Review: They’re Not Like Us #1

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TNLU cover

Review: They’re Not Like Us #1
Publisher: Image Comics
Writer: Eric Stephenson
Art: Simon Gane

Image brings us They’re Not Like Us, a new title written by Eric Stephenson, the man behind science-fiction series Nowhere Men, and illustrated by up and coming artist Simon Gane. At a first glance, the premise They’re Not Like Us reads like a tired rehashing of X-Men – misunderstood girl with exceptional powers finds refuge and empowerment in a group of like-minded, gifted misfits, vigilante justice ensues. This new title, however, has the capacity to buck the trend and give readers a darker, more subversive spin on a familiar comic book trope.

The book opens with our protagonist Syd’s inner monologue detailing her inner monologue of turmoil as she contemplates committing suicide by jumping off a building. “Nobody believes me. Nobody knows,” she states between tears, revealing her alienation and her parents’ ostracising as a result of her telepathy, a condition from which she has suffered her whole life.

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A mysterious figure with token cigarette and brutal honesty attempts to bring her in from the ledge. Syd plummets from the building top but wakes up in a hospital room communicating with the mysterious man, named The Voice. He breaks her out and takes her to an X-Mansion-esque set up for fellow telepaths. We are introduced to the group, whose intentions and motivations are dubious and unclear. They may not be as benevolent as your average, spandex-clad superhero team.

The title alone immediately separates They’re Not Like Us from the superhero team trope, aside from creating a divide between the extraordinary characters from the banality of humanity. The book is rooted in reality, with Stephenson emphasising the isolation and alienation of being extraordinary as opposed to the “with great power comes great responsibility,” instant-superhero set-up. Even Gane’s stellar art work- reminiscent of Jamie Hewlett’s work for Gorillaz and Tank Girl– remains faithful to this idea of creating a distinctly human world with a group of super-humans. Gane’s preference for realism draws an increasing contrast They’re Not Like Us and regular superhero titles, which invites us to wonder what being born with powers like telepathy would really be like.

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In terms of plot, there isn’t too much in They’re Not Like Us that deviates from the typical structure of an origins story, especially in relation to the superhero team genre. We have an endearing, engaging protagonist in Syd, as well as a solid introduction of the host of telepaths joining her in whatever misadventures are to come. Stephenson effectively does not reveal too much in terms of the group’s individual powers and personalities, instead giving us a taste of each team member and allowing us to imagine what stupendous feats are up their sleeves.

The fact all team members are rooted in a similar power or category will hopefully give They’re Not Like Us a focus that is sometimes absent in superhero teams, with each character harnessing their shared telepathy in more specific and intriguing ways. Loog is especially interesting, exemplifying a post-human ability in which his telepathy works solely with computers as opposed to human beings. He has the capacity to become the post-human poster boy for a generation that communicates primarily through technology.

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The book’s conclusion, however, is pretty dramatic and indicates that They’re Not Like Us truly deviates from books like ­X-Men. The book has the potential to be dark and subversive; a refreshing take on what constitutes a hero, and what it takes to embrace who we really are.

They’re Not Like Us gives us a taste of what has the potential to be a compelling and original interpretation of the superhero genre. Less spandex, more dubious morals and outsider angst. Stephenson and Gane do a great job in introducing characters that will hopefully grow and develop as the series progresses.