoodwinked by the mayor of Patience into filling in for the deceased while a replacement doctor can be found. This, of course, goes against his plan of keeping his big purple head down. Interject your own penis joke here.
While seeing his patients in ... Patience, Harry finds himself lulled into a sense of contentment in life among the locals, developing a strange affinity for these “transparent” beings, “reading” them like tabloids and growing ever more interested in both them ...and the murder which put him in their presence. The plot thickens when, in short order, the murder is followed by another, this of a local old curmudgeon, whose grizzly end was savagely wrought, according to an eyewitness account, in the bedroom by a naked man with a sewing needle. Take that, CLUE.
Throughout this first arc, we follow Harry as he alternatively investigates (and eventually, in a way, solves) the murders in his capacity as town doctor, and recounts via flashback his fiery arrival on Earth three years ago. We also get a glimpse of a shadowy, possibly governmental group of black-suited gentlemen who have found his ship and begun the process of looking for him.
Personally, I really enjoyed this book ... but I’m not exactly sure why. In one sense, it reminds me of Brokeback Mountain. Bear with me here. Like gay cowboys in an otherwise somewhat banal story, an alien in this setting at first seems like a bit of sensationalism just to spice things up. But for some reason, in this case, that small element, that surreal little twist, works well within this small town whodunnit framework.
I’m not sure if it’s completely necessary, as the story, penned by writer Peter Hogan, is intriguing enough without an alien. The writing stands on its own merit as fun and infinitely easy to read, presenting as it does a fully-fleshed world of characters, each of whom speaks with a natural, comfortable cadence. It does, however, provide interesting perspective as an outsider looking in, particularly during those moments when Harry analyzes his environment and situation; the best scenes within the work. Meanwhile, the art by Steve Parkhouse, while being nothing special in particular, is consistently endearing, lending itself to this setting and setup with a simple, down-home style that isn’t afraid to get its feet wet in the fantastic.
The big murder reveal at the end is admittedly quite muted, and comes across as pretty random and uninteresting, but at the same time - and whether or not this is a good thing is up for debate amongst you Bastards - the murder, and the true identity of its conductor, proves to be secondary to this alien’s simple life in town and his constant worrying about being discovered therein. That is the important story here, after all, but it makes you wonder why Hogan included a murder mystery at all when its payoff comes across so hollowly.
Still, Resident Alien sets itself up nicely for future story, not only with Harry’s continued tentative attempts at integration, but also with the spooks who are out to threaten it, not to mention the one person who could undermine it: Native American nurse, Asta. Apparently, being the daughter of the local shaman allows her to be in touch with her spirit animal or whatever enough to begin to see past Harry’s clever mental ruse. Hijinks, no doubt, shall henceforth ensue.
In the end, just like Doctor Vanderspeigle is with my fellow humans, I am, despite myself, fascinated by this story, and will continue reading to see what happens next.
Writer: Peter Hogan
Artist: Steve Parkhouse
Publisher: Dark Horse Comics
Release Date: 2-27-13