As far as indie comics go, the expanded release How I Spent My Summer Invasion (from publisher We Comics) really tests the limits of what it means to be precious and cutesy. Child protagonists, the ‘wacky’ cast of extraterrestrials, cartoon-style art from Mark Sean Wilson that exists somewhere in the vicinity of Bill Watterson, even a running gag where an alien bellhop shouts “Oh the pain and agony!” as he’s mutilated again and again, done in a way that’s “silly” because this has the much-feared but ever-desired “all ages” market in mind. It’s, oddly, a perfect companion to the well-intended misfire of Jason Aaron and Mike Allred’s Wolverine and the X-Men #17, a comic also about taking on an often thankless job disguised as zany adventures, minus the hints of violence and kinky sex that title has.
In the place of all that
fun stuff debauchery, HISMSI instead centers on something a bit more universal: two kids bored on a summer day. Tim and Russ are trying to alleviate that boredom with a game of baseball when they stumble across La Galatique, a resort hotel for aliens. It’s kinda-sorta hidden; the proprietor, a blue, bug-like creature named Je’tarl who speaks in a purely vaudeville French accent, comments on how the hotel uses “advanced methods… to avoid being detected,” which turns out to be… a pricker brush. Watterson’s surrealist humor is evident in the dream-logic of the ‘method,’ though there’s also a touch of Miyazaki or C.S. Lewis’ Narnia in having something mundane hide the fantastical. This is reflected in the boys’ amazement at the hotel and its patrons, childlike awe of the “adult world,” where even crappy service jobs seem glamorous and full of possibility (think of Spirited Away’s Chihiro working in a bathhouse full of fantasy creatures). The counterpoint is Wolverine and the X-Men’s Doop tale, in which he becomes burnt out from work which is often bizarre yet tedious. It is representative of an adult suffering the daily grind for minimal rewards (“Keep up the good work.”). HISMSI completes the equation by positing good work can be wondrous and fulfilling: getting a job becomes a rite of passage for Tim and Russ when, having accidentally broken a fountain’s statue, they have to work as bellhops to pay for the damage. This escalates quickly to saving the world from annihilation when a guest’s prized possession goes missing.
Patrick Rieger’s script wastes no pages on needless exposition or showoff splash pages (the positive side effect of publishing without a mass marketing team behind your work), yet allows Wilson opportunity to flex his artistic muscle. The alien designs–from the standard humanoids to an energy being named Starlei (who Russ falls for, along with other patrons) to bizarre creations like a living stomach or a wooden being who proves functional to the climax (which calls back to the boys’ baseball game)–make for a goofy, eclectic group,
What also proves interesting is how the title, which at first glance implies War of the Worlds narrative (something Wilson toys with in the cover, where an alien weapon shines a spotlight on Tim and Russ), actually twists around the concept of the “invasion.” While the occupants of La Galatique are not Earth natives, it is the boys who have invaded this little bubble and it’s their transgression that must be rectified, the adventure story’s oldest “growing up” metaphor. Like most children faced with responsibilities and consequences, there’s an attempt to flee: Russ, the brash one of the duo, panics as Earth comes close to ending, prompting the more awkward Tim to step up, reversing their arrival at La Galatique. It provides a basic structure Aaron/Allred’s not-bad superhero comic lacked, and makes for endearing reading.