Iqbal Ali’s Strange Skies is a potential gem of an indie comic, spoiled a bit by consistency issues.
It’s a 48-page installment (1 of 5), telling the story of the crew of an airplane which manages to take a wrong turn, and ends up somewhere extraordinary. Or maybe it’s the story of a powerful psychic taking over a plane. That it’s far from clear is part of the claustrophobic charm of the story.
As the flight attendants struggle to cope with circumstances way outside their experience, Ali drops hints and clues as to what’s going on. A power struggle between the Senior Air Steward and an Air Marshall ratchets up the tension, and we’re taken inside all the protagonist’s heads with subtle visual metaphors, punctuated by metaphysical set pieces.
So, this is a story I really want to follow. Although there are occasional dialogue missteps, the atmosphere and pacing give the story a razor edge of uncertainty. It’s a page turner and I would definitely buy the comic and/or go to the movie, except that…
The art is dangerously inconsistent. Something is deeply amiss, and one suspects that Ali is excellent with pencils, but considerably less assured with inking. There’s an additional ink and shading credit for E. Era Naik, and you suppose he’s either responsible for, or is picking up the pieces.
The most obvious issue concerns shadows. Sometimes none, sometimes grey and muted, other times solid black. Also, the inking veers from a clean Steve Dillon to a scratchy Brendan McCarthy. A further issue is the lettering, with technical errors leading to a somewhat amateur feel. And while the monochrome might suit the internal conflict of the story, there are panels where we really need a vivid blood red, or whatever color the world outside has turned.
All that said, the underlying pencils are excellent. There are many well constructed panels and even a few jaw-droppers. On the whole, I would recommend this to a fan of indie comics, but anyone used to slicker production values may struggle.
Though highly enjoyable as is, one wonders what Strange Skies would look like if the team had more art resources. The comic has all the ingredients of an exceptional cake. It just needs more icing.