“They’re Not Like Us” Takes Teenage Superpowers Very Dark

Eric Stephenson (Nowhere Men) is the publisher who sits high atop Image helping to put out the best owner-created comics on the market today. For that he is forgiven for not responding to our request to be interviewed on his new series They’re Not Like Us with artist Simon Gane. We can only assume he was otherwise engaged redefining comics as we know them this week.

At first glance They’re Not Like Us is a typical comic book story. It involves a group of young people who have been gifted with extraordinary powers, mostly mental ones such as telepathy, some technopathy, clairvoyance, etc. As far as flash goes the book is very mild and standing just outside the realm of believability in real life.

It’s not the abilities that really matter in this book, though. A team of youngsters with superpowers is a trope going back to Doom Patrol and X-Men, if not earlier. There’s nothing really more to say simply on heroics. Which is good, because Stephenson isn’t saying anything on heroics here.

“So many comics over the past several decades have dealt with the positive aspect of super powers, with people gaining or being born with amazing abilities and then deciding to use them for the greater good. But as fun as that stuff is, it’s a myth, a lie,” said Stephenson in an interview on the Image website.

“People use their talents, whatever they may be, to get ahead in life. Typically, that results in people doing positive things in life—becoming a professional athlete, a scientist, a singer, a musician—but there are also people who realize they’re good at something and instead of applying their talents in a positive manner, go the other direction.”

That’s the world a young girl codenamed Syd wakes up to. She’d heard voices all her life through telepathy and it had led to nothing but shrink after shrink until she finally tried to end it through jumping off a building. She survived, and was hurried out of the hospital by the hands and talents of The Voice to meet the rest of his people with powers in a stately San Francisco home.

The Voice is where you get the chance to see how messed up the book is going to become. He’s not exactly amoral, really, but he is definitely into the idea of his group and the rest of the world being in different worlds.

They take things, not buy them. They don’t connect through technology. They dress in fine clothes to be invisible, and in general they never, ever consider the unpowered to be their equal. In short, they’re not like us.

In recent years it’s become more acceptable to have your main characters show the flaws that humans often magnify when we gain power, be it financial, physical, or institutional.

There’s been nothing like this, though. They’re Not Like Us is a bleak exploration of how you can have everything you’ve ever wanted, how you can literally open yourself to the minds of all the world and it might still turn you into something inhuman, the one percent embodied in hipster clothes and flashy talents forbidden to the commoners.

 

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