"Saucer Country" #1 by Ryan Kelly and Paul Cornell, is a new Vertigo series which merges science fiction and politics, telling the story of Governor Alvarado, a presidential hopeful who might just have been abducted by aliens -- and a fine story it is.
It's nearly impossible to read "Saucer Country" without getting the impression it's a TV pilot just waiting to happen: a light sci-fi (or is it?) premise combined with real-world political intrigue and possible conspiracies. It sounds instantly like the kind of high-concept, box-set oriented drama that has filled the schedules in recent years. This isn't necessarily a bad thing -- indeed, it speaks volumes about the strength and clarity of the opening issue that you can imagine it translating so completely to another medium.
The book delivers instantly-iconic characters and serves up a surprising range of tones. At times, it's deliberate and tense. At others, it's disarming and genuine. In one instance, it's outright disturbing. Even so, it shifts easily from one mood to the next, building up its story as it goes such that by the end of the issue, you'll know who the characters are and what they want. More than that, you'll have chosen a favorite -- the true sign of a story that's working.
Doubtlessly, "Saucer Country's" success is due to the combined and prodigious talents of Cornell and Kelly. The former imbues each cast member with a distinct voice, succinct background and clear motivations, while the latter brings them to life, not just in appearance, but in style and posture. There are few artists as gifted as Kelly in the industry and it's always gratifying to see him work on a series where his subtle genius can shine. It even helps that colorist Giulia Brusco knows how to complement Kelly's work perfectly, adding depth and lighting to his linework without once overpowering it.
It's possible that high concept -- X-Files meets The West Wing -- isn't necessarily one that excites you. In that case, it's worth pointing out there are a lot of ideas here helping the book transcend its single-line pitch. You could build a series around any one of its plot lines: A female, divorced politician trying to become President; a college professor whose belief in aliens has lost him his job (and possibly his mind); the possibility aliens might actually be invading. The fact that they're all rolled up together creates parallels and connections that enhance rather than obscure each storyline.
The only real criticism that can be levelled against "Saucer Country" #1 is that it ends too soon. Not for the story, but for the reader. A double-sized issue to kick the series off would have been perfect. As it is, there's plenty of intrigue and entertainment here to last until issue #2 -- let's just hope the wait isn't a long one.