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Comic Review: ‘They’re Not Like Us, Vol. 1: Black Holes for the Young’ TPB

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theyrenotlikeus-coverImagine Xavier’s School for Gifted Youngsters, only this time it’s run by Magneto. Give the characters, setting, and art a nice indie vibe, and you’ve got They’re Not Like Us. Here’s Image’s summary:

Eisner-nominated NOWHERE MEN writer ERIC STEPHENSON teams up with red-hot artist SIMON GANE for an all-new ongoing series! We all have advantages over one another, but what if you were capable of things most of us can only imagine? What would you do – and who would you be? A doctor? An athlete? A soldier? A hero? Everyone has to make a choice about how to use the abilities they’re born with… but they’re not like us. Collects THEY’RE NOT LIKE US #1-6.

As my analogy and the description suggest, the young men and women of TNLU have super-powers. But that’s only part of it. The real story is in the choices they make and have made in the past in response to a world, and specifically parents, who have misunderstood and thus mistreated them. Telepathy is the power our protagonist Syd has, except she’s spent her life thinking she’s crazy, schizophrenic or something similar. At the start of the book, she’s ready to step off the roof of a building to silence the voices. But that’s when The Voice finds her and brings her into a world where people like her have made a life for themselves despite the cruelty inflicted on them by the “normals” who should have shown them love.

Most comics about super-powers and superhero teams have clear moral lines to divide the hero from the villain. Those with super-powers choose early on which side they’ll be–will they stop crime, connect with others, and foster love; or will they perpetrate crime, divide people into us and them, and seed destruction? That’s an all too easy dichotomy for TNLU, where the lines of good and bad flex and bend. Tyranny comes from parents, society, but also allies.

The characters of TNLU aren’t always likable. In fact, Stephenson keeps us from fully connecting with them in the interest of exploring the complexities and nuances of their relationships, sometimes sickly and co-dependent, and their choices, sometimes moral and immoral in the same stroke. However, as we come to understand the backgrounds of Syd, The Voice, and others, we gain sympathy for the lives they’ve come to. The psychological exploration of these characters is at the heart of the story.

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Simon Gane’s art is rough around the edges, a little like a wood cut, emphasizing the grittier nature of this version of the superhero team. It’s not beautiful, but its interesting, and the style fits the story.

Though They’re Not Like Us explores the dark underbelly of both “villains” and “heroes,” by the end of the volume, it is reaching towards light. Although the first issue left me cold, by issue three I was fully engaged, and the end left me wondering where the next steps would take these lost super-souls.

RECOMMENDED MUSICAL PAIRING: The Kills’ “U.R.A Fever”

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Author: Erin Perry

I'm a high school English teacher specializing in AP Literature and Film Analysis. I'm interested in most things geeky, including superheroes, vampires, zombies, teen culture, postmodern philosophy, pop culture analysis, and combinations of the aforementioned. Follow me on Twitter @eriuperry.

One thought on “Comic Review: ‘They’re Not Like Us, Vol. 1: Black Holes for the Young’ TPB

  1. Great review. I agree, this is a really strong book, both in writing and art. The degree of moral complexity is pretty unique in ‘superhero’ books too and really underpins the brilliance of the character work.

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