Alienated #1 Review: Familiar Themes Find New Life in Comics Form
Alienation in the digital age is a theme that has received more than sufficient attention, regardless of medium, over the past decade. Most of it can be summarized in an excellent gag from the final season of Bojack Horseman in which actors repeat the phrase, "I'm starting to think smartphones are actually making us less connected," in order to sound intelligent. It's the repetitive action of pointing to a problem without being able to describe or explore it. That's what I expected from Alienated #1 based upon its solicitation. However, the issue manages to deliver a story and style that are unique, even if its ability to comment on modern isolation remains unclear.
Alienated introduces readers to three Sams (Samuel, Samantha, and Samir), all of them teenagers attending a run-of-the-mill American high school and possessing easily identifiable personalities within that setting. There's an angry young man who's very online, a young woman seeking to escape both her hometown and past, and an overly friendly student facing a lot of discrimination with even more positivity. Brought together by incident, they discover an alien artifact that leaves their minds linked together.
It's the execution of this science-fiction twist that allows Alienated to rise above the familiarity of its high school setting and address of modern teendom. Each character is introduced in a few brief pages, establishing a rhythm to the issue with bold panels delivering each of their names, an effect that is repeated in how the school day is detailed. These introductions are just long enough for readers to pick up on a few key character elements before they converge on the series' core conceit. Everything that follows makes a strong argument for the power of lettering. Their thoughts are wonderfully aligned by the use of color, which when combined with such distinctive personality types makes it easy for readers to engage in mental interactions occurring across distinct settings and actions.
This is the sort of reading experience that could become easily muddled, but is delivered with crystalline clarity in Alienated. The process of discovery is blended with notes of humor and various introductions, providing a dual reading experience between the physical events of each panel and the newly discovered, mental landscape shared by the trio. It provides a reading experience unlike anything else on shelves this week and one that offers plenty of reason to pick up #2 to see how it continues to develop.
Grounding Alienated in character is a smart move, but it also limits how much space remains to explore the truly strange happenings of this small town. That is mitigated by Chris Wildgoose's design, both for the characters and their surrounding strangeness. Each individual is instantly distinctive and receives just enough detail that readers can understand more about their lives from a glass. This applies to their settings as well. What alien elements do exist on the page are all delivered with enough clarity to create a real hunger to see more. A few scattered symbols and a last page reveal both suggest a much more expansive conspiracy and are visually inviting. Even with just a taste, it's clear that the sci-fi components of Alienated will deliver satisfaction to dedicated genre fans.
Alienated #1 may not offer more than a superficial glance at the familiar themes of adolescence and digital isolation that it is preparing to address, but it provides an excellent introduction to its premise and the idiosyncratic comics storytelling that accompanies it. The character interactions and framing of this singularly weird day deliver an engrossing reading experience. Designs for both mundane and fantastic elements of the story ensure that those ideas are successful in execution as well. Wherever the mysteries of the plot and ambitions of the creators lie, Alienated #1 promises that the best is yet to come and earns more than sufficient credit to keep us reading throughout 2020.
Published by Boom Studios
On February 12, 2020
Written by Simon Spurrier
Art by Chris Wildgoose
Colors by André May
Letters by Jim Campbell
Cover by Chris Wildgoose