It’s refreshing to have to think. Truly. Eric Stephenson’s ‘Nowhere Men’ is a book predicated on this very fact. Given the short pitch of “a book about rockstar scientists…”, I was drawn in not only by the concept but the brilliantly beautiful design work from Fonografiks. Once the book itself was opened… out poured a tale that pitter-patters across the pages like a Grant Morrison spatter-painting having sex with rusty barnacles shaved off of Alan Moore’s beard while Jonathan Hickman juggles weightless orbs in the corner. Naked. And I say that fully comprehending how odd that sounds. Trust me though, kiddos. It’s the god’s honest truth. It’s a marvelous truth.
Issue 3 continues the time-jumping / character-driven / who-knows-what’s-going-on’ing direction the previous issues got started. As far as I know, this is what you should know: 4 scientists back in the 60′s get regarded as ‘The Beatles’ once did in terms of fame and recognition. Because science somehow becomes ‘hip’ they end up launching a company, World Corp, and it’s a boon to existence as we know it. Jump years later, and everything is a mess. World Corp is run by only 1 of the fab-four (Dr. Strange… no relation to Stephen). One of the members has gone off the reservation, so-to-speak, and is in whereabouts unknown. Another, Simon Grimshaw, is at odds with Strange, and has formed a different company. The last, Dade, withers away in a hospital bed… succumbing to a virus or some other form of malady most likely World Corp related.
Parallel to all of that, a space-station of infected World Corp workers (some scientists, others… I’m honestly unsure of) faced eminent doom back in issues 1 and 2. By 3, they have teleported themselves back to Earth; but not in the same place, and in some cases… not in human form.
Specific to issue 3, we catch up with the newly transported infected space station crew. One of them has become an inhuman monster. He’s completely in charge of his faculties though, and perhaps one of the funniest moments of the series so far happens when he has the chance to hurl a hippy bus through a factory wall. “I’ve transformed into something way cooler than I was before.” he exclaims. And he’s right. He looks like Hellboy and Abe Sapien’s lovechild. It’s tres chic. Elsewhere, a journalist comes across some debris of the space station, and by issue’s end appears possibly to be infected. It’s not clear. And elsewhere still, Strange visits a now less-unconscious Dade, and asks for help. And that about wraps up all that actually happens in the issue. Confused? Me too.
Suffice to say, much like my gripe with “The Answer”, Nowhere Men chooses to jump from story point to story point. Unlike Mike Norton’s punctual epic though, Stephenson’s ‘Men seems to be purposefully squirrely in what and how it shows its hand. It’s both a positive and a negative to me. As with any indie flick, or album you’ve not heard before… there’s a warm-up period where one tries to get the verve of the narrative. With a jittery timeline, a wealth of extra prose at the ends of the issues, and a ‘Lost-esque’ sense of mystery about itself, I’m much like Schrodinger’s cat; I am both in love and in hate with the book. I love that the story is a mental challenge. It dares you with too many characters, speaking on too many historical plot points, moving towards ends we don’t even comprehend at the time we’re reading. And with that in mind, I hate the book too. Three issues in, and I don’t know if I know anything more about where we’re headed or not.
Specific to Stephenson’s scripting: he’s good. He balances characters’ voices well, and delivers a wide array of personalities throughout. He’s also in touch with his inner scientist (or perhaps he’s watched enough Big Bang Theory to fake it), and plays well with smart characters being smart. As I’ve noted above, he’s in love with playing things close to the chest. I commend him for it. Truth be told, he knows when to show them. He knows when to fold them too. Just as one grows weary from conversations that feel like you’re eavesdropping on discussions you don’t have a clue about… he tosses you a bone with a quip or an action beat. It’s literary stick-and-carrot. Given his lengthy pedigree at Image, none of this comes as a surprise.
Artistically, Nate Bellegarde delivers a quintessential indie experience. While he seemingly owns only 1 pen, he at very least knows how to wield it well. His characters are all unique (which given the sheer size of the cast is a feat in and of itself), and they emote wonderfully. And when it’s time to get funky? Bellegarde really shines. Here’s a fella that could dump himself off between issues of Transmetropolitan and Top 10 with ease. Amongst the numerous locales, with packs of roving cyber hippies, aloof super scientists living in tranquility, and space stations filled with infected potential super psychics and monsters? Bellegarde heartily delivers on every page. While I might casually suggest he take a class on line variation in the future… amongst folks like Chris Burnham and Geoff Darrow, Bellegarde is well within his rights to stick to the .03 micron, and take the checks to the bank.
Ultimately Nowhere Men is a fantastic find. From the eye catching cover design work and “in-universe” ad pages, to the actual presentation of the story… the book is a universe unto itself. Fans of Dr. Who, Star Trek, Event Horizon, and the Guyver need apply. Eric Stephenson is delivering something no one else is touching right now. Do yourself a favor: turn off the Taylor Swift, crack open the series, and be prepared to leave the capes at the door. Nowhere Men is immersive, crazy, and may end up stealing the show from Image’s other amazing series. Or it’ll rewrite time, and we’ll never know.