THIS REVIEW OF ‘STRANGE SKIES OVER EAST BERLIN’ #1 CONTAINS MINOR SPOILERS.
by Clyde Hall. The Truth has come to East Berlin. Since it is East Berlin, 1973, it’s an alien and terrifying concept. One that Jeff Loveness and Lisandro Estherren explore with a Cold War spy tale masterfully begun in Strange Skies Over East Berlin #1. An espionage tale fused with extraterrestrial overtones sounds like the stuff of Ian Fleming’s 007 with a more sci-fi edge.
Loveness distances from such notions quickly. This is the weary, seamy, dirty-little-secrets flavor of espionage. Intel work that slowly siphons away illusions of morality or government ideology and bleeds the soul of operatives left too long in the field. It’s John le Carré penning an otherworldly flight of the fantastic, sparing no signature Noir of his early works.
Herring is a secret agent for the West embedded in the Stasi. Being a successful spy within the workings of the most effective Soviet secret police organization ever is no small accomplishment. Herring’s obviously paid terrible dues for the honor, most only hinted at so far. During a mission to help East Berliners over the Wall and to freedom in the West, something unearthly occurs.
For Herring, it’s that time in an undercover career when one pulls the pin and vacates for a (hopefully) less perilous posting. But the occurrence leaves the Western forces blind to what exactly happened. What the Soviets now have access to. Only by Herring remaining in play can Western interests pierce this new secret. Sure, there’s risk that Herring may be discovered, but his superiors are willing to take that chance. Insistent, even. Probably because they won’t be imperiled themselves, and because whatever the East has gained makes them nervous. Balance or advantage over their intel Soviet counterparts is key. Second place finishers in a game involving global nuclear powers at odds may as well be dead.
Loveness orchestrates the right Cold War tension for the narrative. He’s created a great protagonist who guides the reader on a quest for truth, the ultimate goal of any good operative. Seeing past the facades and bureaucratic posturing to discover the factual apart from what’s merely propaganda. But truth is turned into something so elusive, so maddening given the climate Herring must operate in, it’s become nightmarish to him.
Loveness synchs that beautifully with the alien phenomena presented. As Herring’s come to fear, Truth may be more monster than mistress and potentially more destructive than blissful nescience. Here we’re given a variant on the Fox-Mulder Syndrome. Oh, the Truth is out there. But what if it’s brandishing a high-tech shillelagh and eager to go for your knees? Truth is out, but It wants in. It craves intimacy and expression and full disclosure. Who wouldn’t be terrified?
Part of the first issue’s attractiveness is its seamless blending of talents. Loveness, Estherren, colorist Patricio Delpeche and letterer Steve Wands are united in their vision. They may be, given the extraterrestrial elements of their narrative, conducting a four-way Vulcan mind meld.
Estherren’s art carries a joylessness, a street-level view of ugly faces twisted into uglier expressions. It’s the right approach for a city whose occupants writhe beneath the focused browbeating of Big Brother. Characters rendered less harshly are the naïve who long for ‘freedom’ behind that tall, cold Wall. Or the taciturn knights waging the campaign, either caught up in political fervor and dedicated to it, or world-worn veterans questioning humanity as a whole, without regard to allegiances.
Delpeche adds colors appropriately grey and mortar. The only departure comes from sunshine reflected off those tall, imposing buildings, but still filtered by their neutral prism. He gives you an unsympathetic world watching two superpowers fret and strut, utterly indifferent to the outcome.
Wands’ lettering is almost typewritten. Precise. Spartan. Like an official report filed in the aftermath of a world-altering event, devoid of drama. The shattering occurrence itself arrives in blistering silence. Mundane happenings are where the letterer works drama here. A startled cry, the unusual coloration of a witness’s statement. Wands is subtle, sparse, and superb.
A new title sometimes reminds you of a first car. It runs, but the idle is shaky and the acceleration rough. Creative teams can institute a tune-up over several issues to get everything purring in concert. Strange Skies Over East Berlin #1 is more like the new car your parents spring for unexpectedly, straight from the showroom and primed for performance. You want to open it up, see where it will take you, show it off to your friends. Do the same with this book. Based on #1, BOOM!’s engineered a 1973 muscle car of a series.
BOOM! Studios / $3.99
Written by Jeff Loveness.
Art by Lisandro Estherren.
Colors by Patricio Delpeche.
Letters by Steve Wands.
8.5 out of 10
Check out this 9-page preview of ‘Strange Skies Over East Berlin’ #1, including an Unlocked Retailer Variant by Tonči Zonjić, courtesy of BOOM! Studios!