Comic Review: Xenoholics; are you addicted?

In June of 1992, esteemed Harvard psychiatrist John Edward Mack organized a week-long conference to discuss and debate a phenomenon previously cast aside by the academic and scientific community: alien abductions. Mack’s conference hosted a wide variety of practitioners and researchers comprised of skeptics, believers and interested members of the press. Courtlandt Dixon Barnes Bryan (CDB Bryan) attended the conference on behalf of The New Yorker, initially to write a short article ridiculing the neurosis of the attendees. Impressed by the credentials of those heading the conference and taken aback by the testimonies of the “abductees,” Bryan opted not to write the humorous article, instead penning an entire book earnestly discussing the events of the conference called Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind: Alien Abductions, UFOs and the Conference at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. In that book, Bryan quoted Mack as asking the most important and as yet unanswered question regarding abductees: “If what these abductees say is happening to them isn’t happening, then what is?”

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That question gives readers of Xenoholics, issue five, by Joshua Williamson and art by Seth Damoose, cultural context to ground them while following the knotty plot. The Xenoholics, a support group for people obsessed with aliens, find themselves in the middle of a conspiracy involving warring covert organizations, government cover-ups and, possibly, the discovery of actual alien life. Interestingly enough, one of the characters shares similar qualities to writer CDB Bryan. Free-lance journalist, Kyle Grey began attending the Xenoholics meetings under the false pretense of being a fellow abductee, but really joined to research a scathing expose on the lunatics who actually believe in aliens. Though he initially mocks the group, he quickly bands together with them to find the missing Professor (the group’s facilitator) and becomes a believer . . . in his own way.

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Williamson (who also writes Voodoo for DC’s New52) developed a small cast of characters that are hard not to love, even if each one is a little loony. The ensemble cast quickly endears themselves to the reader by exposing their insecurities and desires to be taken seriously as “victims.” Along with society labeling them as paranoid delusionals and their own friends and family not believing their story, Williamson puts the Xenoholics through the kind of highly improbable peril that would break a saner group of people. Funnily enough, it is the group’s acceptance of the highly implausible (or downright unbelievable) that makes them ideal candidates to take down the government conspiracy they’re embroiled in. There are a couple of huge revelations in this issue and an appearance by a certain tentacled Elder God that provides freakin’ awesome intrigue and action that are best left untold to not spoil the reader’s enjoyment, but they are worth the cover price and then some.

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Seth Damoose’s art continues to disarm the reader. His style, unlike most comics of this genre, resonates a cartoonier vibe while still providing gravitas when necessary. Under any other artist, this comic would probably be much darker in tone, but Damoose’s eccentric art perfectly matches Williamson’s eccentric story. The two-page splash in this article showcases Damoose’s ability to be hinky and dramatic at the same time as Kyle Grey holds aliens at bay with a pistol. Another great panel is the very last one of the book, without going into too much detail, it is a bizarre combination of shocking, horrifying and completely quixotic.

Issue five of Xenoholics is at your local comic shop now, so buy it – or wait and purchase the trade paperback (collecting issues 1-5) which should be released shortly. As this was kind of a fringe comic, it will depend on the success of the trade as to whether or not it will return. Anyone who wants to give something off-beat, but completely intriguing a try should pick up the trade and then tell a friend about it . . . that is, if they’ll even believe you! Bum bum bummmmmmmm.

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