Best Shots Advance Review: STRANGE SKIES OVER EAST BERLIN #1 (9/10)

Strange Skies Over East Berlin #1
Credit: Evan Cagle (BOOM! Studios)
Credit: Evan Cagle (BOOM! Studios)

Strange Skies Over East Berlin #1
Written by Jeff Loveness
Art by Lisandro Estherren and Patricio Delpeche
Lettering by Steve Wands
Published by BOOM! Studios
‘Rama Rating: 9 out of 10

Against the towering backdrop of the Berlin Wall, East German Stasi agent — and American spy — Herring is doing everything he can to maintain some semblance of hope in an increasingly despondent city. In this week’s debut issue of Strange Skies Over East Berlin, Herring’s attempt to escort desperate East Berliners past the wall in the dead of night takes a frightening and nightmarish turn when their escape effort is stymied first by East German police and then an inexplicable light coursing through the sky, a light Herring is then tasked with investigating the true origins of. Sent even deeper undercover amidst the East German police state, Herring arrives at a top secret facility to reveal the truth of what shot across the wall that night... only to find himself trapped not only with his suspicious arch-nemesis Keiner, but an unearthly force that could put all of humanity at risk.

Strange Skies Over East Berlin #1 is an unsettling tale of espionage and extraterrestrial horror. This is well-suited to the times — not just for its eerie atmosphere, but also for its setting, which is rooted in an ever-expanding surveillance state dedicated to the maintenance of institutional divides, physical and otherwise. Artist Lisandro Estherren and colorist Patricio Delpeche have created a haunting, almost watercolor world permeated with a constant sense of foreboding; sharp lines on severe faces capture the physical and emotional drain of life under constant watch as Delpeche’s use of shadow and silhouette heighten the sense that there’s always something else to see, and someone there to see it.

Writer Jeff Loveness’ script is gripping, its pace measured and methodical as it builds a sense of increasing unease with every beat. The sharp shock and distress of the opening scene quickly shifts gears into something quieter and more uneasy, walking the reader along the careful tightrope of Herring’s dangerous subterfuge as he attempts to infiltrate the secret facility housing whatever caused the mysterious light. This is a spy story first and foremost, a story about secrets and how to keep them in the face of a nation that will stop at nothing in its relentless pursuit of them, and the revelation of the force behind the light that streaked the East Berlin sky is frightening not just for Estherren’s and Delpeche’s jarring (though never over-the-top gruesome) body horror, but of the hint of what an all-knowing force could do in the hands of someone whose job it is to cut through secrets.

Strange Skies Over East Berlin #1 is an excellent genre-bending thriller. Loveness’ gripping script delivers a stellar tale of espionage and the supernatural, heightened by Estherren and Delpeche’s gorgeous, haunting art; they heighten the tension of this debut issue and never lean too heavily into the kinds of gory, viscerally shocking visual moments other horror tales use as short cuts to a quick scare. It emphasizes just how unnatural the forces at work in Strange Skies are, and the danger of Herring’s numerous foes. No matter your usual genre preferences, Strange Skies Over East Berlin #1 should land at the top of your to-read pile this week.

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