Saucer Country #1 - 3: The New American Folklore / by Patrick Smith

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I'm a skeptic by nature and as such I've done my fair share of eye rolling when people make claims in terms of the extraterrestrial or the supernatural but that doesn't mean I like it when other people are so quick to dismiss life on other planets or the existence of UFOs. I realize that believing in the existence of such things might run counter to one's faith or can be explained away as a kind of psychosis but ultimately those people are sort of missing the point. It's not so much about believing as it is recognizing certain patterns that have been cropping up since the 1940s. UFOs and alien abductions have become the equivalent of folklore, and as such they have a mythology all their own. And like all mythology, there is always some truth in the overall weirdness. Saucer Country seeks to look at that existing mythology while asking the question of humanities role in the universal hierarchy and whether or not our own leaders may know that "higher" beings are looking right at us with hungry eyes. Written by Paul Cornell and illustrated by Ryan Kelly, Saucer Country follows follows New Mexico governor Arcadia Alvarado on the eve of announcing her candidacy for President of the United States which is made all the more stressful by the fact that Arcadia is pretty sure she just got abducted by aliens. From there Alvarado tries to seek out if she did in fact get abducted with the help of her chief of staff Harry Brooks, campaign manager Chloe Saunders, mythology and folklore professor Joshua Kidd, and Arcadia's ex husband and possible fellow abductee Michael, all while continuing with her campaign.

It should be noted that over the three issues I read, Cornell is very careful to never specifically say that Aracadia, or anyone, was actually abducted. Partly because this book strongly hinges on a mystery and the idea that we do not know what "abducted by aliens" really means. These are ostensibly myths that play right into the American consciousness, maybe even the world's. Nevertheless, very early on Cornell sets up the relationship between abductees and aliens much in the same way that a rape victim would view their rapist. In fact, early on that's what Arcadia believes happened to her before she realizes her experience might be a lot more weird then she originally thought. Of course although Arcadia may believe she was abducted doesn't necessarily mean she's going to tell anyone: It's a solid twist on the idea of the abductee. Cornell is clearly playing with the public perception of an abductee as a borderline raving lunatic who just wants 15 minutes of fame while wearing a tin foil hat to spout how the alien overlords are coming. Arcadia is playing it subtle and sees her abductors as a direct threat against not just her but the United States, and the world, and fully intends to use her position to combat them. It also raises some interesting ideas about the nature of politics. Arcadia's advisors Harry and Chloe have to make the choice between following the path of a potentially unstable woman or outing her as delusional for the public good. Even under the guise of seeking answers this is some murky territory for everyone involved without any real evidence and its looking like that high wire act while become the driving force for the drama of the book.

That being said we're still at the point of the book where the characters are still being fleshed out and sometimes they aren't as consistent as you might want them to be, particularly in the case of Arcadia. I think you could view it in the sense that because she's a politician she's at her most interesting when she's fired up and showing that in many ways she's three steps ahead of others in terms of gamesmanship. But at the same time, that type of personality is hard to maintain for long stretches, especially since she has to be balanced out with her past trauma. As such, her characterization is a bit rough around the edges. The supporting cast is solid. In particular I've come to appreciate Professor Kidd who for some unknown reason is hallucinating the Pioneer 10 couple talking to him. But overall the book jumps around so often from protagonist to protagonist that it can get a bit jumbled. It feels like the book is still trying to define itself and outside of the overall mystery and larger ideas at play so at times can read a bit rough.

However one thing that could never be considered rough is the clean line work of series artist Ryan Kelly. Kelly is one of those artists that can create uniquely identifiable characters while at the same time making them look like actual human beings. Various ages and body shapes are all represented nicely, which makes his style very visually satisfying. He uses his line work to firmly cement us in reality so that when things get weird we really notice. But even so he does weirdness in such a way that it seems like it might be the most natural thing in the world. Kelly's ability to convey realism is used to great effect here, as the story sometimes requires the characters to visualize dream like surroundings, which has some creepy effect added thanks to Giulia Brusco's colors. A foundation in realism allows both the characters and the readers to wonder if the weirdness we're seeing is actually real or just a dream and adds onto the central mystery of the book. In particular there is a scene in issue three when Professor Kidd is walking down the halls of of the governor's mansion and comes across a woman in silver holding an orb. Strange to be sure especially considering no one but Kidd can see her, but the way Kelly constructs the scene it almost seems like the most normal thing in the world. It's only after a few seconds that we realize something might be a little off kilter with the rest of the book. The way the fantasy and delusion are portrayed allow them to come off like overlapping realities and the only reason we can't see it all is because we're just the teensiest bit out of step.

Although Saucer Country is a bit rough around the edges in these first three issues, it's also very apparent that this series has the potential to become something very interesting. The characters are solid even if the writing is still a little inconsistant, but there's a decent mystery at the heart of it. Out and out saying there are aliens could ultimately become a problem for this book in the future depending on how they play it, but for now the creative team is playing it just right. I have no doubt that the next few issues will be make or break for many readers, but if the series continues to improve and convey the ideas I think it's trying at, this book is poised to become a respectable gem of genre storytelling.

TL;DR: Saucer Country is science fiction mystery with political overtones that is still working out some kinks, but it has enough promise in its central premise and some truly stellar art that could make it a winning series in the long run.

Saucer Country is written by Paul Cornell with art by Ryan Kelly and published by Vertigo. Three issues have been published so far which you can find at your local comic shop or digitally.