Parents have been saying for generations that their teenage or adult kids aren’t like them, but there’s a very definitive reason for that in Eric Stephenson and Simon Gane’s “They’re Not Like Us” #1. The topic of younger people with unique abilities has been an oft-explored theme in just about any comic with an “X” in the title for the past fifty years, but these characters aren’t like them, either. There are no panicking mutants running through the streets, inadvertently terrorizing passers-by as their out-of-control powers blow up city buildings; instead, there’s the girl called Syd, who’s ready to end her life to in turn end the cacophony of voices in her head, after being misdiagnosed with mental issues over the years by her parents and doctors. In that regard, Syd is very much like many other misunderstood teens in the real world, and that kind of characterization is what makes Stephenson’s story fly.
“That girl is going to jump.” That’s the remarkably simple, direct and effective caption leading off the issue, in an equally direct and effective panel by Gane that shows only Syd’s feet on the edge of a high-rise roof overlooking a morbidly curious crowd. Her situation is established in that very first panel, and by the end of the second page Stephenson has readers sympathizing with her. The subsequent intervention introduces the issue’s second main character, who could be viewed as the Professor X/Magneto archetype for those looking to perpetuate any similarity to Marvel’s X-titles.
There’s really no comparison to be made, however; when the rest of the “team” is introduced, readers aren’t given an overly dramatic and splashy display of their special abilities. Instead, there’s one panel with a name and general description of their particular talent; this small series of whiffs whets the appetite for more, and it’s a smart tactic by Stephenson. Readers aren’t overwhelmed with a dozen characters showing off within the span of a few pages, but are given just enough reason to want to see more of them in upcoming issues.
Gane uses a very fine, detailed line style evocative of Geoff Darrow that heightens both the ugliness and the beauty of various scenes, as applicable. The hard and clinical look of a hospital room never looked so cold and sterile, just as the lush estate where this group of talented youngsters lives is beautifully luxurious. Colorist Jordie Bellaire enhances Gane’s detail with vivid color contrasts both inside and outside the mansion, while using less dissimilarity in the pale confines of the hospital. Gane also opens the story in dramatic fashion with larger panels overlaid with Stephenson’s efficiently worded narrative, which give way to smaller and more densely worded panels that establish the pace of the story for the remainder of the issue.
Outside of Syd, Stephenson’s characters are well-versed in their abilities and confidently live their lives above the law, without seeming like outright criminals. The subtlety of their natures gives them a sinister edge; much like the way Stephenson is saving the usage of their powers for future issues, he also holds back on revealing their outright personalities. Gane provides a notion with the characters’ facial expressions, which may or may not be indicative of what Stephenson has in store, further selling readers on sticking with the series based on this less-is-more approach. “They’re Not Like Us” #1 is definitely not like any other teenage mutant comic, and that’s what makes Stephenson and Gane’s issue so strong.