Nowhere Men #4: This comic’s almost too gross. Almost.
Gross-out stuff in comics is always a double-edged sword. On the one hand you get to gross people out, but on the other – you gross people out. That is to say, some people really like seeing a decomposing head explode inside a space suit and some get put off by it. Even those who get put off by it won’t completely write off a book or a movie if there’s righteous justification behind it. It’s like that chest-bursting scene in Alien. Gross, but righteously justified thanks to establishing the claustrophobic atmosphere of the film. In a reverse-Alien, Image Comics’ Nowhere Men creates an agoraphobic atmosphere in which a group of infected researchers are stuck in the middle of nowhere.
WorldCorp, founded by a mod squad of the greatest scientific minds back in ninteen sixty-something climbed to the top of the corporate world, looked down at all us little people and said, “Alright, now what?” Now what, was putting a group of scientific researches on a space station, because why experiment on Earth when Space is just begging for it. These researchers were infected with a virus (probably on purpose) that radically alters their physiological makeup. In the midst of all this they realize they’re boned and left for dead in space so they teleport themselves back to Earth, but only somewhat successfully. Some are dropped in the arctic and some in the desert – they all appear to be undergoing metamorphosis of varying degrees. Some internally and others externally – graphically so.
This is where illustrator Nate Bellegarde and colorist Jordie Bellaire come in. Their work on this book is the best kind of sci-fi nightmare. Susan Queen (a researcher teleported to the arctic) is getting scooped up by some HazMat dudes and stuffed into a suit herself. Her head appears to be liquifying into this black, viscous goo and then hemorrhages ferociously inside the suit. Picture one of those aliens from “They Live” catching a rapid case of the Ebola virus – yep, that’s it. Quite gorgeous in its own lurid way. Then you’ve got Kurt McManus who transformed into something Thing has nightmares about becoming. In a NatGeo style flashback McManus emerges from a mushy cocoon like a baby hippo being born. Then he eats his cocoon (and a wheelchair) – nature’s so gross, but as gross as it is the art team know that sometimes the unseen horrors are more shudder-educing than the seen horrors.
As horrific as all that is, none of it seems as sinister as the story which bookends it. Eric Stephenson (writer) frames all this gruesomeness with the nefariousness of the WorldCorp founders. As scary as a mutating virus is, dudes in suits with lots of money will always be a million times worse. Most of these guys aren’t just quirky or enigmatic – they’re downright deranged. The supplemental material in the comic hints at that; just look at the painting Emerson Strange had commissioned for his daughter. And he’s the one doing damage control for everyone else! What makes Stephenson’s characterization so unnerving is, if these guys are that unhinged, what lines won’t they cross “in the name of science?” As far as righteous justification goes, that’s pretty strong and substantiates the hell out of those excellently executed grotesque visuals the art team throws down.
Nowhere Men’s a trip fo’ sho’, but as we’ve established it’s a lot more than just some next-level sickness. In fact, the perfidious mystery behind the mutating virus and WorldCorp’s involvement is creepier than the virus itself. Between corporate madmen and a transmogrifying infection, you’re better off with the virus.