No doubt, you’ve seen this story done before: secret government base that’s holding an alien prisoner until some random human gets involved, preaches about freedom, and, next thing you know, it’s jail break time. After breaking free, the government sends agents after the boy and the alien and wacky hijinks ensue. Oh yeah, and there’s a love interest of some kind. You’ve got to have one of those. It’s an old standard, but in the hands of Chris Ryall and Ben Templesmith, it seems fresh and new, examined from a different perspective, one a bit more off-beat and cynical.
The third issue of “Groom Lake” mostly details the escape of Karl Bauer, Anita, and Archibald the alien in a flying saucer and the pursuit of the secret government organization that was housing Archie — of course, using aircraft Archie helped build and design. The ensuing chase is a mishmash of one-liners punctuated by the cigarette-smoking, easy-going alien at the wheel.
Now, one of the biggest (if not the biggest) draws of “Groom Lake” is the art of Ben Templesmith who, as you can see in the preview pages, is in excellent form. So much of the tone of the book is communicated through Templesmith’s dark, frenetic art. The whole world has a seedy feeling that immediately distinguishes this book from the campy, family-friendly, heartwarming expectations of the story of a boy and his friendly alien pal on the run from the big bad government. Something as simple as Karl throwing up, Archie constantly with a cigarette in his mouth, or the two pathetic empathy aliens along for the ride make this book stand out visually. The dark coloring tones also add to that impression as, even inside the flying saucer, things are dark and creepy.
Ryall’s writing matches the art wonderfully with some hilarious lines thrown in, most notably the laid back tone of Archie’s speech. He is the friendly alien pal, speaking in pleasant tones, but often about things like destroying aircraft or leaving the human race to die a horrible death. Karl’s panicked tones act as a good counterbalance with Anita somewhere in the middle, more aloof and sarcastic.
The book’s general tone is aloof and sarcastic with Ryall using captions judiciously to describe the alien enthusiasts at the beginning of the issue with mocking phrases, or using repetition for humor. When we first see the aircraft sent to bring back the flying saucer, captions describe the three types, the first two described as “don’t officially exist” with the third type described, “Definitely don’t exist. But cost a shit-ton to build.” It’s little winks to the reader like that that make the book fun.
“Groom Lake” is a funny, cynical book that may tell a story we’ve all read before, but in a different way thanks to Chris Ryall and Ben Templesmith’s off-beat sensibilities.