Whilce Portacio is one of those comic artists who seems to appear with no warning in the comics industry, and I've found that it's always worth a look when he surfaces. When he and writer Glen Brunswick announced "Non-Humans," a new four-issue mini-series, I probably would have picked it up even if the idea of a virus bringing inanimate objects to life hadn't appealed to me.
What I found in "Non-Humans" #1 was a book where it's deliberately light on exposition and lets the reader pick things up as the story rolls along. It's an interesting decision from Brunswick, who's explained more about the premise of "Non-Humans" in interviews than in #1 itself. Considering that the virus has been around for some time, though, it makes sense for people to not suddenly stop and begin talking about things that are common knowledge. It provides an air of mystery around the book as well, and lets Brunswick serve up a surprise or two in the early pages of the comic. In terms of world-building, "Non-Humans" #1 pulls together an interesting setting.
What doesn't work quite as well is the main character, Detective Oliver Aimes. My best guess is that Brunswick is trying to create a protagonist that's a bit of a hardass; what we get, though, is someone who's unlikable. Protagonists don't necessarily have to be nice people, but there's nothing about Detective Aimes that makes me want to read a story about him. He's someone who just smashes through everything around him in an arrogant and dismissive manner, but never exudes any sort of character trait that balances that out. I never found a hook that made me want to see what he does next, and that's frustrating. Even when he's assigned a new partner halfway through the issue, the character feels like a bit of a cipher as well. She's at least not out-and-out annoying the way that Aimes is, but once again there fails to be any sort of real hook, character-wise.
Portacio's art is in a strange middle-ground in "Non-Humans" #1. There aren't any huge flaws or problems, but at the same time a lot of what normally attracts me to Portacio's art is also absent. The normally-present fine detail is gone, and Portacio's interesting angles and viewpoints are also not present. This is very standard and by the book in terms of layouts and panel composition. The bits of future technology that we see are nicely rendered, though, and the scene of all the non-humans at the rally is the first time where I felt like we were getting something visually fun. Hopefully later issues will give Portacio more opportunities to serve up moments like that; he's able to bring the bizarre to life so well that having it absent feels like we're missing out on his potential.
"Non-Humans" #1 is an odd book. I love the world that Brunswick has created, and that we're learning about it in bits and pieces. Little details like the entertainment media that have vanished or the drugs meant to curb the virus spreading caught my attention instantly, and that's what I want to see more of. With an underwhelming protagonist and art that doesn't feel up to Portacio's full potential, though, it's a series that I can't yet get 100% behind. I'll come back for #2 though, if only to see what problems have been fixed and hopefully get more of what I liked. It's an interesting start, though, and that counts for a lot.