COMIC REVIEW: Unit 44 (Collected)

Selling a comic book collection on the idea of a US government agency, Area 51 and aliens sounds tough. Surely all angles have been covered and there’s nothing left but re-fried cliché? Welcome then to Unit 44. Green skinned extra-terrestrials invading Earth? Check. Inept agents in black suits and skinny ties? Check. Rednecks with low IQ who blunder into something much bigger than they’d ever imagined? Check. Black as night humour and an unashamed sense of joy? Well that’s new, but check.

This sci-fi/comedy romp (serialized March-June 2015) tells the story of inept Area 51 employees who forget to pay the rent on the facility’s off-site storage unit, leaving the secret contents to be sold to a pair of backwoods rednecks at public auction.

This is the collected edition of Unit 44 which brings together 4 issues of the sci-fi comedy featuring Agents Gibson and Hatch. It was written by Wes Locher (The Undoubtables), who also letters the book, and drawn and coloured by Eduardo Jiménez (also known as Ed!). The story begins unlike most alien invasion tales when it transpires that the agents have forgotten to pay the rent on an off-site storage unit belonging to the Area 51 agency. The secret contents are sold to the aforementioned rednecks (Chester and Ike) at public auction. Gibson and Hatch, after being shouted at by their boss, must retrieve the missing items. Because, well that would be telling…just enjoy the ride.

Unit 44 contains some of the wittiest dialogue this side of Joss Whedon. All the characters have some great lines, especially Hatch and his finger in his ear, and the lunatic Lance Albright and his regrets. Hatch and Gibson have a fantastically complex relationship which works well. The interrogation of Chester and Ike is brilliantly done, especially with the line about the large, powerful guns. Even the descriptive narrative lines are cheeky at times. There are loads of amusing cultural references to spot. The plot is fairly straight forward, with a couple of nice additions: the flashback sequence to Roswell is executed very well in line drawings and sepia, and puts a slightly different twist on events to come. Locher has an obvious talent for comedy and has a dark take on violence and guns.

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My only gripe is exasperated by the quality of the drawn characters. The agents and the rednecks look terrifically quirky. Hatch is the muscle with the enormous neck while Gibson has awesome hair and a line in nonchalant postures. However, it is the introduction of Lindsay that irks; she really didn’t need drawing with a figure like that!

Other than that, the art is bright, bold and sometimes garish, but fits the tone of the story. There’s plenty of cartoon violence too. There’s some interesting panelling and simple but lovely backgrounds. The overall feel that Jiménez brings with his art is one of pure sci-fi comic-book bliss. Everything turned up to ‘whack’!

This collected edition also contains a couple of pages from the Conspiritor’s Gazette, and some pretty nice character art by other artists.

Locher and Jiménez have created a joyful take on the old chestnut of Men in Black, Area 51 and alien invasion that is worth any comic-book fan or sci-fi fan’s time. They’ve spun all the clichés on their head a dipped them in the blackest humour. Terrific fun to look at and to read.

Title: Unit 44

Publisher: Unit 44

Rating: 4/5

Reviewer: Ian J Simpson

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