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‘Strangelands’ #1 review: Full speed into the hyperkinetic love child of a rom-com and action flick

The new-ish H1 imprint opens up with a solid entry exploring relationships and interdependence.

Jump On In: Thus far, the H1 imprint from Humanoids has been dominated entirely by the mostly enjoyable Ignited series. Now, the entire superhero-centric universe opens up further with Strangelands #1, written by Magdalene Visaggio and Darcie Little Badger, and with art from Guillermo Sanna and colors by Bryan Valenza.

The series premise is mostly straightforward but nonetheless intriguing: Elakshi and Adam Land (no relation) are two Ignited, perfect strangers that find themselves suddenly connected at the hip via shared abilities (Elakshi repels all matter while Adam attracts everything). Together, the pair race around the globe seeking a cure, chased by an unknown agency bent on their destruction (likely because if the two are separated too long, things go all “kablooey,” according to Adam).

You and Me and The World: While it’s still fairly early in the series, there’s already a few key story elements helping make Strangelands a solid entry in the H1 canon. For one, after the rather slow build up with Ignited, it’s nice to jump into a  new series in media res. Adam and Elakshi are already a year or so deep into their adventure, and we get a very strong sense early on of their unique relationship. They’re mostly like an angry couple bound together by unseen forces (in this case, potentially catastrophic superpowers and not, like, sharing a lease on a sweet SoHo loft they won’t give up).

As such, there’s a lot of great back-and-forth between the two, and their dynamic is really going to be a huge selling point for the series’ long-term future. And the creative team gives that relationship lots of breathing room, with the series feeling pared down compared to its predecessor, an efficiency that allow for more direct emotional demonstrations serving all kinds of purposes. Thus far, Strangelands is like The Fugitive meets Mad About You with just a dash or two of Heroes, and I can’t mean that as more of a compliment.

Collabo Powers Activate!: Part of the book’s early success is mirroring the dynamic of Elakshi and Adam within the actual creative teams. Visaggio and Little Badger have done a tremendous job of creating a shared, near singular writing presence, a seamless configuration of their separate voices that’s both funny and charming without foregoing the depth and snark that comes with this specific premise. That presence is especially apparent in the conversations between the two heroes, their dialogue finding a perfect balance between pushing forth the narrative, fostering intrigue or tension, and achieving the tone and cadence of an actual couple fighting to truly align. The cohesion between Visaggio and Little Badger feels more fluid than Mark Waid and Kwanza Osajyefo over in Ignited, achieving a commonality and alignment that’s going to further streamline a book that needs to move as nimbly as Adam chasing a train.

That sense of collaboration continues with the artistic work of Sanna and Valenza. The former’s art feels as efficient as the book’s script, a minimalist style that emphasize certain details to draw the reader’s eye while creating a sense of pure momentum. Valenza’s colors, meanwhile, mirror and then enhance that same vibe, furthering a world that feels like it’s practically pulsing with life. Movement and chaos and energy aren’t just appealing, but they’re perfectly in line with a lot of the book’s pacing and structure, narrative themes, and larger creative goals. Teamwork does, in fact, make the dream work.

Odds and Ends: There’s a lot of little other, more random elements that are interesting within this first issue. Part of their excellent back-and-forth is that Adam and Elakshi come from different worlds (the former’s Apache, the latter’s likely Hindi). More than providing an essential commentary about love and acceptance, it’ll be interesting to see two people forced to suss out some common ground within this otherworldly situation. The pair may have some respect and concern for one another, but it’s clear they’ve got work to do, and their cultural differences will be a great mechanism to figure it all out.

Similarly, the pair’s unique powers will also be a powerful device throughout the series. What does repulsion and attraction mean for them individually, and what sorts of themes or stories can be furthered with those abilities? The H1 team made a big deal regarding the “realism” of the powers, and so far, these feel like the most simplistic and interesting abilities presented. Something about shared abilities also provides ample material to play with, and it’s clear the creative team want to do just that. Plus, I can’t wait to see stuff go all “kablooey.”

In this first issue, the duo travel to Colorado to meet Dr. Win, who may or may not be a quack who believes meditation and other transcendental malarkey can “cure” people of powers. There’s clearly something sinister at play here — Win’s treatment actually involves jellyfish and possible Ignited powers — and that thread feels intriguing to the larger story. Because there needs to be opportunities for Elakshi and Adam to face trials deeper than some assassin with a gun, to delve into their powers, the world surrounding them, and how far they’re willing to go to be cured — and if they should even bother at all.

Only Just Begun: There’s plenty to like in issue #1. More than being well written and setting the proper pacing, it’s something entirely new after Ignited. Strangelands opens up the universe in fresh ways, showing more nuance and complexity in the whole “the world’s citizens suddenly evolved powers in the face of a possible mass extinction” story that H1’s centered around. It’s not that one story is necessarily better than the other, although Strangelands may be more direct in its scope and demands of its readers. Instead, more clues into this universe will demonstrate its direction, end goals, and larger value. In the case of this second series, there’s far more things attractive than repulsive.

Strangelands #1
Is it good?
An interesting new addition to a young fictional universe.
The creative team aligns brilliantly to produce real magic.
A different tone and pacing helps expand the H1 offering.
Will this momentum last or is this a case of something new, something darling?
7
Good
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