One of the tests of how well a story is told, particularly one told over multiple, decade-long instalments, is how easily you can leap into a later episode and still not only know what’s going on but what the characters mean to each other and how this world, so well known to long-time readers but all-new to you, functions.
In all those respects, and then some, Alien Resident, newly birthed as a TV series on syfy, succeeds brilliantly, telling a rich standalone story in “Your Ride’s Here” that weaves in backstory and long-established character lore so seamlessly that you barely notice the exposition nipping at your narrative heels.
It helps, of course, that there is a pithy series-setting intro at the start of each issue, which proves particularly helpful when you see the protagonist, an alien stranded on Earth known to his people as Hah-Re but known to the people of Patience, Washington as Doctor Harry Vanderspiegle, seemingly appearing in all his purple extraterrestrial glory to everyone around him.
Is this a stumbling block to the reader, such as this reviewer, who has dropped into the series unaware that “Your Ride’s Here” is in fact the sixth instalment in the series by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse (writing and art respectively)?
Not in the slightest.
While it is entirely possible that Harry is such good friends with everyone around him, and he does appear to be well-loved and a stand-up decent guy, the kind of doctor you want in your small friendly U.S. Northwest town, that they long ago got over the fact that he’s bald and pointy eared, it becomes quickly clear that Harry appears human to them but helpfully alien to us.
It’s not simply the easy flow of the first few scenes that establishes this; it emerges that Harry has just returned from a trip to New York City (volume 5 – An Alien in New York) and while we know that the Big Apple is famously accepting, like most cities of strangers and weirdos in its midst, it’s highly unlikely someone as distinctively different as Harry could travel there and back and do business in the metropolis without someone picking up on his alien visage.
It’s immensely clever storytelling to have Harry stand out to us as obviously alien while being clearly human to his friends, a well-judged strategy that continues on through the book that combines the warmhearted small town inclusivity of Murder, She Wrote with the sleuthing fun of The Hardy Boys (though a more adult, more PG version, thank you) and some darker X-Files-type themes that suggest a being in turmoil.
Harry, who is one of the nicest people you will ever meet from any planet, wants to go home and is waiting, like E.T., for a ride back home, but he also loves being on Earth, and he is inordinately fond of the people he has come to know as almost-family, especially Asta Twelvetrees and her father Dan who known who he really is (there should always be someone in on the secret) who help solve small crimes in the town, two of which weave themselves in and around some big choices for Harry.
It’s this mix of existential fish out of water and yet not angst, mystery solving and rich, interpersonal relationships that makes Resident Alien such pleasurable, compelling reading.
In fact, so likably nice is Harry and in fact Resident Alien, and yet so strong and muscular in its storytelling, that it well and truly puts paid to the idea having a nice guy in a lovely town doing good things makes for a boring narrative.
The opposite is actually true.
Because Harry is so nice, and the town is so lovely, you want to stay there and be with them – and, incidentally, order all the back issues by any and all means necessary and watch the TV series ASAP if not sooner – and bear witness to whatever comes along in their world.
Maybe there is an air of ’70s/’80s it’ll-be-all-right-in-the-end drama but in a modern plague-stained age where everything feels endlessly undone, it feels reassuring to have a setting where you know good things will happen even if bad things keep throwing themselves into the mix, things so scarily bad at times that you wonder if the characters will come out the other side okay.
You suspect they will because it’s that kind of story but again this is not even remotely a weakness.
Rather it adds a strength to Resident Alien which gets to go to some dark and intense places precisely because it is springing all its narratives, at least the one in “Your Ride’s Here”, off a solid and comfortingly human place.
And yes, the “human” part applies very much to Harry, possibly even more so because in the time he has spent on our planet following his shipwrecking, he has become the very best of us – a nurturing caring man of integrity who wants the very best of everything for everyone and who is quickly realising that we are a people who may have issues aplenty but who also have a lot worth recommending.
It’s not clear in this instalment if Harry is the lead for any kind of invasion force – it seems not given what happens in the final issue of this instalment but you never know given some of his comments at one point – but it’s clear he has well and truly joined Team Human, a decision which makes its presence sacrificially present in the final act where some big and important things go down and the placing of Harry’s loyalties is no longer an academic exercise.
Hogan and Parkhouse have created something very special in Resident Alien.
While Harry is likably, caringly intense as a protagonist, he is surrounded by the warmth and whimsy of a phalanx of funny, whimsical, quirky small town coworkers and friends, all of whom come together to create a world you want to be in and stay in for as long as possible.
Which is handy for the two creators because it means you’ll stick around for some clever sleuthing, possible romance, a slew of big moments and the heart-affirming rhythm of life in a town which is literally millions of light years away from where Harry once was but precisely where he wants to be right now, and where, because the world is created just so and the stories told just right, you very much want to be too.