REVIEW: ‘Strange Nation’ #1

(Monkeybrain Comics, 2013)

Review by Brad Gischia

Written & Lettered by Paul Allor
Art by Juan Romera
Edited by Rob Anderson
Front-Cover Deisgn by Tim Daniel

…Spoilers abound…

We’ve all seen the photo of “batboy” the wide-eyed, pointy-toothed creature found in a cave in…wherever. Often we don’t think that there could be some truth to these stories. How far would you be willing to go to find the truth? What would you risk? Your job? Your safety? Norma Parks has taken on that very problem, and although the premise of the unknown and the hidden has become a fairly common theme in comics, Strange Nation from Monkeybrain has presented it at a new angle. Norma is a journalist, and has been recently fired from her mainstream job because she wanted to tell the truth about what she witnessed, and that truth is too unbelievable.

What exactly has she found? What could be so unusual that it would cost her a job? Perhaps…a woodsy cult ceremony? Perhaps a tribe of sasquatch-like creatures? Aliens? No. Add them together. That is what Norma Parks lost her job over, and what drives her to be a reporter for the grocery store rag, Strange Nation.

Flash forward to Norma on assignment, in a lab where she has uncovered a project that is studying Joe, a man with a chimps’ head. She gets an interview with him by sneaking into the lab, and Joe is ready to talk, mostly to relieve the boredom. They are discovered and she escapes, leaving him with the sad knowledge that he could have escaped. But as Joe says, “where would I go?”

Norma has a partner named Jesse Vernon, who wears a suspiciously familiar do, who is on assignment elsewhere. It would seem that whatever he is fighting a couple of masked assailants over; it is connected to Norma’s investigation of the DUMA group.

The issue ends with a revelation and a dinner party, neither of which bode well for Norma in the coming issue.

Writer Paul Allor has dropped us into the middle of an interesting story. How does one cope with a drastic change mid-life? How do you rebuild the career that you felt so confident in just days or moments before, when it is swept out from under you? She will also have to deal with the opinions of her parents, who care for her but can’t understand her desire to work for Strange Nation, seeing it as the tabloid it is. But Norma is a character that has decided inwardly that she will find the truth no matter what she has to do to get there. If it costs her a job that’s ok, she will find another.

Juan Romera did a wonderful job with this book. I enjoy the style. It reminded me in parts of Bruce Timm’s work, a way of shaping the forms that is not quite as exaggerated as Timm’s but with a familiar look at times. And the image of Joe recalled the Planet of the Apes movies, (the originals of course) that I love so much.

It will be interesting to what Norma will do as the stakes get higher. Will she be willing to risk her life? Probably. That of her family? We’ll have to keep our eyes peeled on Monkeybrain next month to find out. Strange Nation is definitely not a tabloid, but I’d be happy to pick it up in the supermarket checkout line.

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Follow Brad Gischia on Twitter:  @comicwasteland

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