Take a dose of N.Y.P.D Blue mix it up with a little bit of Alien and you’ve got the unusual yarn Code 991 from Bilateral Comics. The title refers to a specific police broadcast code that warns officers to use caution with an “unknown but dangerous situation.” Detective Jeff Millet mentions that he’s never heard it used but feels it should be the default code for every call involving those misunderstood creatures called people. Today is the day he gets wish; too bad the “people” part doesn’t apply.
Protagonist Jeff at first appears to be a character we’ve seen all too often. He’s the world weary veteran cop, complete with a trenchcoat and smoking habit who’s fond of inner monologues. And yet writer David Heath chooses to not to give our hero a characterization defined by hardboiled grit but instead deep empathy. A paranormal twist then explores this trait in an extreme situation and we meet another character who is more than they appear. Other characters in the story don’t receive much development, however. The other police officers act as a little more than cannon fodder for the creature and a bit of information on some of them would have added to the impact of the story.
The artwork is very stylized, especially artist Anita Zarmella’s choices concerning the alien, who literally leaks off the panels at times and seems to be constantly changing it’s shape. The primarily grey and black color scheme fits well with the tone and themes of the story and makes character defining colors like the tan of Millet’s coat or the alien’s red eyes stand out dramatically. Zarmella also captures some excellent emotions in the character’s facial expressions. However the art can be a bit rough in certain parts, particularly the action sequences, causing it to be a little hard to tell exactly what’s happening on the page. There is also a pronounced lack of background detail in most of the panels but, in a way, this works as it puts focus on the characters and action.
Code 991 is a succinct, suspenseful and thoughtful story that is grounded by a solid premise and strong central character. It almost reads like the first issue of the series because of this, but works even better as a standalone.
What did you think of Code 991? Did it surprise you? Do you think it should be more than a standalone? Let us know in the comments section below!