I am new to Resident Alien and I already freaking love it.
Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse’s series from Dark Horse has a simple enough premise: An alien doctor crash-lands on Earth, takes the identity of a human doctor, solves the murder of the person he replaced, and then goes on to find himself wrapped up in more odd mysteries surrounding his small town.
And I have to admit, there are a few ways to take that premise, and “straightfaced and serious” is not one I ever thought I’d see. But with the premise largely disposed of after a paragraph on the title page of the comic, Hogan gets right to the good stuff, that being the life of a small-town alien doctor who loves a good mystery.
The Sam Hain Mystery begins with Doctor Harry Vanderspeigel, our dual-pupiled purple-skinned hero, going about his day. This first issue isn’t really heavy on plot, instead spending its time with Harry as he tends to the town’s sick, has lunch with his friends, and tries to get information on a new author he likes, Rex Monday. The knowledge that Rex Monday once lived somewhere in town sends Harry off on a quest to find anyone who knew the reclusive author.
I think what I like about this is that there are remarkably few pastoral mystery comics, and even fewer masquerading as sci-fi comics. While The Sam Hain Mystery may heat up in later volumes, it’s kind of novel to have Harry wandering around Patience looking for a long-dead author and checking up on patients with a bit of bedside wit. The story relies on its characters more than any kind of plot or mystery, and it creates a very comfy feel overall. Hogan’s writing creates an atmosphere in the town of Patience that is, while perhaps a little ominous on the edges, not in any hurry to get anywhere. It allows the town to sink in a little more. While the ending of the first issue deepens the mystery, the mystery isn’t as important as setting up the town.
What there is, however, is handled with a certain deadpan wit that makes it very palatable. The people of Patience have their own jokes and lives and foibles and all of it is just slightly edged with the good-natured snark of people who have lived their whole lives with each other and know just how much ribbing the other people can stand.
As much as I hate comparing things to other, past things, I have to say I enjoy the art, probably because it kind of satisfies my fixation with all things ’90s and Vertigo. Parkhouse’s linework also helps make things realistic, which I found helps sell the idea of an alien among humans. Even though Harry is supposedly under a human guise as the town’s doctor, the comic makes an effort so he doesn’t look completely out of place. I also appreciate the little visual touches, intentional or otherwise, like how the mayor of Patience looks a little like Ray Bradbury.
The use of colors is also fairly subtle, but still powerful. Parkhouse uses a muted palate, which makes Harry stand out a little more, and makes the cover of Harry’s novel, which will soon become the focus of the mystery plot, “pop” more. I also like that his design for Harry is subtle, rather than going for the obvious comedy of an out-there alien presence.
So in the end, you should definitely pick this one up. It’s the start of what looks to be another quirky mystery in a series that has a track record of such things, and new fans will have just enough to hold on to that it won’t be too hard to get into. Definitely give this one a try.
Full Disclosure: The reviewer received a copy of the comic for review
Fuller Disclosure: The reviewer is incredibly biased towards anything that reminds them of Vertigo or small press