Why you should be reading 'It Girl and the Atomics'

A few months ago, I wrote about how much I was enjoying Jamie S. Rich and Mike Norton's It Girl and the Atomics. I dinged it on characterization, but now that I've had a couple of more issues with the characters, I need to walk that back a little. I still want to know more about It Girl, but Rich and Norton are working on that each month. I was hasty in wanting to know everything about her in the first four issues. Guess that's just how much I dig her.

I'm not here to talk about character development, though; I'm here to talk about fill-in issues, specifically It Girl #6. Fill-in issues are a fact of life with monthly comics, especially these days as artists work more meticulously than they used to. But even back in the day you'd run into an issue where the regular story would take a break while the editor ran something out of his rainy-day files. Now, fill-ins are better planned. And if they're planned well enough, they're just as enjoyable as the main series.

I admit that I wasn't looking forward to It Girl #6. My impatience with getting to know the characters was showing and I didn't want to zoom out into space to see what was up with the drummer of Madman's space band. I wanted the next It Girl adventure, damn it, and Rich and guest-artist Chynna Clugston Flores were going to have to convince me that they weren't wasting my time. If you read the title of this post, you know that they weren't. I loved the issue and here's why.

Madman's drummer is Mr. Gum, a Plastic Man-esque joker with stretchy powers and an inflated ego. The character isn't what sells the issue, though: It's the story and how skillfully Rich and Clugston Flores balance humor with some pretty heavy themes. The issue opens with Gum's hanging out at an intergalactic nightclub, hitting on alien women. He's trying to impress a server when he's approached by a couple of ALF-looking aliens with an urgent request.

Their people live in mud huts in a desert wilderness, but just on the other side of an impassible chasm lies their Promised Land. I'm not just using Promised Land as a metaphor there; they actually have prophecies that promise this verdant country to them. Still hoping to impress the server, Gum agrees and takes her with him.

Gum uses his powers to bridge the gap and let the people across. It seems harmless enough at first, but Rich lets the reader know that he knows he's playing in dangerous territory. "It would be un-American of me," Gum says, "not to enable the less fortunate to manifest their destiny." And sure enough, the Promised Land is already inhabited.

I love the wild-eyed, snarling ALF in the left foreground. I seriously can't stop looking at him. He and his people transform from humble, Amish-like farmers into mad beasts, driven crazy by the thought of someone else possessing the land that they want. Or maybe it's that the indigenous creatures sort of look like cats.

Gum, of course, is shocked and tries to undo the horror that he's helped create.

If the story ended there, it would feel cheap and preachy, but Rich and Clugston Flores unleash another surprise to fight for the cute, blue, fuzzy creatures.

As it attacks, the outwardly self-centered Gum continues to out himself as a humanitarian at heart.

He gets as many of the ALF-creatures to safety as he can, but realizes that he's left someone behind.

And realizes that the blue cat-monkeys aren't just defending their territory.

I won't spoil how Gum gets out of the predicament, because that's just a matter of wrapping up the story. What I love about the issue is the way it brings up serious problems like immigration and genocide. It also reveals how we try to simplify those things in order to better understand them. It's easy to root for the cute and adorable, but Clugston Flores does a brilliant job of turning adorable creatures into hateful ones, making Rich's script more powerful as it shifts the reader's allegiance from group to group. There's plenty of humor in the story, but it comes from Gum's personality, not the situation.

When a fill-in issue isn't done well, it leaves me feeling ironically empty. The gap in the schedule may have been filled in, but not my appetite for a good story. The effect of It Girl #6 is just the opposite. It increased my enjoyment of and confidence in the overall series and made me even more excited to return to the main character in issue 7 for more of Rich's writing and the return of Mike Norton.

And though this isn't about issue 7, I'm happy to report that it didn't let me down when I heard It Girl say:

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