“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 was collected in print by IDW Publishing in 2015. It’s a tale of conspiracies, secret experiments, alien invasion and the desperate endeavours of one journalist to expose it all.
The story revolves around Norma Park, a young journalist just breaking into the big time. She 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.
This first volume of Strange Nation focuses on 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 with as many touching moments as there are outlandish action pieces. Even one or two of the sequences 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 a surprize; after all the readers are introduce to 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 deemed as a serious television show whereas this comic recognises and parades itself as a comedy. That’s not to say there aren’t dramatic elements or some brilliant character driven narrative because it has that, it just balances this out with some light hearted entertainment at the same time. Paul Allor understands that his comic doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom.
The character of 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 round her character out and clarify 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. The fact that the narrative doesn’t constantly refer to the history of the character was a wise move and stops an over-used cliché weighing down the story. 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.
There are plenty of other characters to fill the pages and Allor seems to revel in their creation and development. 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 on Norma when he believes that she has killed his close friend. 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 the little matter of being a Bigfoot.
And there’s also Dr Milo whose sole purpose is to explain everything that’s going on. He is nothing more than a narrative technique in humanoid form. Although this is a useful tool, the character is somewhat frustrating and on occasion grates against the narrative.
For the most part the art work is thrilling and there is a real sense of adventure on each page. There are a few inconsistencies and occasionally a panel or expression falls flat but this doesn’t happen enough to stop the readers’ enjoyment of the work. As a general rule 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. This leads the reader to believe that the number of clichés embedded into both the script and the art are tongue in cheek references instead of tired retreads.
In the eight issues collected in this book, the first chapter is the hardest to get through. It feels longer than it is but once the momentum starts this series 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.
This has been written for the fans of the X-files or Mars Attacks or the EC Comics line from the 50’s and 60’s (especially Weird Science). Strange Nation is fun, intriguing and has some great character driven action. Once you get passed, or simple accept the clichés, then there are many enjoyable pages to get through. As comics go it’s not the most original or technically outstanding but not everything has to be layered with meanings; sometimes it’s good to make entertainment for entertainments sake.
Strange Nation Volume 1
Published by IDW Publishing
Written by Paul Allor
Illustrated by Juan Romera