They’re Not Like Us #1-3

They're Not Like Us #1 cover

I don’t like They’re Not Like Us. It’s aggressive and sometimes violent and mean and selfish. But I’m amazed by how writer Eric Stephenson and artist Simon Gane have found a truly new thing to do with superpowered young people.

The first issue opens with Syd thinking about committing suicide by jumping from a building. She’s tired of the voices in her head and doesn’t know any other way to quiet them. You’re a superhero comic reader, you’ve seen this before, right? She’s a telepath, and she needs a helpful mentor.

They're Not Like Us #1 cover

Instead, she gets a smoking asshole in a nice suit who tells her in not so many words she’s lying to herself. So she jumps. Surprise #1. Someone’s supposed to save her, to show her how life is worthwhile, but that’s not what happens here.

She doesn’t die, though. Instead, she’s kidnapped by suit guy, who’s called the Voice, to a wonderful house full of other young people who can do the kinds of things she can. Who are all living under pseudonyms to protect them from their old lives. Surprise #2.

Surprise #3 is that they’ve stolen everything around them, because they do whatever they want because they can. And that is the biggest change in direction in this comic. It’s also what makes it very modern and timely, exploring the end results of the individual-focused, “what’s in it for me” culture that we have. They’re “better than everyone else”, so why not live like it? Only in secrecy, to avoid it being taken away.

They're Not Like Us #2 cover

They live by a set of rules, but they’re not strongly behavior-based, but appearance-focused. They dress well because that way they avoid suspicion. They don’t have tattoos or piercings to avoid attracting attention, and they don’t use smartphones to avoid tracking. (That last is the part I have the most trouble believing — these self-centered kids would have real trouble with that, I think, but it does simplify things for writers.)

To mention the biggest surprise would ruin the first issue cliffhanger, so I won’t. It’s a logical conclusion to this self focus, however, and nicely mythic.

As the writing contrasts with so many other comics out there, Gane’s art nicely avoids the perfect, polished sheen typical of superheroics. His characters have a gritty air of emotion about them, whether anger or despair.

They're Not Like Us #3 cover

Issue #2 brings home that these characters are new-style vigilantes. Instead of Superman protecting someone weaker, this gang beats up others for vengeance, or because they foresee negative possibilities.

Superheroes traditionally are wish-fulfillment figures, where the downtrodden (or those who feel they are, like adolescents) can imagine a world with more justice in it. I’m not sure how much that applies to this group of spoiled misfits, but my choice of that word indicates I clearly don’t identify with them. Other readers might better enjoy fantasies of young people secretly on top of the power pyramid, a group who protect each other and say “screw everyone else”. Underlying it all is a preference for emotion over decision.

Issue #3, though, shakes things up by taking revenge on a guy who’s definitely a villain, showing that this series aims to keep the reader guessing. I haven’t felt a superpower book was this fresh since Planetary. I hope They’re Not Like Us is able to continue as strongly, bringing these various threads together tightly.

(Publisher Image Comics provided digital copies for review.)

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