The Sequels (#1 – 4) – Norm Harper

5 out of 5

The Sequels could have been milked for so much more. I love that it wasn’t.

Four adults who have had 80s movies adventures in their pasts – the Monster Squad adventure, the Dark Crystal adventure, Short Circuit, E.T. – find themselves disillusioned at the lack of adventure in their day-to-day lives. A stranger has approached each, dropping details of their experiences, and encouraging them to check out a support group for like-minded individuals. And so they do, and discover a bond: namely that, while what occurred for each of them was great at the time, it was also potentially destructive. Gwen lives in fear of the evil aliens left behind; Dakota constantly worries that he didn’t actually save imagination… meanwhile, they do actually form a friendship, with writer Norm Harper breezing through this so naturally that we don’t give much thought to that initial approaching stranger, who’s not since reappeared.

Each issue of The Sequels kicks off with a pastiched retelling of part of each character’s adventure, done up in newsprint-styled cartooning, and narrated with a sense of wonder, but Harper doesn’t abuse this: each instance of this is employed a little differently, to either compare to or juxtapose the previous iteration, and to add some more details that suggests there’s something more drawing our characters together than these memories. Soon, opportunity presents them with the option to maybe rekindle some of this past, and for sure, the opportunity is jumped at.

Any of this could have been milked endlessly. The nostalgia wink of the 80s references could’ve been an ongoing comedy comic; the pitch of coming back to your rose-tinted kid memories as an adult; the mysterious conspiracy that connects everything… and The Sequels instead gives us a perfectly concise start, middle and finish, and does so without rushing or dropping any of its hinted-at threads. Any time I questioned what I would do or say in a scenario, a character speaks to it. Any time I thought I spotted something that was overlooked, it gets a nod. The conversations are brief – this is a quickly paced book – but they flow naturally, with a good balance of seriousness, contemplation, and snark spread across four smartly defined characters. There’s even an effective sense of stakes: if there is one thing that puts it squarely in line with its movie influences, it’s that it “pushes” the limits of a PG rating with swearing and violence, i.e. it’s the kind of “kid friendly” story that’s, sure, more popular in a post-Stranger Things world, but still isn’t as commonplace as it seemed back in the day of Goonies and whatnot.

On the art front, that could’ve been an easy way to hobble this – if you go too dark, it’s not a fit; if you go too light, it undermines its more serious moments, and going inbetween can be problematic as well, as you run the risk of just looking like a mish-mash. The Sequels does go inbetween, but brilliantly so: the characters are drawn in a clean, flat style, with flatted colors adding a “simple” sense to things, but then it’s all given sort of a muddied wash in the background colors, which grounds it rather ideally. The aforementioned newsprint look to the flashbacks is another great touch. I never felt taken out of the story – during dialogue, during action – and for a tale so reliant on reveling in fiction, that’s obviously a great thing.

I praise that this was wrapped up in four breezy issues, but of course I also totally want… yeah, a sequel, duh.