It’s the job of any creative team to put you in the shoes of their characters. That’s not always much of a challenge. Some characters are just like you. But Colonel Weird isn’t much like anyone. Yet, in Dark Horse’s Colonel Weird: Cosmagog #1, writer Jeff Lemire and artist and letterer Tyler Crook make Weird feel like the lost kid in all of us. They take this wild, sci-fi adventurer and focus in on the man beneath it all. A man who feels like he’s at the whims of some cosmic storm and who wants to get home.
In the opening pages of this issue, Lemire immediately impresses upon us Weird’s confusion. “Abraham? Gail?” he says, the moment he shows up. “Hello? Is… anyone there?” Almost everything he speaks is a question. Even the ellipses scattered throughout his dialogue show how he forgets what he’s saying at the moment. “I am… thirsty,” is one of the first things we see Weird say instead of ask. He seems torn between these huge moments of sci-fi chaos, bouncing between realities, and his own humanity. He’s a man split right down the middle.
Like a victim of some trauma, Weird repeats over and over again, “I have seen the pattern of things.” In a way, Lemire actually creates a pretty terrifying horror story in these pages. It’s a horror story based on something that could actually happen: you could lose your mind and forget who you are. But Lemire presents it in such a gentle way, with the help of Crook’s gorgeous art, that you’re not afraid. By the end of this issue, Weird feels like a kindred spirit. He’s lost and scared, just like so many of us feel, more often than we’d like to admit. You hope Weird finds his way. Because if he can make it through, so can all the parts of ourselves that we see in him.
Crook’s watercolors are jaw-dropping. Yet, at the same time, they feel so natural they almost don’t stand out. Crook whisks you away on this story, choosing to focus us in on all the right details, so you stop noticing the art. You’re too enthralled to see it anymore. In a way, we become Crook’s own Colonel Weird. So lost in the story, coming up for air only long enough to remember we’re not comic book characters, for seconds at a time.
Crook focuses on Colonel Weird’s shoes at first. In Black Hammer, we never seem to see Colonel Weird standing. He’s floating above everyone else, disconnected from reality. But Crook shows Weird’s shoes touching the ground. We watch Weird place quarters on counters and go fishing through fridges for ice-cold soda pops. It’s all very normal for this sci-fi hero. But when he’s whisked away to another time, Crook makes it look like Weird is pulled into another page. The doors that open into the Para-zone doors Weird literally falls through, look like panels on a comic book page. So when Weird exits, it’s like he’s exiting the page to pop out in the panel of another one.
Crook’s mastery of color pulls us back and forth between the comic-booky, world-ending battles and normal, sunny days on abandoned highways. When we first see Weird, he’s alone. But there’s something so peaceful and relaxing about how Crook colors this moment. Weird’s suit is bright, and the sky is a comforting blue. When Weird is pulled into a confrontation with the Anti-God, the colors change. We see the green of the Para-zone and the yellow and orange of Anti-God’s destructive powers. When he bounces back, suddenly, everything does feel dark and lonely. It’s as though Crook is showing us how the big, colorful moments of Weird’s past, the moments where he feels truly significant, drain the color out of life’s simple joys. But as this issue ends, Colonel Weird weeps at the sight of a sunset. The sunset contains all the colors we’ve seen so far on one glorious page. Maybe Weird will find fulfillment from the simple moments, after all.
Crook dials down Colonel Weird’s experiences. When Colonel Weird: Cosmagog #1 opens, we get all the sci-fi noises that are commonplace in Weird’s life. We see the “Shrack” of him bursting into reality and the “zzzzzzzzt” of his feet making contact. But later, all the noises begin to blend into the rest of the scene. The “gulp” of Weird downing a soda is almost hard to notice. These are the noises of normal life. But Weird still doesn’t quite fit in, and we see this in his dialogue. The tails of his word balloons are long and winding. It’s as though he’s almost getting lost on the way to everything he’s saying. It shows his lack of confidence, his fear to speak. It flies in the face of his younger selves, in flashbacks that speak in big word balloons with small tails. They get right to the point with a confidence that’s clear on the page. So what happened to him to rob him of his grit?
Dark Horse’s Colonel Weird: Cosmagog #1 is a masterwork in putting a reader in a character’s shoes. Colonel Weird, who should be too strange to comprehend, ends up feeling like a piece of the reader’s own soul. Jeff Lemire and Tyler Crook create a gorgeous beginning to what will undoubtedly be an excellent series. Pick up Colonel Weird: Cosmagog #1, out from Dark Horse October 28th, at your local comic book shop. I’d say it’s a “must-read,” but that doesn’t feel like it quite cuts it for such a beautiful issue.