Review by Ian Keogh
With the USA once again politically polarised, threats from Russia verified and suggestions freedom should be eroded in the name of protection, what better time to republish Larry Hancock and Michael Cherkas’ The Silent Invasion, set in an equally paranoid and divided 1950s.
The 2018 reissue combines two of the original album sized volumes in a standard sized paperback. When originally published in the late 1980s The Silent Invasion was a series revered by those in the know, but a hard sell when cartooning, even cartooning as brilliantly stylised as that of Cherkas, was little seen and often unfairly derided. In a market dominated by superhero titles Hancock and Cherkas’ audience was selective. It’s to be hoped that’s changed, as The Silent Invasion is a first rate action-thriller with X-Files overtones, where no-one can be trusted and danger abounds.
It’s all discovered first hand by reporter Matt Sinkage, who has vague recollections of an alien abduction, yet every story he writes on the topic is spiked, and why is his Russian neighbour Ivan Kalashnikov acting so suspiciously? FBI agent Phil Housley is investigating the disappearance of informant and private investigator Dick Mallett, and his secretary Gloria Amber is being threatened. The evocative nature of the cast names is indication of the thought behind the plot, in which Hancock brilliantly strings us along with wisps of insinuation exploiting the fears of the 1950s. It only takes a few whispers in the right ears to effectively brand someone a communist so decisively even their own family won’t accept denials. Red Shadows isn’t so much about a brave new world, but the means taken to preserve the cowardly existing one.
Cherkas’ cartooning was like nothing seen in North American comics at the time, influenced by the looseness of Serge Clerc and Yves Chaland, but adding deep shadows to their updated ligne claire style. Despite only using dots for eyes, the cast don’t lack for expression, and Cherkas fills the pages with wonderfully realised period evocation, especially clothes and cars, and an economical use of white among black as the story continues is innovative.
A month’s gap occurs between the opening three chapters and the following three, with Sinkage’s stock sinking ever lower. The whole twelve chapter story is a fall and rise sequence, and by the end of the book some truths have been revealed, but at great personal cost for Sinkage. It’s a story complete in itself whether or not the concluding chapters are reissued, although that’s to be hoped.
This edition combines the 1980s albums Secret Affairs and Red Shadows, and more detailed individual reviews can be found by following the links. The Silent Invasion never found the large audience it deserved, and NBM’s faith in a reissue is commendable, so it’s hoped this starkly compelling drama finds a more responsive reception in 2018.