Strange Skies Over East Berlin is an incredibly special comic. That’s a little blunt and on-the-nose as an opening to a review, but that’s where I’m at with this book. I struggle to find an adequate way to put to words what this comic means to me and express the complex emotions I’m feeling with the story’s closure. Strange Skies was a bright spot in the already exciting publishing year of 2019, carving itself a following with its dreamlike art, intelligent conversation about mental health and the impact we leave on others’ lives, and a sustained production value that consistently fought for its place on the shelf month after month. Strange Skies #4, the series’ final issue, gives closure to all of the themes and craftsmanship that makes the series great, while also exploring new ideas, constantly pushing forward even in its finale.
The crux of Strange Skies #4’s success, and that of the series overall, is that it has a markedly human core and explores all the trappings therein. Yes, it’s about an alien who crash lands into Earth. Yes, it’s about shadowy governments, vying for control of a war-torn people with their primary weapons being propaganda and fear. Over the course of the series, though, we see these larger-than-life figures stripped to the bone, forced to contend with the memories of those they left in their wake. It’s there that we find our protagonists at the beginning of this issue: at their lowest point, humbled by forces they couldn’t possibly understand. What follows is the last desperate attempt of humanity to preserve itself, to cast out the invader and find order in the remains of the chaos. It reminds me of the old adage “a triumph of the human spirit,” set up to be a poignant story about people fighting their demons and dealing with the fallout.
Honestly, though, I don’t think that’s the way the story wants to be framed. In a story about pain, about confronting that which haunts us, both physically and psychologically, an easy win is just that: easy. The pain lingers, the trauma is front and center. The best part of Strange Skies is that it has tackled these themes of trauma and mental anguish with respect. #3 in particular was especially poignant in this regard, bringing into question our very thought processes and whether or not we can trust them. With its finale, Strange Skies continues this thread of conscious thought, encouraging the reader to consider the world around them and the influences that may not be evident at first glance. The story even switches perspective in its narration at points, pushing the idea that while the events have been traumatic, we’ve only seen one viewpoint of them.
The craftsmanship at play in this final issue is stunning, to say the absolute least. Every level of this comic is a work of art in itself, working in tandem to deliver a product that truly shines. This comic, and in particular #4, showcases both a creative team in perfect harmony and the individual creators at their absolute best. Estherren is at the top of his game, delivering horrifyingly fluid linework that keeps you on the edge of your seat as the story twists through cramped corridors. Delpeche creates an atmosphere of paranoia as colors blend, never sure where the boundaries of reality are. The pure terror you feel when the bright blue of the alien invader intrudes is palpable; the void calls in the deep expanse created by these two masters of cosmic horror, even in the final moments of the issue, a never-ending threat to our sanity. There’s one scene early on where each of these layers melds to create one of the most horrifying tableaus I’ve ever seen in a comic. ONLY FEAR, the void shouts in Steve Wands’ expertly crafted letter effects.
We are alone in the darkness the team has created for us, but through the madness humanity is still capable of meaningful connection. This connection strengthens us, stays with us, pushes us forward and drives us with its memory. A career defining work for every creator involved, Strange Skies, and #4 in particular, shows a clear passion from each and every team member that elevates the work as a whole to one of the best of the year. I look forward to seeing any work from these creators in the future, and especially hope that they come together to tell more stories together. The synergy that they share on the page is magnificent, and brings Strange Skies Over East Berlin an energy that just can’t be missed.