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Published on August 19th, 2015 | by JCDoyle

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Strange Nation Review

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“I have the strength of a sasquatch and the brain of a Bond villain. What’s not to love?”

Originally on the digital platform MonkeyBrain Comics, Strange Nation gets its collected print release from IDW this week. It’s a tale of conspiracies, secret experiments, alien invasion and the desperate endeavours of one journalist to expose it all.

It all starts when Norma Park, a young journalist just breaking into the big time, stumbles across a strange cult that unbelievable is attacked by a mob of rampaging Sasquatch. The story is so ridiculous that nobody takes her seriously and her career as a serious journalist is all but over. However, something touched her that day and she knows what she saw. She becomes obsessed with the unusual and is drawn into some world shattering conspiracies.

Volume 1 revolves around Norma’s investigation of The Duma Group, a privately owned research firm that seems to produce nothing. After she infiltrates one of the secret labs she discovers that they have been experimenting on the brains of the Sasquatch, turning them into highly evolved and loyal slaves to the company.  The attempted release of one of these creatures, one called Joe, goes wrong but it puts Norma onto the right path, leading her deeper and deeper into the mysterious organisation.

Paul Allor writes an intriguing narrative that slowly unravels throughout this collected edition. There are many, many layers (like an onion) to the story and there are as many touching moments as there are outlandish action pieces. Even one or two that may bring a tear to your eye (also like an onion). The story does get increasingly more ridiculous as the page count increases but that’s not something that comes as a surprize; after all you meet a hoard of Sasquatch in the opening gambit. And to be honest some of the more unbelievable conspiracy elements are no worse than the later series of the X-Files and that was a serious television show whereas this comic recognises itself as a comedy from the get go. That’s not to say there aren’t dramatic elements or some brilliant character driven narrative because it has that, it’s just light hearted at the same time.

Strange Nation insert 1

Norma is the very definition of ‘determined’. She hits the floor running and doesn’t allow the Truth to be swept under the carpet even though it will make her life easier. She shares that aspect of her character with Mulder from the X-Files. There’s isn’t any length that she won’t go to to get the Truth out into a world that doesn’t seem to care. At times it feels that her determination is ruling her life but the interactions with her cohort, Jesse Vernon, and the relationship she has with her parents help to illustrate her obsession.

Speaking of Vernon, have we seen the use of an aged Elvis one to many times? (I can think of several examples off the top of my head) The comic alludes to the characters more famous history but doesn’t rely on it for most of the story. In fact you may wonder why it’s included at all but then a sequence at the end makes it all fit together. I think the fact they don’t constantly refer to the history of the character was a wise move, unless handled perfectly well it would become tiresome very quickly. Instead Vernon’s hopelessly lost character is a wonderful accompaniment to Norma; he was wasting his life, hiding away until she came a long and ruined it. Then, without a purpose, he tags along like a second rate guardian angel helping out where he can. Also, Vernon wears a shirt I wouldn’t be embarrassed to own: but I should be.

There are plenty of other characters to fill the pages. Most notably is Merc, the Sasquatch muscle for the Duma Group. He is a close friend of Joe (the origin of their friendship makes up the start of chapter 2) and seeks revenge when he believes that Norma has killed him. Obviously it’s not that simple and Merc almost becomes a loveable rouge. He makes reference to being a Bond villain and once he gets his eye-patch he’s not far off it; apart from being a Bigfoot.

And there’s also Dr Milo whose sole purpose is to explain everything that’s going on.

Strange Nation inset 2

For the most part the art work is thrilling and there is a real sense of adventure on each page. There are a few inconsistences and occasionally a panel or expression falls flat but this doesn’t happen enough to stop your enjoyment of the work; in fact Juan Romera’s facial work is on the whole very expressive. The design work reeks of early B-Movie’s and is all part of the charm as are the number of clichés embedded into both the script and the art.

In the eight issues collected in this book, the first is the hardest to get through. It feels longer than it is but once the momentum starts it doesn’t let up. And the final part finishes off this first story satisfactorily while at the same time setting the scene for a crazier second act.

If you enjoyed the X-files or Mars Attacks or a big fan of the EC Comics line (especially Weird Science) then Strange Nation is definitely going to be up your street. It’s fun, intriguing and has some great character driven action.

SN_TPBCover

Title: Strange Nation

Publisher: IDW Publishing

Writer: Paul Allor

Artist: Juan Romera

JCDoyle

JCDoyle

Lover of comics and Art and Sci-Fi in multiple media. Currently teaching my kids the ways of the Geek (while protecting my first editions)
JCDoyle

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