Let me just out myself first. I really like Eric Stephenson. When Nowhere Men was all that anyone seemed to talk about (anyone who reads comics as often as I do, at least), I said “Nu-uh, ain’t gonna fall for the hype” and reread Y: The Last Man for the fifth time instead. Luckily, Image has a way of getting me to eventually read anything they put out these days, and somehow I ended up buying a digital copy of the first trade of Nowhere Men. That comic made my mind whirr in a way few comics do thanks to its combination of a simply elegant premise, and a pacing that tantalized page by page while providing just enough to make it feel as if you weren’t just being teased. That’s why when I saw Stephenson attached to They’re Not Like Us, I knew that I wanted to be the hype machine this time around, a one-man Pitchfork. Bummer for me that I don’t think that’ll be happening since I’m crap at faking enthusiasm. They’re Not Like Us doesn’t do anything egregious to make me dislike it, it does just little enough to make me indifferent to it, and I try not to carry around indifference with me. For those still reading, I’ll give the synopsis that my editor added when he sent me issue 1, “Hope you like hipster X-men.” I thought he had to be exaggerating in his charmingly snarky way. No way would Stephenson employ the basic elements of the Marvel property without doing something bonkers with it. Unfortunately I was wrong, at least so far, and I hope that doesn’t continue to be the case. They’re Not Like Us features a group of twenty to thirty-somethings living in a luxurious house in San Francisco, and oh ya, they all have powers ranging from telepathy to newfangled technopathy (remember when that shit was quirky?).
While we have yet to see much evidence of their abilities, other than the comic’s lead, newbie Syd who has uncontrollable mind-reading abilities, the comic hasn’t shown itself yet to have much of a story direction other than what seems to be Syd’s downfall into sociopathy as she decides to join the team in the hopes of honing her powers and getting in on some of the ole’ ultra violence in the name of vintage headphones (pretty sweet headphones though), and other hipster accessories.
Course a comic doesn’t need a fresh premise in order to be a great book, but tonally They’re Not Like Us reeks of the type of comic that seems to have confused cynicism with adult cool. So far every character of the team seems to share an identical attitude of ‘Screw the world, and the normals who reside in it,’ and Stephenson has so done little to make me invested in the lives of any of his characters. They’re jerks that rationalize their behavior due to their mistreatment from others. Damn, that’s deep. Crap, now I’m the cynic.
Luckily for the team and not for me, Simon Gane seems to be on the same page as Stephenson, employing an art style reminiscent of Paul Pope, but without the dash of incredible movement that Pope instills in every panel. As I reread this comic while a friend worked next to me, she looked over and mentioned how self-serious the art’s style seemed to be, an issue I had been mulling over for the past day that my friend was able to immediately recognize. This comic thinks it’s cool. It thinks a panel where a guy in combat boots front kicks a guy in the face as blood spatters is jarring, but in actuality it’s just boring and disheartening in how it believes that depictions of violence equate to innovation or boundary-pushing.
I want every comic I read to be good. I know that’s too much to ask, but that’s the case, especially when many other artistic mediums scream out from my bookshelves for attention on a daily basis (I haven’t even gotten to The Great Gatsby yet!). I suspect that Stephenson will take this somewhere unpredictable within an issue or two, but I can’t risk disappointment again so soon, so perhaps I’ll check in once the first trade comes out. Perhaps.
Shout out to Jordie Bellaire and Fonografiks whose colors and lettering respectively are so far the best parts of this book. Damn can Bellaire color a study.
Writer: Eric Stephenson Artist: Simon Gane Colorist: Jordie Bellaire Letterer: Fonografiks Publisher: Image Comics Price: $2.99 Release Date: 1/28/15 Format: Ongoing: Print/Digital