“Saucer Country” is a series that launched with a huge amount of promise and originality, so it’s disappointing to get to the fourth issue and find it struggling. The series’ visuals remain nothing short of stunning, but it’s not hard to imagine that without an artist as abundantly talented as Ryan Kelly on board, the story would have lost its momentum completely by now.
Writer Paul Cornell has kept his cards close to his chest right from the opening issue, but at this point it’s stopped being intriguing and started to become frustrating. The narrative taps the same “was it real/are they crazy” vein of the previous three months, but again, no clarifying information is forthcoming. It’s starting to feel like it’ll never arrive.
It doesn’t help that the writing is faltering technically, as well. Characters aren’t given solid enough introductions month-to-month, and we’re shown multi-page flashbacks of events that might not have actually happened. The final page cliffhanger comes across more like the twist from a cheap daytime soap than a political conspiracy. It’s clear that this is some kind of fake-out, given what we just learned about the characters involved, but as a moment it’s too melodramatic to ring true, and that means the feint doesn’t work.
Although it’s arguably Cornell’s intention to follow a slow-burning, drawn-out arc, it’s probably a mistake to leave the readers with so little to latch onto. Rather than adding intrigue, the extra layers of complexity threaten to leave the plot incomprehensible, and the enjoyably weird tonal clashes of earlier issues have been replaced with b-movie campiness. Four months of the same conspiracy without any concrete answers is too long, and while it might work when collected as a trade, we can’t really forgive that — the title has to survive as an ongoing before those trades can be sold.
With only one more issue to go until the end of the current arc, we can be fairly sure that something’s going to happen in issue five, and then issue six is stand-alone, so it’s not like there isn’t a good reason to stick around — but Cornell might want to play things a little less coy in the future if he wants readers to stay the course beyond that.
It’s a shame, because there’s a lot to like here: the characterisation is good, there’s clearly a lot of thought placed in the plot, and Kelly’s visuals are worth the cover price alone — but it’s all adding up to a book that just doesn’t have the visceral punch it needs to make each issue feel satisfying. It’s as though Cornell has paced the comic as he would pace a weekly TV series, and ultimately, that’s too slow for monthly comics.