“Deep State” #1 offers an intriguing riff on “The X-Files” that doesn’t quite outstrip its predecessors. As a tale of government intrigue and conspiracy theories come true, it doesn’t get nearly crazy enough, and as a story about two people, it doesn’t develop them deeply enough. I’m definitely drawn into this world and its lunar landing mystery, but the issue didn’t do quite as much as it needed to. It’s an efficiently scripted and remarkably well-drawn issue that could eventually unfold into a super-cool series. The hook just isn’t there yet.
Artist Ariela Kristantina and colorist Ben Wilsonham hit it out of the park with this one. I’m not usually a fan of sketchbook-style, roughly defined faces, such as those in “Deep State,” but Kristantina’s powerful use of viewpoint and perspective absolutely won me over. She’s a gifted visual storyteller whose panels add oomph to Justin Jordan’s script when it most needs it. “Deep State” #1 feels like a smarter and faster book as a result.
The opening sequence in particular had me hooked. The script provides caption-box narration on the nature of secrets and story, overlaying visuals of a slowly descending space shuttle, and the tone of the text is even-keeled and metaphysical. However, Kristantina and Wilsonham take the tone of the story from philosophical to frightening with one page turn. As the shuttle descends, it’s a blip of neatly arcing light over a twinkling, purple sky. As soon as it hits the atmosphere, though, Kristantina zooms in on its bulky, mechanical exterior and Wilsonham splays angry orange all over the panel. That sort of transition could have felt clunky and obvious, but with this creative team it’s smooth and menacing.
As impressed as I am with Kristantina and Wilsonham, they’re still working with an efficient, clever script. Justin Jordan writes his scenes with admirable restraint, focusing on the salient information and getting to the next plot point without waste. Though he doesn’t really rise above the genre tropes he’s working with, he also avoids their pitfalls. When Branch comes home and finds Harrow waiting in the dark on her couch, their interaction is unexpectedly calm — showing the reader how curious and adventurous Branch really is without tiresome exposition. She wants to know what the strange man in her house is going to do more than she wants to ensure her survival.
However, “curious” isn’t the only character trait a reader needs, and characterization is where “Deep State” #1 fails to fly. I don’t have a great sense of Branch’s motivations or history. (I also don’t understand Harrow’s, but that mystery is at least in line with the genre.) Since the plot in this issue is mostly setup, I felt the lack of a character to empathize with more acutely than I might going forward. I needed either more plot development or more character development, and I only got a bit of both.
“Deep State” #1 has me intrigued but not excited. It’s intelligent and undeniably well-done, but I’ll need to see more of this world and its characters to really fall in love.