By: Paul Cornell (story), Ryan Kelly (art), Giulia Brusco (colors)
The Story: You decide—man who may be an alien or woman abducted by aliens?
The Review: This is the big downside of serial fiction: if it manages to get some momentum, having it suddenly halt almost guarantees a major derailment that leaves the plot in smoking, broken heaps on the ground. The best thing that can happen in these cases is if the story’s near some kind of end anyway and can semi-neatly wrap up. The worst-case scenario is for the creators to give up and phone in the rest of the series. And who can blame them, really?
What usually winds up happening lands somewhere on the middle ground: the story will desperately try to jump ahead to what should have been its long-term conclusion, squeezing in every last plot thread it can along the way. In most instances, this well-intentioned move usually results in a haphazard, rushed, and implausible jumble that has almost no chance in satisfying anyone. In the hands of a skilled storyteller with experience in the art of forced resolutions, the result is usually just rushed.
If you’re going to foist a hasty ending on someone, it might as well be Cornell. This is a man whose runs tend to max out at thirteen issues anyway, and he’s got plenty of writing chops to spare. He stretches every technical ability at his disposal here, managing to deliver an issue that on the surface appears to be remaining calm and calculated while in reality is furiously trying to hit every last beat it possibly can. For example, you have to admire that despite the impending axe, Cornell still takes the time to continue his usually astute political commentary.*
Unfortunately, it’s blatantly obvious that Cornell’s been forced to speed things up quite a bit. Two issues ago, we were still playing around at the Democratic primary. Now, we’re right on the eve of Election Day. It’s as if Cornell has simply skipped ahead a few arcs to a more appropriate spot in his three-year plan for the series.
All of a sudden, there’s several major new developments you have to wrap your head around, like Kidd’s boot from Arcadia’s inner circle. It’s shocking that the reveal of his Pioneer couple delusions and the circle’s reaction to it would be treated in flashback, totally undermining the impact of the scene. Then you have this sudden bit of romantic interest between Michael and Chloe (when Michael admits he’d rather he and Arcadia remain just “great friends,” Chloe shifts her glasses and hair with an ambiguous, “Oh—cool. So…”). Then you have Astelle Johnson of the Bluebirds coming out of the wood work to approach the Arcadia campaign directly, wooing them with promises “about hard facts.”
And we haven’t even gotten to the really big twists just yet. It’s impossible to comment on Senator Kersey’s recollection of his own extraterrestrial experiences, as it offers yet another iteration of what Kidd calls the UFO “monomyth” and opens another avenue of conspiracy for the plot—quite a daring luxury at this stage of the series. As for Kidd himself, you have to wonder if we’ll ever get a straight answer on whether his visions have any basis in reality or are completely hallucinatory. Even the Pioneer couple shows cracks in their usual confidence: “This is just a…a blip! She’ll decide to hear you out. After all you’ve done for her, she has to!”
Despite the impending end, Kelly does not shirk his duties one bit, delivering just as detailed and powerful art as he ever did. I just love his settings. When he draws the Vote counting Center in Houston, Texas, you immediately recognize it as the interior of a high school gym without ever once being told; it’s the many small details: the championship banners hanging near the rafters, the basketball score placard, the piping across the ceiling. And Brusco’s vibrant colors makes every inch of the issue pop. Yup—I will definitely miss the art when it’s all over.
Conclusion: With so much to wrap up, there’s really nothing Cornell can do to give us the ending we want from the series, but he makes a valiant effort anyway.
– Minhquan Nguyen
Some Musings: * “Americans are all underdogs now. They’ve all got a ‘people.’ They’re all afraid of ‘those in charge of us.’” Well put. Figures it’d take a non-American to put it so simply, succinctly, and accurately.