Eric Stephenson and Nate Bellegarde started out very strong with Nowhere Men #1, the Image book that posited that science is the new rock and roll, and introduced us to "the Fab Four" of the field – Emerson Strange, Dade Ellis, Simon Grimshaw and Thomas Walker. The Beatles as super-scientists is a great hook, but with the second issue, it's very clear that this series won't be limited to that particular allegory.
Some time has passed, and Nowhere Men #2 picks up with an older Strange pondering the fate of the twelve people quarantined on the secret space station of World Corp, the company he built with his rock star friends – none of which stand with him now. Walker was a big-thinker and drug enthusiast who left early, Grimshaw was a ruthless businessman who saw little use in the founding ideals, and now Ellis is in some sort of secret coma. As we've seen previously, Strange and Ellis were the moral fiber of the group, and now the ethical question of whether or not to help the people they've put in danger at the risk of ruining everything they've built is a quandary that rests heavily on Strange's shoulders. And his advisor, one Darrow Fletcher, is secretly in the employ of Grimshaw, who is apparently feeling vengeful towards his former partner.
Then, as we look in on the quarantined, the picture of what's going on here starts to become clear. Last issue saw Ellis and Strange reacting badly to Grimshaw's 'crazy space-rock gorilla monster' project, and given the mutations happening to the crew of the World Corp space station, the two are likely connected. Grimshaw mutating a gorilla into an unstoppable quartz-beast has to tie in with all of these people growing in weird ways – an experimental superhumanity virus, most likely. While for some people like Kurt, it's turned him into a wheelchair-bound mass of scar tissue. For others, like Nick, he can apparently become incorporeal when threatened. But these changes have all happened without any guidance or explanation, so they've been left to their own devices – and one of them is a teleportation gate created by Pierce – nicknamed Dan Abnormal. It's the way they've found to take the decision about their rescue out of Strange's hands – if it works. That crucial point is something the "paraoid idiot" Burnett flips out about, believing they're being sent to their doom… and when his funky swollen throat suddenly turns into a neck-laser, everyone is forced to pay attention to his rants and ravings.
As the plot of Nowhere Men starts to become clearer, there's a bit of concern that the 'super-secret science experiment to make super-people going horribly wrong' notion might be a little trite at this point, but there's no doubt that Stephenson is presenting it in a very compelling way, and he's certainly not spoon-feeding us anything. Bellegarde's artwork really drives home how disturbing and unpleasant actual human mutation would be – you have to get a gross, disgusting goiter-neck in order to get a crazy neck laser.
These first two issues have been so well-crafted and intriguing, though, that I doubt that somewhat-overused genre element is going to be a hinderance at all. We have no idea what happened to the people who made it through the warp gate, or to those left behind on the space station when things went kablooey. We have no idea what's going on with Ellis' coma, where the hell Walker is, or what ugliness Grimshaw has planned. All this did was give us a touchstone to hold onto while exploring some really captivating new ideas. Calling it now: Nowhere Men is going to be the Saga of 2013 – the book all your cool friends tell you you should be reading.