“The blackest storm I ever saw was coming in from Omaha”
Omaha Perez is one of the more interesting writers in comics – he’s not the best, but he’s certainly interesting. His books are peculiar and bizarre and usually pretty good, even though they have some flaws. This year he had two graphic novels published: The Drude: Hanging Out and Hung Up on the Line volume 1 and Super Terre.r. I figured I’d write about them both, because why not? Both of these books are published by Devil’s Due/First Comics, and The Drude is $15.99 while Super Terre.r is $17.99 (although it’s cheaper at the Amazon link below, hint, hint). I imagine the price difference is because Perez drew The Drude himself but he had to pay artists to draw Super Terre.r (they’re both about the same length, but I didn’t count the pages, so excuse me). Perez, as I noted, wrote both of them, and he penciled most of The Drude, with Manuel Martin providing pencil roughs for a few chapters. Greg Hinkle drew the first chapter of Super Terre.r, and then Tony Talbert (it’s a Tony Talbert sighting!) stepping in to finish the book.
Despite their obvious differences (The Drude takes place on Earth, Super Terre.r takes place on another planet), there are some interesting similarities between the two books. One is the idea of alien infestation, whether real or imagined, and how the protagonists deal with it. Linked to that is the idea of madness, as our hero in The Drude, Boris Drude, isn’t convinced he’s quite sane, while the astronauts of Super Terre.r have to deal with the fact that one or all of them might be going mad. Third, sex plays a bit part in both books. Because it’s also linked to aliens and madness, the sex is disturbing, which Perez seems to have a knack for – making something that looks fine and twisting it so it becomes something more horrifying. Boris has a girlfriend, Leena, who, it turns out, is a lesbian (she likes Drude, but not sexually, which begs the question of why she’s with him, but we’ll just let that go). But before we find that out, Perez makes their relationship just odd enough that it gets under our skin. Leena wears braces, which in itself is fine – adults wear braces all the time – but because we associate them with kids, it’s a bit icky. Then she goes off with reptilian aliens, which Boris knows are trying to take over the planet but which, of course, no one can see, and even though she goes willingly, the idea of snakes having sex with her is fundamentally uncomfortable. The last time we see Leena is when she finally accepts her sexuality, so she gets a happy ending (it’s only volume 1, of course, so who knows what might be in store for her), which is nice. But it’s still a weird part of the book, as Perez makes creepy what John Carpenter in They Live made funny – reptilian aliens having sex with humans is disturbing, and it makes Boris’s attempts to expose them more desperate and personal. In Super Terre.r, the astronauts have been in stasis for months, so when they land on the Edenic planet, their thoughts naturally turn to sex. Perez does a nice job keeping us on our toes with regard to the suspects – the book is a murder mystery – but sex is either a motive or a distraction for some victims, who aren’t paying attention because they’re banging and therefore get killed. The most disturbing image in the book, in fact, is linked to sex. It’s fascinating how Perez takes two similar yet distinctly different stories and links them through weird themes. It doesn’t mean you have to read both books to enjoy both, but when you do read both books, it’s neat how the align.
The Drude isn’t quite as good as Super Terre.r, for a few reasons. It’s weirder, but that’s not a criticism, because who doesn’t like weird comics? But too often it seems like Perez is just going for weirdness for its own sake, which is always a bit dicey. Drude has someone living in his closet, for instance, that makes no sense whatsoever, and while the person does come into play late in the volume, that doesn’t mean it’s a great idea to put him in the book. Perhaps we’ll learn more in volume 2, but for volume 1, it feels too random, like Perez just felt like doing this for no reason other than it would be bizarre. The plot is fine, but where in Super Terre.r the characters feel like they’re acting in a reasonable way (despite some of the crazy things they do, they seem reasonable to the characters), occasionally in The Drude we get characters acting oddly for no reason, and it makes the ones who act oddly for a good reason less bizarre, which doesn’t seem like the point (we want the odd characters to stand out, after all). In Super Terre.r, one astronaut – a former archaeologist – wants to study the native culture, which appears to be ancient and defunct, so he wanders off from the group even though there’s a killer on the loose. It’s odd, but it makes sense given his former profession. People are hiding things, but when we discover what, it makes their actions more understandable. Perez does a really nice job turning everyone into a suspect and showing how the pressure of crash-landing on an alien planet (the ship was sabotaged) could make people act strangely. The biggest problem with Super Terre.r is that the resolution comes so quickly – it seems like Perez was running out of pages, and he wrapped up due to that. The murderer is revealed, of course, but some crucial things – which I don’t want to give away – remain unresolved. Still, it’s a fine comic – Perez creates a real sense of tension and terror, as the astronauts get picked off and bizarre stuff keeps happening that may or may not have anything to do with the murders themselves. It makes the book more than just a murder mystery, while The Drude doesn’t really rise above a strange conspiracy. It’s not a bad strange conspiracy – it’s ridiculous, sure, but in the context of the book it’s fine – but that’s all it is. With Super Terre.r, the added element of possible native life forms lurking around makes the sense of dread even stronger, and it makes the book work better.
The art on Super Terre.r helps make the book more interesting, too. Perez drew most of The Drude, and his art (plus Martin’s roughs at the end, which feature thicker lines than Perez) is somewhat of an acquired taste. It’s rather blocky and stiff, but that also makes the weird stuff in the book have even a weirder edge, which makes it easier to accept all the strange stuff that’s going on. His reptilian aliens are freaky, standing out even among all the other strangeness, and Perez uses chunks of blacks really well to set a noir mood, which also helps ground the book a little. Perez gets the conspiratorial atmosphere down pretty well, and his use of Zip-A-Tone (or its computerized equivalent) enhances the art well, as it gives shading without being too rendered, which would not mesh well with Perez’s stark line work. Meanwhile, Hinkle and Talbert do a fine job with Super Terre.r. The biggest problem is that their styles aren’t really similar, so the shift from Hinkle’s more cartoony style to Talbert’s more realistic style is a bit jarring. It’s not awful because they’re both good artists, but it’s a bit odd. Hinkle sets a good mood for the book, showing the first murder and establishing the weirdness of the natives’ culture, which Talbert then runs with. Talbert turns Hinkle’s decrepit cities into something a bit more majestic (but still creepy) and a bit more alien-esque. Meanwhile, once Davies, the archaeologist, heads into the caves around the cities, Talbert really does a nice job showing the magnificence and terror of what he finds and how it begins to affect his mind. Talbert’s lines aren’t quite as crisp as Hinkle’s, so Hinkle’s high-tech stuff looks better, but Talbert does a wonderful job with the sensuous, tactile nature of the natives’ technology. Hinkle doesn’t have to delve into sex too much, but Talbert’s smoother, fuzzier line work makes the sex in the book dirtier and a bit creepier, which fits the tone well. I’m not sure what it would have been like with Hinkle drawing it (Hinkle draws sex well, but I’m not sure if it would have fit the tone as well as Talbert). So while it would have been nice to have one artist, it’s not exactly the worst thing in the world to have two artists as talented as Hinkle and Talbert working on the book.
If you have to pick one of these to get, Super Terre.r is probably the one to get. It’s more coherent, has a better story, better art, and Perez handles the themes more subtly and deftly. It’s not without its flaws, as I noted, but overall, it’s a good book. The Drude is weird and wacky, and will probably work better in hindsight as the story unfolds (I don’t know how many volumes Perez has planned), but it’s definitely not as good as Super Terre.r. Still, Perez is a fascinating comics creator, and while he doesn’t put out books too often (I think this is his third and fourth comics in 13 years), his work is never boring!
Rating (The Drude): ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Rating (Super Terre.r): ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆