Alex Paknadel and Artyom Trakhanov marry the tropes of noir and science fiction in “Turncoat” #1. The first issue of this series brings its hard-boiled detectives not into a seedy criminal underbelly, but into the strange underworld of illegal alien hybrids. The sci-fi cop and the noir cop have long had tropes in common, so it’s no surprise that the two genres feel like a natural fit; what’s surprising is how fresh the combination feels. Trakhanov’s tumescent, vulnerable designs give this world a squicky body horror that I don’t often see in post-apocalypse science fiction, and Paknadel’s script has fun with noir dialogue without getting too cute. Combining slow, effective world building with a promising mystery, “Turncoat” #1 is definitely an intriguing start.
“Turncoat” takes place in a future Earth where, after 300 years of dominating the planet, alien colonizers have finally abandoned ship. The protagonist, Marta Gonzalez, was once a cop for the colonizers (known as “Management”), and now works as a private detective. Trakhanov draws a surreal, messy world for Marta to inhabit. The alien remnants aren’t skyscrapers or space ships; they’re organic. Hospital respirators look like squid tentacles, oxygen tanks have been replaced with slug-like sacs and the Bluetooth is now an ear slug. Everything turns off or unplugs with a “khack” or a “squee.” Not only does this artwork capture some wriggle-inducing body horror, but there’s a powerful metaphor for post-colonialism here. The aliens may be gone, but what they left behind is so difficult to get rid of because it’s now an ingrained, physical part of the human bodies. It’s not merely an external force anymore.
The world building in “Turncoat” is very gradual. Paknadel and Trakhanov avoid direct exposition whenever possible. For the careful reader, this is a plus, but it does demand close attention to the dialogue and context clues. I wouldn’t put this issue at my end of my read pile for the day.
As far as the dialogue, Marta often speaks like a ’40s P.I., with lines like “There’s enough beef in this bar to keep a Dallas steakhouse stocked for a month” and “Anything you say in this office is between you, me and the yogurt-based life-form in my fridge.” This pulpy, almost punny sensibility is balanced by the “ick” factor in Trakhanov’s drawings as well as a certain nihilism in Marta’s other dialogue. This is a tricky tone to juggle — light enough not to be depressing, serious enough not to feel hokey — but Paknadel is pulling it off so far.
Occasionally, it feels like the creative team is cramming too many ideas in here; for instance, the quote dropped on the last page felt extraneous and out-of-tone with the rest of the issue. Ambition is perhaps the most forgivable creative sin, but I did wish for a touch more pacing on the ideas front. The creators need to have faith the reader will be back.
All told, though, “Turncoat” #1 is a fascinating first issue that brings a new flavor of sci-fi to an admittedly crowded field. The creative team has established a premise that allows the reader to walk through the mad society of “Turncoat,” and I’m excited to see more of this world.