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Review: Nowhere Men #4

Science is the new rock and roll, but the big stars can flame out just as badly in either field.

Nowhere Men #4

 

I am truly digging this book.

There's something about Eric Stephenson and Nate Bellegarde's Nowhere Men that is striking the perfect balance between the perspectives of the outsider and the insider. For every time we check into the real, troubled lives of the megastar celebrity science masters of the hugely popular World Corp, we also get a magazine article or a book excerpt or even simple airport-style advertisements showing us the public face of the company that masks the personal human issues and dark secrets within it. All of that is helping to build the tension over what is going to happen to Emerson Strange, Dade Ellis, Simon Grimshaw and Thomas Walker once all that gets out in the open. If it does.

The Big Secret (likely not the ONLY secret, naturally) is that World Corp has had their own secret space station, wherein they were running an experiment with 12 unwitting volunteers testing what is apparently an airborne virus that may or may not successfully mutate them into what we comic nerds would call superhumans, but most of those doing the mutating would call horrifying freaks of nature. They all just thought they'd had some strange disease and that they'd be left to die up there, so they rigged up a way to escape that resulted in being scattered around the globe and the destruction of the station.

You've got Kurt McManus, whose body became one unsightly giant scab after another, so much so that it enveloped him in a mass of unmoving flesh, only recently realizing it was actually a coccoon, and he emerged from it as a huge red monster with super strength. Kind of cool, but very much inhuman at this point. On the flipside, there's Susan Queen, whose girlfriend Holly was shot in the stomach, and whose skin seems to have decayed so much that it left her looking a lot like a ghoulish Mike Mignola drawing – and then, in Nowhere Men #4, she suddenly explodes into a mass of black goo – thankfully, still stuck in a containment suit. Mutations in this much more realistic world aren't the cool X-Men kind where suddenly you can shoot lasers and fly – they are nauseating, slow-moving, drastic and entirely unclear. Just ask Raymond Douglas, author of a tell-all book about World Corp, who seems to have contracted the virus after discovering the wreckage of the space station, as evidenced by his coughing up a chunk of lung and tooth on the flight home. Yeah, we see that. Yeah, it's gross.

Stephenson seems well aware that human bodies are grody fleshy sacks of guts, and Bellegarde does not shy away from rendering them that way. Queen's goo-splosion is wretched and creepy, and Kurt eating his gooey coccoon-stuffs for nourishment is also icky. The realism of this medical misery gives this whole story a lot more weight than your average super-mutant story – there's no street violence or vigilanteism or anything close to that. It's just confused, frightened but intelligent people finding out they are changing – and it's entirely possible that Dade Ellis has gone through a similar metamorphosis, as he wakes up after a long illness with the ability to "tell you secrets I don't even know." He's somehow aware of what happened to the space station and that the crew is still allive, and he's clear that there's a race to find them all before they are discovered by Grimshaw, the ethically-challenged ex-partner who spearheaded this initiative in the first place, and whose minion, one lawyer named Darrow Fletcher, is working to completely undermine World Corp.

Nothing about Nowhere Men is traditional or linear. It jumps around in time and space, occasionally greets us with walls of text, and there are no ads – the pages that look like ads are actually magazine clippings and the like from this world. The first pages of Nowhere Men #4 are an excerpt from The Science Chronicle's 30th Annual Readers Poll of the greatest eggheads in various categories, and how much Strange and the original Fab Four of World Corp dominate the public mindset. Stephenson is great at fleshing out his world – and sometimes fleshing out his characters literally, given the gunk we see on Douglas' napkin after he coughs into it. There's no predicting what's going to happen next in this book, and that makes it completely fascinating.

Nowhere Men respects the intelligence of the readers, and it's taking us to places that feel brand new. There's nothing not to dig about that. Catch it now while it's still ramping up.

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