Writer: Jack RB Kirby
Artist: Mat Barnett
Release Date: 15th November 2014 (Thought Bubble)
I reviewed the first issue of Alien in the Outfield all the way back in March ahead of its release at London Super Comic Con, and was impressed by the charm of the straightforward storytelling approach, as well as the obvious passion that creators Jack RB Kirby and Mat Barnett had for their project. Issue two is set to make its debut at Thought Bubble in two weeks’ time, so I naturally jumped at the opportunity to take a look at the latest instalment of this intergalactic all-ages romp. The story is centred around Joel, a lonely child who is bullied and tormented by his classmates, but who finds solace as part of the collection of ‘weirdos’ who make up school’s little league baseball team the ‘Roswell Rockets’. At the end of the last issue, grown-up Joel was midway through recounting the tale of his adventures with the titular alien to his young daughter, who is on the verge of quitting her own baseball team out of frustration.
The writing is a little sharper this time around, featuring several legitimately chuckle-worthy moments along the way, including geeky kid ‘Specs’ realisation about just why the Alien is so bad at playing Space Invaders. For the most part, Kirby keeps things simple, and rightfully so. This is a comic that does its best to have as broad an appeal as possible, and is one which younger readers are undoubtedly going to more out of than older ones. Once again Kirby manages to channel the likes of E.T. and The Goonies and their inherent spirit of enthusiasm and adventure, and it’s fairly telling that almost every youngster in the series recognises the Alien immediately with wide-eyed excitement, while the grown-ups remain blissfully ignorant.
Essentially, what we have here is a reasonable approximation of a Disney children’s movie, complete with intentionally cheesy storyline (of course the only way to signal the Alien’s rescue ship is to make it all the way to the Little League Championship game!) and cast of likeably goofy, if a little superficial, characters. Cynics will have a field day here, but at the same time, younger readers will definitely get a kick out the simple characters, slapstick humour and admittedly rather cool premise. A fugitive alien joining a kids baseball team? I mean, who doesn’t want to read about that?
Unfortunately, my same major niggle from the first issue is still very much present here – namely, the complete lack of colour. Barnett’s artwork is undeniably rough in places, which is something that can easily be forgiven in an all-ages comic, but the distinct lack of shading and colour gives the pages a flat, unfinished, almost bleak look that feels jarringly out of place in a light-hearted children’s romp about an alien playing baseball. Yes, the charming simplicity of his character designs are still there, but certain moments in this issue feel significantly diminished (“Whoa, his skin’s changing colour. He must be part chameleon or something!”) by the black and white visuals.
Overall however, and in spite of this criticism, there’s still a lot to like about the second instalment of Alien in the Outfield. Writer Kirby manages to throw in a few more nuggets for the older readers this time around (some of the Little League commentary team’s banter had me in stitches), and Barnett puts together some impressively eye-catching splash pages along the way. Once again though, Alien in the Outfield feels like something of a missed opportunity; a fantastic idea brought to life by two extremely passionate creators that just needs a little extra visual ‘oomph’ to turn it into something truly special.
Alien in the Outfield will be available at Thought Bubble on the 15th and 16th of November, priced just £3. You can catch up with Jack and Mat in the TB Teepee.