By: Paul Cornell (story), Ryan Kelly (art), Giula Brusco (colors)

The Story: Even without the aliens, this is a very strange election we have going on.

The Review: I’ve often spoken about the dangers of using politics in comics.  If this election has taught us nothing else, that world is a complicated place, not always driven by what’s right or rational.  Even if you take your own personal philosophy out of the equation, the issues themselves have so many factors going into them that they can’t be easily discussed.  Comic book writers (e.g. Gray-Palmiotti) have no special virtue in this regard that I can discern.

In choosing a story that centers on a political candidate, Cornell has no choice but to wade neck-deep in that environment and hope his ambition doesn’t sink him.  I will say that an advantage he has (contra Gray-Palmiotti) is he actually has a nuanced perspective on the hot-button topics, as you can see in the opening mock debate.  Here, he plays both sides of the immigration issue with surprising accuracy.  Arcadia advocates for “—amnesty for all those immigrants in honest employment, already contributing to our society, but without the right to—”

Chloe (acting for the opposition): “So you’re giving a reward to those aliens [Oh, Chloe—you went there.] who snuck across the border?”

The debate comes off as credible not only because Cornell seems to transcribe the arguments from the real world, but also because they serve a useful function to the story.  It demonstrates all the characters’ political chops; it gives some color to their backgrounds and personalities; and it reveals how the underlying plot of the title (aliens in America) will infect the characters’ actions even when they’re not actively dealing with the extraterrestrial.

This issue marks the first real step forward into the election plotline as we get introduced to Arcadia’s primary rival for the Democratic nomination.  We have a very different, more human and mundane antagonist in the “twinkly poll-leading Senator James Kersey,” although he’ll prove annoying enough in the short run.  Though he appears ideally civil and gracious (“No, sir, no.  I won’t have name-calling.”), he’s not immune to weasel tactics that paints him as less genuine than he wants you to believe.

But there, are of course, other enemies worth more concern.  While the Bluebirds (via Astelle Johnson) decide to confront Arcadia head-on, albeit at an angle, you also have Dr. Glass and Major Abramowitz plotting in the background.  Yet before you even discover what their true plans are, the issue ends on a rather stunning note that may pre-empt any of their attempts to expose/attack Arcadia.

Or does it?  Cornell has done a bang-up job graying the lines between reality and myth, between what’s real and what’s imagined, between sense and delusion.  The things Professor Kidd sees should mark him as the most unreliable character of all, yet his constant, impossible learning of information that always proves true calls that into question.  This in turn makes you doubt how much of Michael’s own visions, which seem even more extreme and affecting than Kidd’s, have any substance to them.

Kelly has only grown stronger as the series progresses.  His figures look true to life without being creepily photo-realistic.  In fact, as you close in on their faces, they only take on more subtle expression, driving home the drama of the scene, making you believe all this stuff worthy of conspiracy nuts could be really happening.  I also particularly love the realistic depiction of settings.  Whether it’s a bar or conference room, you always get the feeling you yourself have been there before.

Conclusion: This is easily some of the most complex and layered material that Cornell has ever written, and it has all the potential to build into a real masterpiece.

Grade: A-

– Minhquan Nguyen

Some Musings: – Tut, tut, Sal Cipriano.  After what I said in Green Lantern #8, you once again switch up the attributions in speech between Dr. Glass and Major Abramowitz.  Anyone from DC editorial paying attention?

– “Feed your head, Michael.”  With that kind of ambiguity, you know it’s got to be crucially important to the story.