Writer: Paul Cornell
Artist: Jimmy Broxton
After wrapping up the first arc of what promises to be a long ongoing story, this issue represents the first of a two issue break for series artist Ryan Kelly while Jimmy Broxton steps in and does a fantastic job of keeping the seat warm. In fitting with the vertigo model for longer serialized stories, this creative shift takes a break from the forward movement of the ongoing narrative to fill us in on some necessary exposition and backstory. I have always appreciated this approach to comics storytelling, though it is surprisingly not the norm across the medium. More often publishers seek to maintain publishing deadlines by using multiple artists per issue or dropping a different creative team into the mix mid-storyline which can often be disruptive to the reading experience. The indies, on the other hand, seem to favor taking a month or two off of publication while artists catch up, a strategy that is less harmful from an artistic standpoint, but can’t be great for sales. What I’m calling the Vertigo model, however, favors the use of fill in artists about every six issues or so in order to tell standalone stories that generally fill in background information or explore a secondary character. I find this effective on many levels. Most obviously, it allows schedules to be met while also preserving creative teams, but it also allows writers a designated place to dump some exposition, build the world of their narrative, or explore themes from a different angle, provided they are clever enough to do so in a format or structure that doesn’t feel draining, and considering the talent writing for Vertigo, that’s almost always the case. Often, these issues also make a good place for new readers to join on.
A downside to this approach, one could argue, is that readers unfamiliar with this strategy might find themselves scratching their heads, waiting for some of the seemingly neglected information to surface. Hopefully Saucer Country readers have stuck through the first five issues, because issue #6 clarifies the overarching concept that’s really necessary to gel this book and its several strands together. It does so by providing a cohesive history of the extraterrestrial mythology that Professor Kidd has dedicated his life to and in which Governor Arcadia and her presidential campaign team have become embroiled. Up until now we’ve been introduced to bits and pieces of this mythology and its implications through various pieces of dialogue, while Cornell has been able to rely on readers’ own pop-cultural understanding of U.F.O. theory to help carry us through the mucky bits. Thanks to this issue, and professor Kidd’s PowerPoint presentation entitled “A Field Guide to Flying Saucers,” we no longer have to trudge along on our own.
This is a relatively static issue, at least as far as physical movement is concerned, consisting mostly of still images representing various iterations of the alien mythology going back essentially to the dawn of recorded history. The issue is framed through a series of dialogue oriented scenes in a conference where Kidd delivers his presentation and is driven almost exclusively by Kidd’s narration, yet it is a compelling read cover to cover. Cornell draws us in through Kidd’s introductory words; though he is ostensibly addressing the Governor and her inner circle, he may as well be directly addressing the reader when he says: “Before we set out to find the truth behind some of the things we… I mean you… have experienced – I thought you might appreciate some deep background.” He goes on to give us the popular history of alien sightings from the book of Ezekiel and the medieval legends of fairies to Roswell, Whitley Strieber, Betty Hill, and more. Much of the raw material for this mythological history will be familiar to those who, like myself, have whiled away many a Sunday afternoon watching sensationalistic alien conspiracy specials on Discovery and History, but don’t expect to find the same insubstantial fanatical approach taken by the commentators on those specials in Saucer Country. Cornell takes a pseudo-literary historical approach to the abundant mythology. Kidd points out something that I have always felt when watching the aforementioned specials, that is, that interpreting these ideas as truth in and of themselves is unsatisfyingly simplistic, too obvious, while to dismiss such a massive cultural cache of evidence would be equally ridiculous. Consequently, the answer must lie in what Kidd can only articulate as “something else,” the only thing that’s clear is that “we” (as in humanity) are at the center of it.
Perhaps this story only resonates with a certain audience who share Cornell’s fascination with not just aliens, but with alien mythology as a field of study. It’s hard for me to say because I am clearly a member of that audience, and clearly enjoy the book. I can say that this issue finally provided me with a satisfying definition of the “unknown” element for this series, thus focusing the reading experience and making it more pleasurable in the process. That, being said – and bear with me because this is tough to articulate – it is the staggering amount of confusion that has to be navigated in order to get to the resolution that makes this concept compelling. Due to the content matter and the narrative structure of Saucer Country we can never be comfortable with what to believe, there is no stable narrative of reality on which we can lean and, as a result, we never know what to expect. I realize this can be maddening for some, but I find it a refreshing reading experience amidst a mainstream comic market that is either highly predictable, or unpredictable for no good reason.
Back to issue #6 and why it works – as I said, it’s a physically static issue, but there is movement – over time rather than through space. It focuses on the evolution of the myth across centuries and cultures. Cornell and Broxton use a few visual and narrative tricks to help liven up the static panels including a few nice uses of repeated visual patterns, emphasizing the idea of repetition and evolution regarding the mythology. Broxton varies his color palette and style to indicate transitions not only in setting, but mood and tone, while Cornell sneaks in some tongue in cheek dialog and absurd imagery during the various snapshots; for example, a military officer says to a grey, “It’s a deal son, you probe as many of them as you like!” This playfulness keeps us on our toes while the juvenile pulpy dialog draws attention to the messy meta-fictional nature of the subject matter.
I think Saucer Country resonates strongly because it comes from a very real place of sci-fi fandom. It feels personal and organic, not defined by a popular aesthetic; the politics and relationships support the science fiction element in the foreground, not the other way around. It may not be a perfect comic book, I don’t think it is, but it is certainly sincere and I think it would be hard not to feel that if you give it a chance. Issue # 6 is a good place to jump on board.