I am a big fan of science fiction, but for the purposes of this review let me emphasize the word "fiction". I don't believe in UFOs and I find ludicrous the thought that we are constantly being secretly visited by extraterrestrials who completely avoid detection, if for no other reason than the governments of the world don't have the competence to pull off such a vast cover-up. I expect with a universe as vast as ours, there is certainly other life out there, but I tend to think of it more as single-celled organisms or a nice grey-green moss, perhaps. But an advanced civilization with interstellar capabilities and an interest in crop circles and anal probing? Not so much. But it's fun to imagine.
The new Devil's Due graphic novel Serpo purports to be a comics dramatization of real-life events as documented on the website Serpo.org. According to the conspiracy theorists there, Roswell New Mexico was indeed the crash site of a UFO in 1947, and one surviving alien was recovered from the wreckage. In this iteration of that old chestnut, the Greys are referred to as "Ebens" (short for extraterrestrial biological entity) and hail from Serpo, which is said to be a habitable planet in the Zeta Reticuli system. Messages sent back to Serpo from the crash survivor pave the way for a cultural exchange during which 12 American soldiers traveled to the alien world for over 10 years to learn about their people.
Like I said, I don't buy any of this for a second, but it's a perfectly fine premise for a work of fiction. Unfortunately creators Jason M. Burns and Joe Eisma come far short of hitting a home run on this one, it's more like an infield single. There's no one thing that ruins my enjoyment, but rather an accumulation of a lot of little nitpicks that add up.
The framing sequence of this story involves the very tired device of the intrepid reporter being run around in circles by a mystery informant. He gains access to the hush-hush journal of the supposed leader of the expedition (referred to as 102, since nobody involved can reveal their true identities), and almost immediately shadowy Men in Black are out to get him. Isn't this the easiest route to go and very stale by this point? We all know that the reporter will keep hitting brick walls, never find a credible witness, and won't be able to break this story so the whole world comes to know and believe. Sorry, did I just ruin the ending for ya?
The diary isn't even written that convincingly, it almost sounds like an invention rather than a credible artifact. For instance, one entry starts off like this: "July 21, 1965: Almost two years had passed between the initial introduction of the team to Project Crystal Knight and the day of the actual exchange." Wait, what does he mean "had passed"? If he's writing in a journal, wouldn't the entry be in the present tense, "have passed"? It sounds more like someone writing his memoirs from a much later date, as if Burns forgot what form his narrative was supposed to be taking. And why are the first few entries colored a uniform beige, and then for no reason the flashbacks are in color for the rest of the way?
By the way, the two year gap mentioned above points out another problem I had with the graphic novel: time just shoots by too fast. In less than 75 pages we must zip through nearly two decades of the narrator's experiences, making this at times seem more like a Cliffs Notes of a much more involved (and possibly rewarding) story. Very little of the characters beyond the two leads are fleshed out at all. The fact that there are just two women on the trip with many males is never even mentioned. No one hooks up or even gets knocked up during a 10 year mission? At one point Serpo is attacked by another race, but we never see them again or learn more about them. At the end of the first chapter, one angry member of the mission gets himself in hot water with the Eben lawmakers, but this is completely glossed over at the beginning of the next.
This character, called 203, is particularly egregious because he is so ridiculously insubordinate and untrustworthy. If I were a solider, I would be insulted that this character is even implied to have made it through training without washing out, let alone being picked for an elite team representing our entire race.
And ultimately, the Ebens really aren't all that interesting. They dress in boring robes and live in boring huts. Like humans, they have families, bury their dead underground, and play soccer. In short, I wish the aliens were more alien. I suppose the creators could try to argue that their hands were tied because that's what “really happened“, and that's what Grey culture is “really like“. If so, they would have been better off adapting some other first contact story; science fiction is just loaded with ‘em, most more deserving of a comic adaptation than this.
The art by Eisma is pretty good but rarely thrills. He seems at his strongest when he gets to draw weird creatures, like visiting aliens and escaped lab experiments. Other times, his storytelling is way too obvious, such as when 102 tells the others, "let's just hope none of us has to take the cyanide way out" and Eisma actually draws the leader taking out his cyanide capsule and holding it up for them to see, as if they otherwise won't understand what he's talking about. Overall, the art loses a lot of the detail and becomes more basic looking towards the end, as if he was taking his time early on but then later rushed for whatever reason.
Serpo is by no means bad, in fact I would say it's very-- competent. I suppose that's damning with faint praise, but really it's not like I threw the book down in disgust. Maybe I expect too much sometimes, but I was hoping for something a bit more original, imaginative and absorbing. I would give this book a 6.5.