Those of you who follow me on Twitter probably get the impression I’m a dark, moody edgelord that hates sunshine, flowers, and everything happy. That I’m a heartless monster who revels in pain, suffering, blood, guts, disturbing sex, and shitposting. Your first impression of me is spot on! I am easier to read than the cheap paperback horror novels I have stacked in piles all over my bedroom. That said, I do have a spot deep in my black heart for nice things. You know, on occasion.
Which brings us today to Illegal Alien #1, a self-published sci-fi comic written by Paul Axel and art by Megan Fits. In the year 2216, humanity has managed to survive the negative impacts of global warming and managed to somewhat get their act together. In the urban paradise of Caracas, Venezuela, Juan Bruni lives a comfortable life without want. Life is so good that childhood is an extended point in a person’s life. Juan is in his 20s, yet it’s not seen as weird that he still lives with his loving parents. However, Juan wants more. He dreams of taking part in the Mars colonization program developed by the UNASUR. Even though anyone can apply, there seems to be a bias to more high profile candidates: celebrities, scientists, sports stars, etc. The stakes are against Juan, but he is determined to go to Mars anyway he can.
Illegal Alien #1 is a sci-fi less in the likes of Star Trek and more A Scanner Darkly. What I mean by that is that there’s enough sci-fi elements to denote it’s in the future, but not so over-the-top that it feels completely alien. It’s more realistic in its estimations of how sciency the world will be two hundred years from now. There are no flying cars, but there are holographic screens. We haven’t made contact with a galaxy beyond our own, but we are able to fly to Mars. This latter part is the primary science focused on right now, even though there isn’t a lot of explanation for exactly how people manage to fly to and colonize Mars. As someone who doesn’t read a lot of sci-fi, I’m fine with this down-to-earth approach of the genre. It doesn’t alienate me with a bunch of tech babble. Not that I would mind tech babble, but some hard science fiction has a bad habit of flooding page after page with the stuff. It makes for good science, but not so much for a story.
Illegal Alien #1 is a sci-fi story focused more on using the trademarks of its genre to elevate the story, it’s setting, and the characters. The world envisioned here is an optimistic one. Fitts demonstrates this through a series of wide and establishing shots showing off the colorful city of Caracas. There are no signs of poverty, homelessness, crime, pollution, or other social injustices all too common in the present day. Instead, the streets are bright and clean. There is vegetation everywhere, no sign of smog. The buildings are intricate in design, yet made environmentally sustainable. Everyone has fresh clothes, hologram TVs and smartphones. There are no talks of social unrest. They all seem to be genuinely happy. Fitts expertly visualizes how happy the world is, and Axel gives her art the necessary room to express itself without caption after caption of exposition getting in the way.
Axel succeeds equally in writing his characters. Much of the story focuses on Juan and his parents. I identified deeply with Juan Bruni and his struggle to follow his dreams. Many of us aren’t signing up for space programs, but it’s not uncommon for young people to have big dreams, not because they’re unhappy with their home life, but they want to see more of the world. Of course, dreams wouldn’t be dreams without obstacles, and Juan faces many. One of them comes from his parents, specifically his dad who thinks that the Mars program is rigged to only accept the most high-profile applicants. I like how he’s cast as not doubting Juan, just the system. However, this still leads to conflict. It comes naturally with parents and their children sometimes. It’s the old struggle of dream-filled youth vs. realistic-thinking adults. At the end though, it’s obvious they still care about each other. I like seeing this dynamic because it’s not often shown with fathers and sons. It’s always just hostility and not something deeper. I appreciate Axel fleshing out their relationship as such.
I can’t say the same thing for Juan’s mom. She barely has a speaking role. She kind of just hangs there in the background. I was disappointed by this because she should playing just as significant a role as Juan’s dad. I especially felt disappointed because it seems like limiting a woman’s role like this is such an advanced future is counter-intuitive. You would think that with advanced technology, sustainable energy, healthcare and food provided for all, and the many other utopian aspects, Illegal Alien’s world would also have a lot better gender politics. Although, I’m judging too far ahead. Maybe there is more to come in issue #2.
One last thing I’ll mention is the world-building. As I said before, I love that Axel and Fitts do most of the world-building via visuals and dialogue, not tons of exposition captions. It makes for more organic world-building, trusting the reader to be smart enough to imagine how the world came to be as it is. That said, some parts were still unclear, in particular the UNASUR. What is it? How does it have the funding for such a grand space program as Mars colonization? Is it exclusive to Venezuela or an international organization? For such a big, important story concept, UNASUR could have had more exposition. It didn’t have to be exposition caps either. Maybe an approach like Watchmen where after the comic story, a piece of prose set up as a news article or passage from a nonfiction book could fill in the massive blank spots of the in-universe history. Just a suggestion, really. It didn’t hurt my overall enjoyment of the issue.
Right now, Illegal Alien #1 is a lot of set up and not much drama. I’m still waiting for issue #2 to see if the story really gears up. That said, the first issue is very promising. It has an optimistic sci-fi setting with relatable characters and themes that should connect to a young audience. It allows the world-building to be told visually without bogging down the pace with heavy exposition. This might not be a comic for hardcore sci-fi fans, but for casual readers or first time sci-fi readers, it’s a great first step. I’ll be excited to see where this story goes, and see both the world and characters evolve.
DISCLAIMER: A copy of the issue was provided to the reviewer by Paul Axel. At this time, Illegal Alien #1 is not up for sale or pre-order, but you can follow both creators on Twitter for updates.
Paul Axel’s Twitter: https://twitter.com/PJAxel17
Axel’s website: https://www.paxelcomics.com/
Megan Fitts’ Twitter: https://twitter.com/arty_mf
Fitts’ website: https://www.megan-fitts.com/