I love being genuinely surprised and how rarely it happens these days. I don’t mean surprised in the Paranormal Activity sense of surprise, where it’s quiet for a moment and then there’s a loud bang and then it gets quiet again (until the next loud bang). I mean genuinely surprised, I mean end of Usual Suspects surprised. The surprised I felt at about the halfway mark in Chronicle where I realized that the movie I thought was a superhero origin story was…something else entirely. That’s the experience of Nowhere Men. You think it’s one way but it’s not. It’s something else entirely.
I thought I was reading a comic like (the criminally underloved) Greatest Hits, more of a dramatic story of science and drama. I didn’t realize I was reading the goddamn modern comics Watchmen. I’m serious here, not being hyperbolic or silly. When you read actual issues of Watchmen you feel it, being connected to this big “thing”, it’s an immersive experience, it doesn’t feel like reading a comic book. That’s Nowhere Men all over. It doesn’t feel like you’re reading “just a comic book”, it feels like something else entirely.
This story is layered so beautifully, like some kind of baffling, yet pretty mathematical formula that any number of characters within the story could play with. I am going out of my mind waiting to meet modern Thomas Walker. This story has told so, so much but in such clever and inventive ways. There is never any dull exposition scenes, where someone is a new recruit somewhere and gets a tour or characters say things like “You’re my brother man, like my actual brother, of course I’ll get you a cheese burger, just like Dad would’ve, before his accident.”
The comic has literally no fat on it. The story starts on the inside front cover and goes until the inside back, with no ads! And it costs $2.99. That’s unbelievable. And is just another feather in Image’s hat, considering that between Nowhere Men, Manhattan Projects and Saga they’re easily publishing the best sci-fi comics in the field today.
This story manages to walk this amazingly fine line between humor and horror, especially #4 where the first pages are the results of a science magazine reader’s poll so there’s lists of inventions with names like “Serious Black Stealth Paint” or “Hand Fon” right before pages of body horror out of Cronenberg’s acid nightmares. Like John Carpenter and Ridley Scott got drunk while reading Fantastic Four comics in a black hole. Because Nowhere Men is some goddamn grown up science fiction for adults. Even though it’s rated Teen, it’s a story so elegantly crafted and so richly layered that you really need to be looking for something more than mindless entertainment. If you want that I’m pretty sure DC has like 50 something titles worth of it. 53? Always forgetting that.
The cast is so grand the story threads are endless and a total joy to follow. One slight criticism is that sometimes some of the plainer characters are hard to tell apart, a lot of guys have short black hair and wear similar suits and have regular names. So sometimes it takes a moment to remember exactly which short black haired guy in a suit is yelling at who.
But that’s it, and that’s barely a fault. If anything it’s a plus! (?)
Also every issue contains little pieces of this fictional world, in this month’s a selection from a book (from the world of the story) “Science Friction” and the aforementioned reader’s survey. Other times it’s been interviews with various characters from various points in their careers. It’s not just reading the drawn comic pages, but there’s so much more that makes the story feel real and whole. It’s one of those comics that truly utilizes the infinite versatility of the form.
This comic taps into that spirit of fun that’s missing from so many comics from the corporate dungeons. This comic breathes with dark energy like Fatale drips with it. That’s what people who trade wait miss out on, that feeling of watching something being born, getting it while it’s raw, reading it alive. Nowhere Men is a comic that makes you feel alive, albeit in a horrifying, “Oh god, oh god, we’re all gonna die” way, but still. It’s science fiction, it’s drama, it’s horror, it’s cheap, it’s new, it’s really goddamn good and you should be reading it.