More intellectually curious than it is viscerally satisfying, Saucer Country (from Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly) continues in its eighth issue to pick away at great American myth-making. UFOs, aliens, and government cover-ups are on the brain, certainly, but Cornell and Kelly are just as interested, if not more so, in the completely normal politicking of an election cycle. As media savvy and cynical as us Americans think we are (“All politicians are the same”), we’ve shown more than ever (and more quickly than ever, thanks to Twitter and social media) how much the presented image of the world around us influences us more than the reality of it. This truth plays itself out repeatedly in The Reticulan Candidate, Part One, where Governor Arcadia Alvarado, her campaign staff (including her alcoholic ex-husband), and especially her main political rival seek to tightly control their chosen images when presenting themselves to the public.
The first page rather brilliantly establishes the theater of modern politics as the Governor appears to be engaging in a debate (very timely), trying to lay out her immigration reform policy while an off-page opponent fires back increasingly brazen talking points. Her reaction at the bottom of the page is natural, but damning, as her adviser Chloe says on the next page, revealing the first page as a practice run. Similarly, Arcadia’s ex, Michael, gives an interview expressing his full support to the woman who left him; while this is true, the manner in which he does so (repeatedly dropping Arcadia’s name as if he still has feelings for her) turns out to be completely prepared. Even the staff’s UFO expert, Kidd, presents himself as completely rational and sane, in spite of taking advice from apparitions who appear as the Pioneer 10 couple, when he converses with the Governor and another alien abductee (an elderly woman who may or may not have answers). This mechanic–the conflict between truth, advertisement, and deception–is used by Kelly to shift the reader’s perspective: the public face of campaigning on the first page giving way to the ruthlessness underneath, in turn segueing to the opponent’s public face, which is revealed to be another front when the perspective shifts to Kidd. Cornell and Kelly are essentially challenging the reader to reevaluate what has already been established on the previous page. It slips away from them a bit during the issue’s cliffhanger–due to jumping from pre-debate to a shocking development at the debate itself off-page–but the rest of the time it’s effective.
As reliant on the script side as this sort of plotting is (and Cornell offers some deep, biting satire here), Kelly’s art employs some interesting tricks of its own, and not just the subtlety of his facial expressions, with shades of Steve Dillon and Darick Robertson. What proves most interesting is his use of detail, or rather, the lack of it: the images that deal completely in the objective fact (or, “objective fact” in relation to the narrative) often show more details–various plants in a house, Michael’s unwritten journal, the furnishings in Arcadia’s office–whereas the ones dealing with the mindsets of the characters lack specificity (note the Pioneer 10 duo’s appearance exists about at the midpoint on this continuum). Late in the issue, Michael is seen having a drink with Arcadia’s private security team, only for the event to become conflated with memories and/or delusions of the titular Reticulans and ominous Men in Black. Much of the characters’ goals are about unraveling the real from the unreal regarding Michael and Arcadia’s abduction at the beginning of the series, and how vague details of what we consider “alien” might be used to conceal a far nastier truth, just as in real life. Ironic, given their own attempts to conceal this quest (for politically expedient reasons), and also a commentary on our own complicity in government corruption.
This smart, deconstructionist path serves Saucer Country well, for the most part, though often at the expense of emotional payoff. The title’s opening arc, Run, was often cold and confusing, as Colin Smith discusses here, and this issue is equally difficult, particularly with its final pages. However, its focus on the political and the social values underpinning the UFO myth, and how it’s used to divide and confuse us, makes for an engaging read.