Friday , March 1 2024
Robinson & Elliot's s-f graphic novel dramedy.

Illegal Alien

The central figure of James Robinson & Phil Elliot’s Illegal Alien (Dark Horse) may look like a London gangster circa 1964. But, in reality, he’s not of this Earth. A bodiless visitor from another planet, the unnamed alien has been shot down by the American Air Force. Freed of the containment suit which his race has used for piloting their starships, the gaseous alien takes over the body of recently slain tough guy, Guido Palmano. In this form, “Guido” returns to his body’s native London – and the Notting Hill domicile of his cousin Tony Bardinelli and family.
Illegal Alien is a modest black-&-white graphic novel that puts its s-f premise to the service of more mundane domestic dramedy. The primary story emphasis is on the ways that New Guido influences a family of struggling Londoners, Tony’s son Dino, in particular. Because the revived gangster shows a capacity to listen and a miraculous inventiveness, he ingratiates himself into the Bardinelli family and ultimately helps each one. He alters, for example, the frequencies on the music box of Tony’s ice cream truck so that whoever hears it will immediately become hungry for ice cream. The results are so phenomenal that by the end of the book Tony is the owner of his own ice cream parlour. “Now that I have that,” Tony tells his still-skeptical wife, “our future is assured.” (Hey, it’s the mid-sixties – these are simpler times.)

Though government agents and mobsters hover on the story fringe, watching Guido and pondering what he’s up to, their presence proves more of a distraction than anything. When several of these outside agents clash alongside a Brighton Beach mods and rockers riot, Robinson & Elliot pull away so quickly that you’re not quite sure what happened to ’em. And though we’re given several scenes where the gangster responsible for Guido’s death is nonplussed by his resurrection, it never really leads anywhere. It’s not what Robinson’s interested in developing.
In the intro to Dark Horse’s reissue of this story (it originally was printed by the late lamented Kitchen Sink Press), the writer notes that he was trying for an Ealing Studios feel with this work. You can see this in the way Elliot renders the story’s gray urban setting (looks like something out of The Ladykillers), but I don’t think the creators capture the famous Brit comedy studio’s deft and idiosyncratic comic characterization. Elliot, in particular, seems more comfortable lavishing attention on architecture and setting than he does in creating distinctive people: a deadly problem when you’ve got a story that features lots of guys walking around in business suits. At times you can catch him taking from artists like Jaime Hernandez (particularly in panels featuring the Bardinelli women), but he doesn’t come close to matching Hernandez’s expressiveness.
In its casually cobbled way, though, Illegal Alien remains an appealing book. It captures its era – of emerging Britbeat and youth culture, of still-potent Cold War tensions – without pushing too hard, and it makes you care for its stranded hero. Trapped in a body he knows will soon betray him, he quietly enjoys the new experience he’s been given: “In the short time I’ve been here, I’ve touched and moulded and built,” he says. “I’m dying, but I’m happy.” Where so many mainstream s-f comics find their story in xenophobia or elaborately contsructed cosmology, Illegal Alien basically celebrates the simple joy of working with your hands. . .

About Bill Sherman

Bill Sherman is a Books editor for Blogcritics. With his lovely wife Rebecca Fox, he has co-authored a light-hearted fat acceptance romance entitled Measure By Measure.

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