Review – Strange Skies Over East Berlin #1 (BOOM! Studios)

Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Writer/Creator: Jeff Loveness
Illustrations: Lisandro Estherren
Colours: Patricio Delpeche
Letters: Steve Wands
Release Date: 2nd October 2019

1973. Stark words of a dark time delivered in monochrome splash. You’d have to be living under a rock to not see a bittersweet irony in the world being described, and the bold bright promise of the future that we currently live in. That’s not to say that Strange Skies is making any overt political statements here; I maybe just got more of a kick out of the intro than was intended.

It’s always a bit tricky to try and review a new series without giving away any spoilers that might detract from a reader’s enjoyment. It’s fair to say though that describing this as a political thriller with a sci-fi twist shouldn’t negatively impact anyone. The story focuses on a cold-war-weary intelligence agent; back in the days we called them spies. They want out and to be free of the never-ending cycle of conflict, lies, and death. However, just when they think they see said escape, they’re hit with one last job. The higher ups want them to investigate what the Russians know about a strange object that seemingly fell from the sky. Was it a weapon? A satellite? In any case, it’s a deliciously claustrophobic story with proper hair on end tension.

The pacing is excellent and pulls you into the web of intelligence and counter-intelligence with ease. The use of typewriter lettering for the monologing is a great touch which really help here to create a steady rhythm whilst fostering a connection with the plot. One is drawn to feel concern for the protagonist but there’s not much there to like. Cleverly playing on established tropes it’s easy to fall into the trap of pegging sides as the ‘goodies’ or ‘baddies’ but this could very easily be up-ended before we reach the conclusion.

Visually, there is a lot to impress but I must be honest that it took me while to warm to the overall style. The opening panels of East Berlin and subsequent cityscapes are fantastic. The colouring ramps up the evocative nature of secret liaisons whilst trying to evade the glare of streetlight or Stasi lamps. I’ve never been to Berlin, but it definitely captures what I ‘feel’ it would have looked like.

The characterisations, on the other hand, aren’t simple, but they did initially feel a little out of place. It’s almost as if they were too warming or disarming given what I felt the tone was trying to achieve. I think this also stood out more in the early panels given how striking and effective everything else was. That being said, the close-ups and cutaways, not to mention the climax of this issue, are wholly redeeming of any quibbles on my part.

Strange Skies is a captivating blend of thriller and horror. With touches of noir and a science-fiction punch that’s very much evident before the first issue concludes. Knowing little about this before picking it up, this is a new series which is certainly full of potential and one I’ll be keeping an eye on.

Rating: 3.5/5.


The writer of this piece was: Adam Brown
Adam Tweets from @brother_rooster

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