Well, whaddya know — sometimes those three-and four-page previews they run in the back of comics actually work.
Case in point : the new Aftershock Comics series The Normals is probably not something I would have picked up from my LCS shelves armed with little to no foreknowledge about it. Its writer and creator, Adam Glass, is not somebody I’m terribly familiar with beyond some vague awareness of the fact that he’s a “Hollywood guy” (specifically he’s currently employed as an executive producer on one of the numerous Criminal Minds shows) and that he’s the brains behind the Rough Riders series (and its recently-published sequel) which, rightly or wrongly, strikes me as being more or less a League Of Extraordinary Gentlemen rip-off featuring historical, rather than literary, personages; artist Dennis Calero is a name I vaguely recall seeing credited elsewhere from time to time but I couldn’t tell you specifically where; and colorist Adriano Augusto? Gotta confess, I’ve never even heard of him before. But hey, one of those aforementioned previews was included in some other Aftershock titles a couple of months back, I read it, and I thought to myself “hey, this seems pretty good, I think I’ll give at least the first issue a go.”
That being said, somewhere along the way I think I forgot all about it again, but when I saw the striking cover by Juan Doe (who’s getting a lot of work at Aftershock these days, which is reason enough to follow this publisher’s output) staring back at me from the new release racks last Wednesday, I was like “oh yeah –,” and took the plunge. Turns out that was a pretty good move.
Glass relates the story of the hopelessly, well, normal Jack and Mary Normal via means of wildly effective and at times even disarmingly charming first-person narration, and does so in broad- and appealing- enough strokes to rope you in more or less immediately with a minimum of fuss or muss. In fairly short order, a standard-issue (no surprise there) household accident reveals something quite disturbing about their son, and soon the three of them, plus their typically (of course) quasi-rebellious teenage daughter are packing into the family sedan (what else?) and heading for their former hometown looking for answers about just what the heck is going on — but “what’s happening to us?” is a pretty basic and easy question compared to “who are we, anyway?,” and by the time this first chapter ends, that’s exactly what our protagonists are wondering.
I really like Dennis Calero’s art on this book — it’s as pedestrian as it needs to be, but just sketchy and ill-defined enough in places to drive home a sense of false complacency and equally false reality. Everything looks like it should, sure, but it’s incomplete. It’s sketchy. It’s not all there — and Adriano Augusto, for his part, amplifies this low-key sense of unease with bold and gutsy coloring choices that completely “blank out” faces with rich, dark shadow at just the right points and juxtapose these mysterious images with plenty of brightly-lit, everyday suburban sunshine when the script and line art call for that, as well. I said earlier I’d never heard of this guy — well, now his is a name that I’ll be following for sure.
One knock I feel obligated to draw attention to, though, is the cliffhanger — once you get a reasonably solid handle on what’s going on you’ll see that there are only a couple of places the story can really go, and it definitely goes in one of them, but even though he leaves things on an obviously surprising (there’s any oxymoron for you, I know) note, I don’t think Glass has shown us all his cards yet by any stretch. Besides — even if The Normals turns out to have a bit of a “been there, done that” vibe to its “mind-fuck” premise, it’s well-enough executed on every level to keep readers intrigued. If it turns out that we’ve seen this all before, fair enough — but we don’t usually see it done this well, and as long as future installments maintain the same standard of quality on display in this one, I’ll be sticking around for more.