Pullbox Reviews: Stargazer #1- I’m not saying it’s aliens, but…

Years ago, Shae, her brother Kenny, and two childhood friends experienced a traumatic, unexplainable event that left Kenny scarred for life. Kenny commits himself to the belief that what they experienced was an alien abduction. Twenty years later and the friends have since drifted apart, but the sudden, mysterious disappearance of Kenny leads the group to reunite and discover the truth of what took place all those years ago.

Once again, I find myself shocked at the growing collection of titles coming out of Mad Cave Studios. It’s not a matter of numbers, but their relentless ambition to spread out across any and all genres. Kicking off their banner with the high fantasy adventure title (and still personal favorite) Battlecats, and the supernatural martial arts thriller Honor and Curse (close second), the “Cave Dwellers” made it plain that they were happy to leave superheroes to the other guys. Over the next few years, they kept rolling out new titles, stretching even farther outside of their wheelhouse to bring standouts like Over the Ropes (an open love letter to the shining days of professional wrestling which I’m loving) and Show’s End (a horror title that broke a number of rules).

There have been any number of movies, shows, and books tackling the subject of alien abduction. They’re usually piled high with victims proclaiming the injustices and indignities that have been committed on them, all falling on the deaf ears of a disbelieving world. Anthony Cleveland steers well clear of these well-used angles, instead turns the focus a bit. What if a group of children all experienced a strange blackout and were left with no memory of their shared experience? Except for one, a younger brother who shows every indication of suffering from some trauma and whose claims of abduction by aliens are disregarded as signs of a dissociative disorder. Meet Kenny, said younger brother, the only person who knows something happened to him, his sister and their friends, but he’s the only one who remembers the event and sees it for what it was. That knowledge has labeled him as troubled and left him regarded as a subject of pity at best. Cleveland does a really good job of laying out this groundwork, introducing a pretty complex outline for his story, and keeping it all entertaining for readers. It’s pretty impressive for a writer who doesn’t have big action sequences to break up the talky bits.

Equally impressive considering the lack of explosions and fighting robots, the artistic team of Antonio Fuso, Stefano Simeone, and Justin Birch have made sure the visuals do their share of the work. Fuso’s job was to establish the look of a world based in the real. With that he succeeded. He also established the passage of time, as the story starts out in 1999 and then jumps to the present. With a focus on Kenny and his older sister Shae, Fuso ages them for the 21 year leap and keeps them easily recognizable as adults. That might not sound like a huge thing, but how many times have you been watching a movie and been taken out of the story by the simple fact that an adult version of a character looked nothing like the child from a previous scene (seriously, are we all just supposed to ignore that the kid had green eyes while adult’s are brown?)? Hey, I for one appreciate the attention to detail, Antonio.

Stefano Simeone is given the job of adding color to Fuso’s pages, and his approach is pretty cool. Each scene is given a base color palette, in a wash that looks like it might’ve been done in water colors. Then as details are added, Simeone’s work highlights focal points on the page. It’s a simple style that goes along great with both Cleveland’s story and Fuso’s illustrations.

Finally, Justin Birch is plugging away. His letters are given no real heavy lifting to do in this issue. It isn’t a superhero book, there are no “WHUMPS” or a single “ZZZZAP” to be found. Still, the most important job of a letterer, and it’s the one that’s very often overlooked, is to give voice to the characters without influencing them. Birch, simply put, lays out Cleveland’s script without overshadowing or interfering with Fuso’s pictures. In a story that’s mostly dialogue, not carried by the action, getting the lettering right would be a major hurdle.

Fans of shows and movies like The X-Files and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (or Fire in the Sky, if you wanna go for the deep dive) are going to get their due, compliments of the Cave. Where many previous titles have been heavy on the action, Stargazer is going in a different direction to tell its story. This is yet another departure from their own established formula to deliver something new, making it clear that Mad Cave Studios defines their own status quo… and then kicks is square in the nards. With a release date of May 06, you’ve got plenty of time to get those orders in!

Final Score: 9.5

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