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DEEP STATE Vol. 1: DARKER SIDE OF THE MOON TPB (review)

Review by Atlee Greene
Deep State Vol. 1: Darker Side of the Moon
Writer: Justin Jordan
Artist: Ariela Kristantina
Colorist: Ben Wilsonham
Cover: Matt Taylor
Letters: Ed Dukeshire
Publisher: BOOM! Studios
Released 4/1/15
Price: $9.99

Deep State is a series that no one openly talks about on the regular, like one would about Saga or Daredevil. You also won’t find the series on Diamond Distributors top 100 comic book sales of the month.

However, twelve days after the release of the first issue, BOOM! Studios sold the books TV rights to 20th Century Fox Television.

This graphic novel collects the first four issues which also covers the first story arc of the series. It has an X-Files vibe as clandestine government agents track down conspiracy theories that have gone from fiction to fact.

The conspiracy in question deals with how it was the Russians, not the Americans, who first landed on the Moon, five years before Neil Armstrong would grace its lunar surface.

Chapter 1 is a nice set-up issue that establishes the secrets of the moon landing, along with introducing us to the two lead protagonists. John Harrow is the been there, done that king of secret agents. He recruits Ms. Branch, a government agent working in Washington D.C. who clings to the truth like white on rice. The journey from acceptance to the first mission on Branch’s part seemed rushed because one would assume there would be some training involved.

Normally, that would be an issue, but it works here because Justin Jordan is able to firmly establish that Harrow absolutely knows what he is doing and that he only recruited someone who could hit the ground running. Branch’s intelligence, coupled with her desire to discover the truth, makes the transition to her new position almost seamless.

The visual set up by Ariela Kristantina is dark and mysterious with a touch of levity that strikes at the right times throughout the book which makes the imagery so absorbing. Ben Wilsonham’s coloring complements the narrative and is able to change with the mood, such as when a dark wooded area is set ablaze making me feel as if someone turned the lights on.

And of course, what good would this story be without a monster of some sort? Well he, or it, appears and its presence on the final page was drawn with eerie intentions but also expands on the moon mystery.

Chapter 2 does a great job of expanding on the status quo while adding new elements to the story. Branch is having difficulty wrapping her head around Harrow’s work style. Later on, it’s established that working by the numbers doesn’t work when a moon creature is playing invasion of the body snatchers.

The artwork takes a slight dip this time around which is weird considering it’s the same art team. The illustrations don’t look as detailed when you compare the issues side-by-side. It improves as the story progresses, and once we get to the end where Harrow and Branch discover a gruesome sight, the page layout and panel placement makes it difficult to absorb it all without interruption.

Harrow makes a decision that Branch doesn’t agree with and this decision ties right into the cliffhanger ending. However, it was sloppily executed and the dialog didn’t do much to clarify things. Plus, Harrow has come off as anything but conventional so I didn’t buy the notion of why Branch was so upset.

There was nothing earth shattering this time around, but the issue does a good job of presenting content that will keep fans, who were already hooked as a result of the first issue, coming back for more.

Chapter 3 shows us the moon creature’s path of destruction as it infects the people of Bedford, PA and Ariela Kristantina and Ben Wilsonham step up as the true storytellers. Large parasites are affixed to the back of its prey and when we normally see this (Think Falling Skies on TNT), the actual process is never really shown. In Deep State, however, it’s not just infection for the sake of control, the parasites know how to change the host because it gets to know their thoughts and feelings, altering them inside out. Seeing a mass of infected humanity was a key moment because it was a visual statement of just how far things have really spread.

Harrow and Branch get into their vehicle and head into town, but someone crashes into them before they could even start the ignition. The image of two damaged front ends with the word “CRUNCH” hovering above the crash conveyed a ferocity that made me stop in my tracks and believe for a split second that I had witnessed a real accident. The follow up was well-paced and augmented the impact of the scene because having it come out of nowhere is usually how things feel in a real-life accident.

A pivotal moment arrives where Branch makes a decision that she wouldn’t have considered two issues earlier. It was well done and delivered a turning point for her character where she now realizes that being an idealist who thinks that protocol and procedure are the only way to perform her job is the way wrong play if she is going to be effective in her new line of work.

Right at the end of this issue, Harrow comes face-to-face with the moon creature. It’s a scene dripping with all sorts of intrigue since Harrow allowed him to be captured in order to get close to it. This came off in a way where there are a few possibilities. Either Harrow has an endless amount of courage due to his experience, he knows more than he’s letting on, or he is simply insane.

Chapter 4 wraps up the first story arc and opens with a monologue as Harrow is reciting the moon creature’s origin, to the moon creature itself. There are scenes of deep space, the moon, and Earth that are drawn with excellent detail and filled with some great coloring, making it all look quite amazing.

The fact that Harrow knew this all along confirms reader suspicion that Harrow wasn’t showing all of his cards. It’s a possibility that he made it all up since we don’t find out how or why he knew this information. However, his explanation seemed too descriptive to be something he thought of on the fly.

There is even more revealed about Harrow that really cranks up the character’s intrigue level while Branch unleashes a particular skill that aids in stopping the creature from spreading infection. It’s something that the reader won’t even bat an eye at until Harrow reveals he was unaware she had that expertise which make you think, “ok…interesting, perhaps he just missed something.”

The grand finale of Harrow and Branch against the moon creature was simply a fire pit of destruction that never let up. Bullets and explosions. From a story perspective, I thought I would get more here since the whole point is to stop this alien menace, however, there is an abrupt ending that caught me by surprise. While it seemed that the point of this type of ending was to bring focus back to Harrow and Branch, I would have liked to see how this ending played out since we saw everything else.

The ending provides quite the cliff hanger that will make you second guess everything you thought you knew about Harrow and Branch. It wasn’t an “I’m your father” moment, but it was subtle, which in this case was perfect, since we now have a conspiracy within the conspiracy.

Final Thoughts: Deep State goes deep with some intriguing sci-fi story telling. Sure, it’s not the most original premise you will ever hear of, but Justin Jordan does a great job of making it his own with some twists and turns along the way.

I really enjoyed how the narrative tone was consistent through the story arc and artistry also kept up its end of the bargain while taking center stage on a few occasions. Again, while some might turn their heads at the premise being influenced by other established content in the same realm, there is a synergy among the creative team that is evident with every turn of the page.

I feel keeping that intact will be their greatest strength as Deep State moves forward and we get to know Harrow and Branch even more while new elements are implemented. Besides, if you read all four issues, which I recommend that you do, there is no way you will not buy the next issue after seeing that ending.

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