Each week, Big Issues focuses on a newly released comic book of significance. This week, it’s Nowhere Men #6. Written by Image publisher Eric Stephenson (Long Hot Summer, Fantastic Four) and drawn by Nate Bellegarde (Brit, Invincible Presents…), it concludes the outstanding first arc of a title putting a progressive new spin on the superteam concept.
“He’s as blind as he can be /
Just sees what he wants to see /
Nowhere Man can you see me at all?” —The Beatles, “Nowhere Man”
“I know I’m right—I’ve always been right. You just can’t see what I can see. Nobody can.” —Simon Grimshaw, Nowhere Men #6
Nowhere Men began with a simple hook: Science is the new rock ’n’ roll. Set in a world where a quartet of brilliant scientists achieved the same level of fame as The Beatles, the book imagines a society where genius is cool and intellectuals fill the pages of tabloids and celebrity magazines. Rather than building a music empire, these four men created a massive corporation that revolutionized technology, medicine, communications, and any other fields they decided to tackle. Just like a rock ’n’ roll band, the group eventually fell apart due to personal tensions and rapidly inflating egos, but where the dissolution of The Beatles only affects those with a connection to their music, the collapse of the World Corp foursome impacts the entire planet.
Written by Image publisher Eric Stephenson and illustrated by Nate Bellegarde, Nowhere Men was a stunning 2012 debut stood out at a time when most of Image’s new content was notable, and that period of success continues. The first five issues pulled readers into the setting with a tense, rapidly paced narrative, meticulously detailed artwork, and comprehensive text pieces that expanded on several characters and plot threads, building a captivating sci-fi story that was grounded in a world that was realistic and relatable. The book gathered immense momentum, and then it disappeared for five months.
Lateness is something that modern comic-book readers are accustomed to, but in the realm of creator-owned comics, delays are particularly detrimental. If a creator is late at Marvel and DC, those publishers can get a fill-in team to do a couple issues, maybe even an entire arc, to keep the book on the stands while the regular team gets back on track. (This isn’t always the case: Marvel’s Hawkeye has suffered from major delays lately, but rather than compromise the integrity of one of its best titles, Marvel is letting the book ship late so that Matt Fraction and his artists can turn out work of the highest quality.) Creator-owned titles don’t have the luxury of the quick fill-in, and the longer these books stay off the stands, the easier it is for readers to forget they exist. It’s unclear if Nowhere Men’s lateness is due to the writing or the art, but after being delayed for five months, there’s no doubt that the series has lost a lot of steam.
Nowhere Men #6 is a reveal-heavy issue that fills in most of the gaps from the previous five chapters, but without any sort of recap page, it can be a challenge remembering what happened almost half a year ago. It’s like pausing a movie before the last 20 minutes, then returning at that exact same point five months later. It’s probably best to read the first five issues again before diving into #6. There are so many details in the preceding five parts that they are worth the reread, and the conclusion is far more satisfying when the entire plot is taken together at once. (The first arc will be collected next month at the attractive price of $9.99, making Nowhere Men a great holiday gift for both superhero and alternative comic-book readers.)
The song “Nowhere Man” came to John Lennon when he sat down after a fruitless five-hour brainstorming session, and the lyrics reflect the desperation of a man searching for direction and coming up with nothing. The titular figure of the song is so focused on himself that he can’t function in the world around him, blind to everything except his own emptiness. The song was one of The Beatles’ early forays into more philosophical material, revealing the inner turmoil experienced by an artist and the way that can alienate a person even in the midst of fame and fortune.
Two figures in Nowhere Men embody the themes of the song in different ways: Emerson Strange—one of the two World Corp founders still with the company—an aging man in charge of a corporation living in the shadow of its former greatness, and Simon Grimshaw—a member of the original quartet forced out for his controversial ideas—who is trying to pave his own path, but doesn’t have any concept of how his actions affect others. In their egocentric efforts to bring purpose to their lives, they endanger World Corp employees and potentially the entire planet by unleashing a “sub-cellular reconfiguring agent,” a virus that alters living organisms at a genetic level and essentially grants them superpowers.
Before this issue, Nowhere Men focused on two separate groups of characters: the four scientists responsible for the creation of World Corp and the dozen staff members on World Corp’s space station. With a tone reminiscent of Ridley Scott’s Alien, the first two issues were straight sci-fi psychological terror as the 12 workers dealt with exposure to a mysterious virus that mutated them in vastly different ways. After being quarantined indefinitely and left to die in orbit, they tried to escape through a teleporter to Earth, but only half successfully made the journey. The six surviving crewmembers have completed the metamorphosis sparked by the virus and now find themselves with extraordinary abilities, making them incredibly valuable to World Corp and its chief competitor, Grimshaw Holdings.
The destruction of the World Corp space station coincides with the awakening of Dade Ellis, one of the original four who fell into a coma after being exposed to the virus years ago. He wakes up with an acute sense of telepathy, making the balding man a stand-in for X-Men’s Professor Xavier as he helps Strange gather up the mutated survivors. Unfortunately, Grimshaw has the same idea, and this issue brings everyone together as the three remaining World Corp founders finally meet the people whose lives have been altered by their machinations. The book has felt like two separate storylines up to this point, but this issue sees Stephenson masterfully bring the two plots together, maintaining both the corporate intrigue of the World Corp executives and the horrifying personal drama of the space-station survivors.
On paper, a book about group of humans who comes back from space with extraordinary powers may sound like just another superhero book, but Nowhere Men is focused on capturing the reality of gaining fantastic powers. The result is something far more sci-fi than superhero, especially because these abilities are viewed as more of a disease than anything else. Dr. Kurt McManus and Susan Queen have the most dramatic transformations, with the former becoming a giant red monster and the latter turning into a living puddle of inky black liquid. Rather than pulling a Ben Grimm and pitying his new appearance, McManus is fascinated by his change and can’t wait to analyze his body, although he understands his wife and children may have difficulty adjusting. McManus and Queen are joined by Daniel “Abnormal Dan” Pierce, who has lost all color in his flesh and is seemingly invulnerable, Adra Madan, who can make anything mechanical malfunction; Jackson Peake, who can control the speed of objects; and Karen Reynolds, whose ability hasn’t been fully defined, but apparently includes being able to scare the shit out of anyone with just a look.
Stephenson has created a super team for a new generation of comic book readers, and Nate Bellegarde’s detailed linework and sleek sense of design gives this book a futuristic look that is still rooted in reality. He’s developed an incredibly diverse cast of characters that look, dress, and act like everyday people, and these expressive, distinctive figures help land all the emotional beats of the script. This a technology-heavy series, and an immense amount of work goes into every piece of machinery, whether it’s the controls on an airplane, the tricked-out motorcycles ridden by fanatical science punks, or a handheld genetic scanner. That meticulous detail may be why the series was so late, but the final product justifies the wait.
Bellegarde’s painstaking art requires a colorist that is equally thorough, and he’s found the perfect collaborator in Jordie Bellaire, whose coloring adds remarkable dimension to the linework. Using a restricted palette of beige and pale blue for the majority of the first half of the issue gives added emphasis to any highly saturated colors, like the bright-orange detailing on containment suits worn by Grimshaw Holdings workers or the intense red of Dr. McManus’ giant new body. The coloring shifts for the second half of the issue when the lights go out and all hell breaks loose, enveloping everyone in darkness once the circumstances become dire.
That change comes following a two-page spread featuring a fictional advertisement for Grimshaw Holdings that reads, “A brand new start,” one of the many graphic ads added to the book by lettererer/designer Fonografiks. These images have been used to transition between scenes in previous issues, but in this issue, the ad interrupts a moment to mark the official formation of the team. The “brand new start” begins when McManus, Madan, and Peake join the rest of the group, bringing together the series’ entire core cast for the very first time.
Along with text pieces like this issue’s Esquire Q&A with clone Richard Ten and a Science Chronicle photo essay by World Corp’s official photographer, the advertisements help engross the reader in this alternate reality, showing how the events of the story have had dramatic cultural effects that wouldn’t otherwise be addressed. Each issue of Nowhere Men is an immersive read unlike anything else on the stands, which makes the delay between issues even more difficult to endure. The seventh issue doesn’t come out until January, which should prevent the next arc from suffering these same delays, but even with the wait, this is a series not to be missed.